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story.lead_photo.caption Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Alliance, talks Thursday about the need for more housing for low-income people during the Arkansas Fair Housing/Fair Lending Conference in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Criticisms of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development policies and a budget proposal were frequent topics during an annual conference in Little Rock on Thursday, one day before HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson is scheduled to speak.

Low-income housing and LGBTQ advocates spoke Thursday at the annual Fair Housing/Fair Lending Conference in Little Rock. About 400 people registered for the event.

The Arkansas Fair Housing Commission, which organized the conference, is a state-created agency that works with HUD to enforce fair housing statutes. Guest panelists, not commission members, spoke against federal policy.

President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2020 has deep cuts to the HUD budget for programs such as the Community Development Block Grants, HOME grants and public housing capital improvements. The proposal would decrease the department's budget by about 18 percent.

Last year's proposal also included cuts, which weren't approved by Congress.

Carson's office in a news release referred to the 2020 budget plan as evidence of Trump's "fiscal restraint, targeting lower value HUD programs for elimination or reduction, while seeking stable or increased funding into the highest impact programs that provide housing and support for vulnerable population."

Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, was the keynote speaker at the Little Rock conference on Thursday, and spoke against the proposed cuts.

Carson's office did not respond to an emailed request for comment by press time.

"We face some of the most severe challenges and threats that we have in decades," Yentel said. " ... The housing crisis has reached historic heights."

The coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and research group, conducts an annual study of the nation's housing shortage called The Gap. The most recent report, released last month, showed that no state has enough housing that residents with the lowest incomes can afford.

Arkansas had about 56 homes available for every 100 of the lowest-income renters, according to the study.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who appoints members of the Fair Housing Commission, spoke about Arkansas' housing need at the conference.

The commission works to make sure all parts of the process of purchasing or renting a home are fair for Arkansans, he said, adding that under his new plan for a smaller government, the office will operate under the state inspector general.

"It was important that they recognize their independence," he said of the decision.

He said that getting the loan and finding an affordable home were crucial in buying his first home.

Yentel said that in the late 1970s, the country had a small surplus of affordable housing. President Richard Nixon halted funding for public housing in 1973. President Ronald Reagan sliced in half the HUD budget for public housing and Section 8 rental subsidies.

The next big problem in housing was the foreclosure crisis in 2008, which caused more people to turn to rental homes, she said.

The federal budget for housing hasn't bounced back since the 1970s, she said.

"This is not something that we should all accept as just the way it is," she added.

Arkansas low-income-housing advocates plan to protest the budget as well as express concerns with the quality of Section 8 housing inspections Friday, according to a news release.

Patrick McBride, a panelist who spoke about housing discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people, urged listeners to boycott Carson's speech because his agency hasn't issued LGBTQ nondiscrimination guidance.

The guidance was pulled back soon after President Barack Obama left office.

Carson defended the decision in a House of Representatives hearing earlier this month, saying the guidance "actually confused the issue and made a lot more regulations necessary, and we're trying to simplify things. We have not removed the rules. We have not changed the rules at all."

But McBride said that, in his advocacy work, he's seen problems created because of the lack of guidance. The National Coalition for the Homeless says that LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience social stigma and discrimination.

"The person rolling back protections should not be talking about fair housing," McBride said at Thursday's panel.

Metro on 04/19/2019

Print Headline: HUD policies, budget cuts dominate forum in Little Rock

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