Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has proposed legislation that would introduce rent increases for low-income Americans who are receiving federal housing assistance. On April 25th, the HUD secretary introduced the Making Affordable Housing Work Act of 2018, which could triple rent payments and expand work requirements for low-income Americans.
Though the proposal still requires congressional approval, it is estimated that this new legislation would affect over four million families that are already receiving housing assistance from the federal government. According to the proposal from HUD secretary Ben Carson, work requirements would be enforceable by public housing agencies and landlords. In addition, rent payments would be increased to 35 percent of gross income rather than 30, and the minimum required payment would be increased from $50 to $150. The legislation would also eliminate deductions for families receiving childcare assistance.
The system for federal housing assistance, however, is so backed up, that only about one in four families is receiving assistance, with the other 75 percent of applicants stuck on waiting lists. The legislation proposed by the HUD secretary has been criticized by advocates for low-income Americans. According to a press release from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), “One of the biggest barriers to economic prosperity for America’s lowest-income families is the lack of decent, accessible, and affordable homes.”
A report from Harvard University’s Joint Centre for Housing Studies shows that roughly 21 million households pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent. There are also 7.2 million fewer affordable homes than needed for low-income individuals, according to the NLIHC. While the legislation proposed by Ben Carson states that the elderly and disabled would not be affected by work requirements for housing assistance, Andrew Sperling, director of legislative and policy advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness and co-chair of the Consortium for Citizen with Disabilities Housing Task Force, said in a press release from the NLIHC, “the threat of losing housing assistance would certainly force people with disabilities back into costly institutional settings such as nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals and even chronic homelessness.”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson has heard these criticisms and has begun addressing them. After Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond called Carson’s plan the “latest example of the Trump administration’s war on poor people,” Carson responded, saying “I would say it’s just the opposite. It is our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty,” in a phone interview with Fox News. However, in a piece for the Chicago Tribune, Jeliner Jordan, a grassroots leader with Jane Addams Senior Caucus and People’s Action, recounted her experience in trying to ask the HUD secretary where she, a “retired, low-income senior,” will live during a corporate housing conference in Las Vegas. As she was taken out of the conference where she asked her question, Jordan says she heard Ben Carson tell the crowd, “(This is) a perfect example of what happens when the swamp gets ahold of you.”
The proposed legislation is part of the Trump administration’s move toward overhauling welfare programs. President Trump has already signed an executive order expanding work requirements for Americans who are receiving Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, and public housing assistance. The Washington Post reports that Ben Carson told reporters during a conference call: “It’s clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable.” The HUD secretary has said that the current system is unfair as some recipients know how to “work the system.”
The plan for enacting the proposed legislation comes just weeks after the HUD secretary was singled out for government waste, as the department first approved, then quickly cancelled the purchase of a $31,000 dining set. Carson claimed he had no knowledge of how much the set cost. However, according to a report from CNN, internal emails from the department referred to printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out. The proposed legislation also comes months after a tax bill that was largely seen to favour high-income individuals. In a press release from the NLIHC, president and CEO Diane Yentel said: “Proposing these changes under the guise of saving the government money, just months after giving massive tax breaks to wealthy people and corporations, is the height of cruel hypocrisy.”
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