U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa, grew up in the Olney neighborhood of upper North Philadelphia. There, the congressman’s mother worked as a crossing guard shepherding school children across bustling North 5th Street, the neighborhood’s shop-lined commercial spine. Back then, Olney was mostly Irish and Italian, but today it is one of the most racially and linguistically diverse areas in the city.
Boyle returned to North 5th Street on Monday morning with a dire warning of the hit facing neighborhood as President Donald Trump moves to dramatically cut the amount of federal aid that goes to support small businesses and fight blight on the corridor, and on urban main streets like it across the country
“Sometimes people have the misconception that what happens in Washington stays in Washington, but these cuts would have an effect right here on 5th street,” Boyle said, flanked by Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, who represents the neighborhood, and City Council President Darrell Clarke
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program Trump wants to scrap as part of a massive cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would mean a loss of $38 million in federal aid for affordable housing, blight-reduction services, foreclosure counselling, and aid for commercial corridors in working-class communities, helping the shopping districts maintain services that business improvement districts in wealthier areas can accommodate.
On North 5th Street, CDBG dollars go to cover the cost of two street cleaners who keep litter off the 1.5-mile strip of restaurants, shops and offices. The street cleaners work for the North 5th Street Revitalization Project, a community organization that manages the business district. Over the past four years, money from the HUD program also went to sprucing up 15 storefronts on the corridor and installing security cameras at six other small businesses. North 5th Street Revitalization director, Stephanie Michel, says that without CDBG, the nonprofit wouldn’t be able to survive. The federal aid covers nearly all of its operating budget, she said.
“Communities are judged first by their commercial corridors, but despite their importance, few resources are extended,” said Michel.
But in recent years CDBG has become a political football. In 2016, Senator Pat Toomey threatened to cut the program from communities that adopted “sanctuary city” policies. In both of President Trump’s proposed budgets he has proposed killing the program.
On Monday, Democratic politicians in Philadelphia held up the anti-poverty grant program as an example of the kind of public spending that used to enjoy bipartisan support.
“They’ve redistributed the wealth, taking even more money from the middle class and putting it in the pocket of the wealthiest americans,” said Council President Clarke. “The zeroing out of [ a program] budget that is $3 billion? That’s the cost of, what, two B-1 bombers?”