HUD Secretary Carson Testifies on Proposals to Increase Rents, Impose Work Requirements, Scale Back Fair Housing Enforcement, and More

The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on June 27, “Oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” with HUD Secretary Ben Carson as the sole witness. The hearing covered a broad range of topics, including HUD’s proposals to increase rents and impose work requirements, as well as disaster recovery, fair housing, and lead hazards in public housing.

Lawmakers expressed opposition to HUD’s proposals to increase rents and impose work requirements on people receiving housing assistance. The administration’s proposals would triple the minimum rent from $50 to $150, and would eliminate income deductions for healthcare and childcare. Secretary Carson repeatedly stated that “not many people” would be affected by tripling the minimum rent, although he later admitted that nearly 470,000 people, all of whom have extremely low incomes, would be impacted by the change. Secretary Carson described work requirements for assisted housing residents as a means for getting people out of subsidized housing. The secretary maintained that HUD would continue to push for work requirements and rent increases despite recent indications the department was backing down on the proposals.

Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) pointed to the discrepancies in the administration’s justifications for the need to increase rents. Secretary Carson initially defended the proposals as a means to make individuals more self-sufficient but later stated the rent increases were no longer necessary since HUD received increased funding through the bipartisan budget agreement. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said that rent hikes would affect the working poor, as over 75% of individuals living in public housing are working. He also expressed concerns over rent burdens in high-cost areas like New York. Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH) referenced NLIHC’s Out of Reach report: “There is no state in America where a person earning the minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment,” she said. Representative Jim Himes (D-CT) pointed out the high housing costs can prevent individuals from saving money for other basic needs like education.

Lawmakers expressed concerns over HUD’s actions in undermining the Fair Housing Act, including the agency’s decision to suspend the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. When questioned by Ms. Waters, Secretary Carson maintained that “all discrimination is serious,” though he offered no substantive examples of ways HUD plans to combat discrimination. When questioned about the deletion of “free from discrimination” from HUD’s revised mission statement proposal, Secretary Carson said the department had not yet finalized the language.

Representatives expressed concerns about the lack of sufficient funding for lead paint and mold remediation efforts in public housing. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) asked Secretary Carson how he expected public housing agencies to fund remediation efforts when HUD’s FY19 budget called for zeroing out the public housing capital fund. Though the department’s rental assistance demonstration (RAD) program funds hazard remediation, a Government Accountability Office report found that HUD has only “limited ability” to measure the impact of the program.

Representative Wagner (R-MO) spoke about the need for comprehensive disaster housing recovery efforts. Secretary Carson agreed that Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) should be codified into law.

Watch the archived webcast of the hearing at: