WASHINGTON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said housing advocates should not worry about proposed funding cuts, arguing that they will be made up for as part of an eventual infrastructure bill from the administration.

The Trump administration has proposed cutting $6.2 billion from HUD, equal to roughly 13% of its operating budget, drawing the ire of housing advocates. But Carson said concerns about slashing housing are unjustified.

"Our administration considers housing a significant part of infrastructure in this country," Carson told a conference of the National Low-Income Housing Council. "There is no one that is going to be thrown out in the street. What would that accomplish? It would not make any sense."

HUD Secretary Ben Carson
"Our administration considers housing a significant part of infrastructure in this country," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. Bloomberg News

He stressed that the new administration just wants housing funds spent effectively and efficiently. The new secretary indicated that HUD can find improvements by encouraging public-private partnerships with nonprofits and the faith community.

"Low-income housing tax credits encourage public private partnerships," Carson said.

But affordable housing advocates were skeptical of Carson's claims.

The idea is "not acceptable," Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low-Income Housing Council, said during a housing policy forum here Monday. "These cuts are unconscionable."

Yentel said the cuts would include community development block grants and home-investment partnership programs, "starving local communities of funding they need to create and rehab affordable homes and revitalize distressed communities."

The cuts would also eliminate the U.S. interagency council on homelessness and "home energy assistance program that keeps the heat on through cold winters in the homes of seniors and families with kids," Yentel said.

Housing advocates are also grappling with the Trump administration's tax reform agenda, particularly whether it will seek changes to the mortgage interest deduction.

"A new willingness to reform the Mortgage Interest Deduction and the growing need for affordable housing … offers a tremendous opportunity," Yentel said.

Any savings from such reform should be retained and reinvested in "housing programs that serve the lowest-income people," she said.

Currently, the mortgage interest deduction is an "ineffective, highly regressive and poorly targeted use of federal resources," Yentel said. "As taxpayers we pay $10.5 billion a year to subsidize the homes of some the wealthiest people in the world."

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