The charming, even charismatic, Philip Mangano – U.S. President George W. Bush’s “homeless czar” – was the keynote speaker on day one of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association annual congress in Calgary on Thursday, and he didn’t disappoint! Of course, you’d expect that a senior political appointee for the Bush administration would be a good salesman for the policies of that government.
Mangano said nice things about Steve Nash (the basketball player) and Malcolm Gladwell (the writer) – both Canadians who moved to the U.S. – before launching into a rousing denunciation of homelessness as a moral, social, economic and even spiritual crime visited upon communities. He effectively made the “business case” for investment in new housing.
I’ve met Mangano before and I’m always impressed with his energy and enthusiasm. It’s no wonder that he has been able to convince more than 300 U.S. municipalities and 49 of the 50 states to adopt 10-year strategies to end chronic homelessness.
So, what’s wrong with this picture? While Mangano has been piling up frequent flier points visiting every part of the U.S. to convince state and local governments that they need to take up the responsibility for a “housing first” policy for the homeless, his political boss – President Bush – has been gutting the U.S. federal government’s funding for housing. This year alone, there are massive cuts to seniors’ supportive housing and disabled housing funding. The U.S. federal housing program for people with AIDS will help about 67,000 people this year – yet an estimated 500,000 people living with HIV / AIDS desperately need housing help.
The problem is so bad that even the rather staid Joint Centre for Housing Studies at Harvard University has proclaimed in its latest annual State of the Nation’s Housing that affordable housing and homelessness have reached their worst levels ever, and funding cuts by the federal government are the chief culprit. For more on Mangano and the U.S. housing scene, check out the Wellesley Institute backgrounder posted in the housing and homelessness section of our web site.
Canadians know all about federal cost-cutting and downloading when it comes to housing. We’ve had billions of dollars in funding cuts, and downloading, by the federal government over the past two decades, followed by hundreds of millions in funding cuts, and downloading, by the Ontario government over the past decade.
What we don’t have in Canada is such a slick and effective salesman for downloading and cost-cutting as Mangano, someone who makes municipalities feel good about bad federal policy.
So, during the plenary session, I asked Mangano how he could continue to preach the “housing first” message on behalf of the Bush administration, and argue that it makes good business sense, when that very same Bush administration was cutting housing funding and dumping its responsibilities onto state and local governments. Mangano gave a long and discursive response, but never answered the question.
Afterwards, I had a few moments to speak privately with Mangano. He was as pleasant and charming as always, but he was a bit more blunt. “I don’t like your numbers,” he said. I pointed out that the key numbers on housing spending came from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (that’s the agency in the Bush administration that generates the U.S. federal budget) and also pointed to the Harvard housing comment. I invited Mangano to send me his numbers, if he didn’t like the ones that I was able to get from the U.S. government.
It all seems to me like the line that we hear far too often from politicians and political appointees: Do as I say, not as I do.