Trump seeks sharp cuts to housing aid, except for a program that brings him millions
Buildings in Starrett City, the largest federally subsidized rental complex in the country, located in Brooklyn.
By Shawn Boburg June 20, 2017
Donald Trump’s budget calls for sharply reducing funding for programs that shelter the poor and combat homelessness — with a notable exception: It leaves intact a type of federal housing subsidy that is paid directly to private landlords.
One of those landlords is Donald Trump, who earns millions of dollars each year as a part-owner of Starrett City, the nation’s largest subsidized housing complex. Trump’s 4 percent stake in the Brooklyn complex earned him at least $5 million between January of last year and April 15, according to his recent financial disclosure.
Trump’s business empire intersects with government in countless ways, from taxation to permitting to the issuing of patents, but the housing subsidy is one of the clearest examples of the conflicts experts have predicted. It is a stark illustration of how his financial interests can directly rise or fall on the policies of his administration.
The federal government has paid the partnership that owns Starrett City more than $490 million in rent subsidies since May 2013, according to figures provided by a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nearly $38 million of that has come since Trump took office in January.
That subsidy generates steady income for Donald Trump and his siblings, each of whom inherited an interest in the property when their father died. Although it represents a small portion of his overall wealth, it is one of the few examples of money the president derives directly from the federal government he oversees.
Starrett City is a complex of 46 brick towers that stretches across 150 acres just to the west of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. It was built in the mid-1970s and houses nearly 15,000 people.
Trump once called Starrett City “one of the best investments I ever made,” but it was his father who was an investor in its construction, according to a representative of Starrett City.
A White House spokeswoman declined to respond to detailed questions from The Washington Pos and directed inquiries to the Trump Organization, which did not respond to messages Monday and Tuesday.
Starrett City provides more than 3,500 subsidized housing units to low-income residents under a program that makes payments directly to landlords. Under the “project-based rental assistance program,” residents contribute 30 percent of their income toward rent, and the federal government pays the rest.
The project-based rental assistance program is one of only a few HUD programs that would be spared steep cuts under Trump’s proposed budget, which housing advocates have said would carry devastating consequences for the poor and the homeless.
The administration has proposed reducing HUD’s overall budget by $7 billion, or about 15 percent. That includes cuts to two of the other programs that, together with the program that pays landlords directly, serve the vast majority of people who get federal housing assistance.
The budget calls for a nearly 29 percent cut, or $1.8 billion, to public housing and a 5 percent drop, or nearly $1 billion, in vouchers that allow tenants to use the aid on the housing of their choice, according to Douglas Rice, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In contrast, the program that directs money to Starrett City and other privately owned housing would see a reduction of about half a percent, or $65 million, from its $10.8 billion allocation.
“It’s a conflict, and it’s why everyone has pushed Trump to not only step away from his business interests but to divest them,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog organization.
“It certainly raises questions as to why that remained relatively flat while there were other cuts,” Amey said.
Congress has ultimate say on the budget, but the Trump spending plan lays out the president’s priorities.
HUD has come under fire after news that the expected nominee to lead the department in the New York region is Lynne Patton, an event planner who has no professional experience in housing but who is a former vice president of Eric Trump’s foundation and who helped plan his wedding.
Patton served as Ben Carson’s $160,000-a-year senior adviser.
Patton previously worked as an event planner for the Trump Organization and “a senior aide to the Trump family.” She organized “upscale events and celebrity golf tournaments at multiple Trump properties” and handled “celebrity talent acquisition for various marketing projects,” according to an online résumé on the website LinkedIn.
She told the Daily Mail earlier this year that she was entrusted by Eric and Lara Trump to help plan their wedding in Palm Beach, Fla. She also served as an unpaid vice president for the Eric Trump Foundation, a charity that raised money for children with leukemia. Forbes and ABC News have both reported that Eric Trump’s charity, the Eric Trump Foundation, has been funneling donations – from donors who believed the money was going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – to the Trump Organization by paying high sums for use of Trump properties during fundraisers and re-donating some funds to charities friendly with Trump interests. Patton’s knowledge of this is to be questioned.
The New York Daily News first reported her expected appointment late last week and raised questions about claims she made on her LinkedIn profile. Under “education” she lists a law degree from the Quinnipiac University School of Law, along with the notation “N/A.” After the controversy erupted, she explained that “N/A,” short for “not applicable,” was meant to signify that she did not finish law school.
Armstrong Williams, a longtime friend and adviser to Carson said that she dropped out before earning a degree but that she had been truthful with Carson about her background, including a history of substance abuse.
As one of 10 regional administrators, Patton would serve as a liaison to local and state officials in the New York area and oversee HUD programs there. She did not respond to requests for comment through a person who answered her cellphone Monday.
Some New York City officials scoffed at her prospective appointment.
“Folks in that role historically have had substantial background in government or in housing,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, who served in that position previously, said during a radio program this week.
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