HUD secretary proposes rent increases for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies

PHOTO: Ben Carson testifies before the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, April 18, 2018, in Washington, DC.PlayWin McNamee/Getty Images
WATCH HUD secretary proposes rent increases for low-income Americans

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced Wednesday a legislative package that proposes raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing assistance.

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In an effort to reform a system that the administration describes as “broken,” Carson said he aims to institute “a menu of choice rents that housing authorities and owners may implement to promote greater flexibility, local control and self-sufficiency for non-elderly, non-disabled households.”

Under the current system, recipients of federal housing subsidies contribute 30 percent of their monthly adjusted income toward rent or a minimum rent in the amount of up to $50 as set by the public housing agency.

The administration’s new proposal recommends an increase to a family’s monthly contribution to 35 percent, or 35 percent of the amount earned by an individual working at least 15 hours per week at the federal minimum wage.

HUD assists 4.7 million families with affordable housing options. But the agency is burdened by long waiting lists, according to Carson, that hinder the administration’s ability to appropriately serve low-income families.

“It is widely accepted that only one in four families who need and qualify for HUD programs actually receive housing assistance,” the secretary said in a conference call with reporters.

The status quo creates “perverse incentives, such as discouraging these families from earning more income and becoming self-sufficient,” he added.

With this new outline for rent rules, the administration seeks to create, as Carson described, a much “simpler, less invasive, more transparent” process for families to access federal housing subsidies.

The secretary insists these changes are for work-able individuals, and will not impact the elderly and disabled households, at least for six years.

“We’ve made great efforts to make sure that disabled people and elderly people are not impacted by what is happening at this stage,” he said.

“The current proposal would require a phase-in for the 30 percent for elderly and disabled after 6 years but those families that are currently in the program would see no appreciable change to their rent,” a HUD official affirmed. “It would be after the 6 years when this proposal would change how we calculate rent for the elderly and disabled.”

PHOTO: The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building houses the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, Jan. 22, 2018.Justin T. Gellerson/The New York Times via Redux
The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building houses the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, Jan. 22, 2018.

More than half of HUD-assisted families are headed by elderly or disabled individuals, but the administration could not provide an exact number of recipients who will see an increase in their rent contributions as a result of the legislative proposal.

Other reforms outlined in the Making Affordable Housing Work Act include encouraging work requirements, as well as verifying tenants’ incomes every three years rather than annually.

The latter change will, according to Carson, “ease administrative burdens” and “encourage recipients to increase their earned income.”

This latest move comes after the administration’s proposed FY2019 budget recommends a nearly 18 percent cut to HUD. This plan also follows the White House’s lead on curbing anti-poverty programs that direct much-needed assistance to low-income Americans.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on reducing poverty that states, “The Federal Government’s role is to clear paths to self-sufficiency, reserving public assistance programs for those who are truly in need. The Federal Government should do everything within its authority to empower individuals by providing opportunities for work.”

PHOTO: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, right, smiles while listening to Denise Smith, who used to be homeless, at the Downtown Womens Center, April 24, 2018, in Los Angeles.Jae C. Hong/AP
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, right, smiles while listening to Denise Smith, who used to be homeless, at the Downtown Women's Center, April 24, 2018, in Los Angeles.

Carson applauded this executive order in an op-ed in the Washington Times earlier this week.

“Our social safety net exists to protect low-income families from poverty and hardship, and to help people get back on their feet. Despite all the good intentions, our nation’s welfare system continues to encourage a culture of dependency rather than self-sufficiency," he wrote.

The Democratic National Committee chastised the secretary's proposal in a statement and alluded to his recent purchase of a $31,000 dining set using taxpayer dollars that has since been canceled after ABC News reported the purchase.

“Instead of fighting for low-income Americans, Trump and Ben Carson want to make it more difficult for millions of families to find jobs and put a roof over their heads. At the same time, Ben Carson has wasted taxpayer dollars with lavish spending, including on an extremely expensive dining set. The American people are outraged that the Trump Administration continues to leave them behind.”

This new proposal by HUD heads to Congress for consideration as it will require congressional approval.

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