On Wednesday, the Trump administration released a plan to change how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by former presidential candidate and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, helps low-income families afford rent. However, Ben Carson's new housing policy could affect a shocking number of low-income families and has already been criticized by legislators on both sides of the political aisle. Romper's request for comment from HUD was not immediately returned.
The proposal is called the Making Affordable Housing Work Act and amends the United States Housing Act of 1937, which strived to help low-income and rent burdened families afford rent. Right now, as The Boston Globe noted, tenants who get federal assistance pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent, which has to be at least $50.
The new rule will raise the rent to whatever is higher, according to the bill — 35 percent of a family's income or 35 percent of what someone earns by working 15 hours a week, for four weeks, at federal minimum wage. That comes out to about $150 with the current federal minimum wage.
Essentially, the bill raises the rent by three times for 712,000 households right away, though it's estimated that the changes would affect 4.7 million families overall, as The Washington Post reported. HUD made clear that the elderly and disabled wouldn't be affected by the plan for the first six years, according to The Washington Post. An extra $100 might not seem like a lot to some people, but it could be really hard for low-income families to come up with when they're already struggling to make ends meet with the jobs they have.
Not only does the new plan raise the rent for families, it also would also allow public housing agencies to impose work requirements on tenants, which the administration has been moving towards for all federal assistance programs, as reported by The New York Times. The Trump administration said in its 2019 budget proposal that it would "encourage work and self-sufficiency” in all of its assistance programs, so this proposal by HUD isn't too much of a surprise for policy wonks.
This sort of proposal has been coming since Trump started putting his Cabinet together. Carson said in a statement released by his office:
The system we currently use to calculate a family's rental assistance is broken and holds back the very people we're supposed to be helping. HUD-assisted households are now required to surrender a long list of personal information, and any new income they earn is ‘taxed' every year in the form of a rent increase. Today, we begin a necessary conversation about how we can provide meaningful, dignified assistance to those we serve without hurting them at the same time.
Put simply, Carson's office believes that people who receive housing assistance don't try to get higher paying jobs because they don't want their rent to go up, as similarly reported by CBS News. Housing advocates disagree with this logic, since most people who receive rental assistance already work, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The CBPP wrote in a statement in March when this proposal was still in the works:
Most rental assistance recipients who can work do, but low-wage workers often have unpredictable hours, ranging from 40 hours in some weeks to just a fraction of that amount in others. Workers doing their best to earn a living could lose assistance because their employers don’t give them enough hours or they can’t keep up with the paperwork to prove the hours they worked each week.
Diane Yentel, of the National Low Income Housing Institute, wrote in February after reading a draft of HUD's proposal that the new plan is just not logical or cost effective, especially when people who need assistance or are usually already working or have other obstacles to overcome. Yentel wrote:
The majority of people receiving housing subsidies are elderly, disabled or already include someone who works at a low-wage job. Of the remaining households, nearly half include a preschool child or an older child or adult with a disability who needs the supervision of a caregiver.
Cities and state housing agencies would have to set up new infrastructure to monitor and enforce these new work requirements for the remaining 6 percent of households that are unemployed, Yentel added, making it all the more obvious that the new housing plan might be based more on the assumption that poverty is behavioral rather than wanting to actually reduce poverty and cut costs.
Most housing advocates agree that expanding assistance programs is an effective way to help low-income families transition out of poverty long term, according to the CBPP. In fact, according to a 2014 study from the Journal of Development Economics, straight up giving people cash with no conditions at all seems to be one of the best ways to assist the poor. Critics of Carson's plan believe that the more the government actually helps the poor, the more economic mobility and equality there will be eventually. Or, that assistance programs should be seen as an investment in people instead of a burdensome expense that needs to be cut out of the budget.
Carson's latest proposal will have to be approved by Congress, which doesn't seem to be moving quickly on anything these days thanks to the midterm elections. If you love or hate this idea, you can call your legislators to tell them how you feel and why before they vote on it.