Diane Yentel, NLIHC President & CEO
Last week, I read an internal HUD draft bill that confirmed what many of us suspected: Secretary Carson is planning, through his FY19 budget request and accompanying legislation, to propose increasing rent burdens for all people in all HUD-subsidized homes. HUD will also propose allowing minimum work requirements of up to 32 hours a week for some subsidized housing residents. As homelessness increases and the housing crisis intensifies in communities across the country, the administration is focusing its efforts on increasing rents and other burdens for the lowest income and most vulnerable households in HUD-subsidized homes, which may further increase homelessness over time.
The proposed rent increases target the very poorest people, including seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes and already at significant risk of homelessness. Today, most families receiving federal housing assistance pay 30% of their adjusted income as rent. Under HUD’s proposal, they would instead have to pay 35% of their gross income or 35% of the amount earned by working 15 hours a week at federal minimum wage, whichever is higher. This means that HUD would essentially set a new mandatory minimum monthly rent of $152.25, three times higher than the current minimum rent that some housing providers may apply to families in subsidized homes. By eliminating income deductions in determining rents, HUD would increase rents most significantly for families with high medical or child care expenses.
Housing benefits are designed to help people when they fall on hard times, like when they are unemployed or underemployed, and to care for those with the greatest need for assistance, including seniors, people with disabilities, and children. Without housing assistance, low income people face a greater risk of eviction and homelessness – circumstances that make it even more challenging to maintain a job.
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. Establishing work requirements for the remaining six percent of households who are “work able” but not employed would require state and local housing agencies already facing funding shortfalls to establish cumbersome monitoring and enforcement systems for a very narrow segment of rental assistance recipients. This is neither cost-effective nor a solution to the very real issue of poverty impacting millions of families living in subsidized homes or the many millions more in need.
Work requirements don’t work: they do not create the jobs with decent pay and opportunities needed to lift people out of poverty. Instead, imposing such requirements could cut struggling families off from the very housing stability and services that make it possible for them to find and maintain work.
To help struggling families earn more and get ahead, Secretary Carson should work to expand—not slash—investments in affordable homes, job training, education, childcare, and other policies to help families thrive. Research shows that HUD’s voluntary programs, like Jobs Plus and Family Self Sufficiency, are far more effective and less onerous than work requirements. Under these programs, services and financial incentives help families increase their earnings without the risks and added costs. HUD’s Section 3 regulation should be strengthened and enforced to promote job training and hiring among people receiving housing benefits.
HUD must reconsider its misguided and cruel proposals to increase rent burdens for millions of the lowest income and most vulnerable seniors, families and people with disabilities. While Secretary Carson may try to portray the proposals as increasing “self-sufficiency,” these proposals are more about punishing low income people than helping them.
Thanks, as always, for your advocacy,