More money for wars, but can’t house the poor

Photo credit — Jack Leng

The United States is in the midst of a housing crisis. Roughly one-half of all renters in the United States are “cost-burdened,” spending at least 30% of their income on rent. Just over one-fifth of homeowners are cost-burdened as well. All told, 40.6 million households paid at least 30% of their income to rent or mortgage payments, with 20.3 million paying more than 50%. One-third of all U.S. households.

Amidst this crisis, the President of the United States is teeing up $105 billion to fund Israel’s bloody rampage against Palestine, to provide subsidies for military contractors and to prop up a failing proxy-war in Ukraine. He is throwing money at failed border policies and increasing the danger of nuclear war against China.

All this is going on while Washington is pursuing a broader budget process that will actually cut the funds needed to make sure everyone already has a roof over their head. This is a cut to a budget that was already on life support. 

The cost of war

It would cost $119 to $127 billion to turn all one million public housing units in the country from slums into dignified, sustainable housing. In a best-case scenario, the United States will spend $32 billion in funding for necessary repairs, while spending another $55 billion putting on more band-aids for a decade, $87 billion less than the low-end estimate for ending slum conditions. 

Adding the entire $105 billion in Biden’s supplemental war budget to this best-case proposal, however, would be $190 billion over ten years. This would be enough to turn all public housing units into high-quality housing with $63 billion leftover. This would be enough to create 900,000 new units of affordable housing. 

The $105 billion supplemental request is mainly meant to spend in fiscal year 2024, making the trade-offs even more stark. In a likely best-case scenario the United States will spend $3.9 billion on homelessness assistance grants in FY24. The supplemental budget, however, proposes spending $11.8 billion “of direct budget support to Ukraine” in FY24.

Best-case, the United States will spend $1.08 billion on affordable housing for low-income seniors. Biden’s supplemental budget proposes to give Israel $3.5 billion in “Foreign Military Financing (FMF)” to buy weapons to murder children in Gaza. Ukraine gets $1.7 billion in FMF funds while the United States, best-case, will spend $505 million for Housing for People With AIDS (HOPWA). Biden’s supplemental offers Israel $1.5 billion to research an experimental laser weapon, while just $360 million is likely to be spent, best-case, on Housing for Persons with Disabilities. 

Struggle: the only hope

The only question now is how much resistance Biden’s proposal will meet. Hundreds of thousands have been taking the streets for Palestine and skepticism about the war in Ukraine is growing. On Nov. 4, the action will shift to Washington, where large numbers are expected to protest for a free Palestine, demanding, among other things, an end to all U.S. aid to Israel. 

In the midst of byzantine negotiations in Congress around the budget, the budget process, a new Speaker and geopolitical priorities, the possibility of struggle to change the equation to make housing matter more than apartheid is very real. 

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