HUD’s Rent Increases and Work Requirements Called ‘Unconscionable and Immoral’

Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, proposed changes to rent structures  that are sparking backlash from housing advocates and prominent legislators on Capitol Hill.

The change in rent structures calls for a five percent increase in monthly rent contributions based on a family’s monthly income or the amount earned by an individual working 15 hours a week per month at the federal minimum wage, as stated in page two of a housing bill released on April 25.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty is calling this “a public plan to increase rent for millions of the nation’s poorest households, with the cost of rent tripling for some of the lowest-income families.”

“Secretary Carson is proposing to save money on the backs of the poorest Americans by making it even harder for them to afford housing, pushing millions more into homelessness,” founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty,  Maria Foscarinis, said in a press release. She noted that Carson should be seeking to increase HUD’s budget to end homelessness.

California Senator Kamala Harris Tweeted in late April that she is challenging Carson on his proposal and has since signed a joint letter with Senator Dianne Feinstein to demand answers.

“I’ve contacted Ben Carson to demand a justification for his proposal of a 300% increase in rent for low-income households. He needs to answer why on earth he thinks this will help low-income families,” Harris said via Twitter.

Carson is also proposing  that minimum work requirements can be established by a public housing agency for individuals or families, excluding those who are 65 or older, as stated on page six of the bill.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty said these work requirements could impact those prevented from working due to health reasons or those who are the primary caretaker of a nonworking person who can’t afford to hire care, such as  children or the elderly.

HUD argues that these proposals will make rent policies “simpler, more transparent and predictable.”

“HUD is proposing a simplified structure of ‘core rents’ that offers a more transparent and predictable rent calculation that streamlines program administration for PHAs (Public Housing Authorities) and owners and is easier for both landlords and tenants to understand,” HUD said in a press release on the proposals.

Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants Executive Director Michael Kane called the proposal “unconscionable and immoral.”

“The rent increase of 35 percent across the board would impact anybody who receives HUD assistance and for the most destitute people it have them paying triple the amount in rent, which means a lot of people will be displaced, including a lot of people with children,” Kane said.

He also called the work requirement portion of the proposal a way of “penalizing and punishing people with arbitrary rules” that will make it hard for people to get work.

Kane doubts that such proposals will pass if taken up by the Congress at all given that it’s an election year.

“It takes a member of Congress to file these bills and as far as I know it has not been filed,” Kane said. “I don’t think it will pass in its current form, and for domestic spending Congress increased funding in FY19.

“There’s a possibility that work requirements or rent increases in some form will be passed by the House, but it’s unlikely it will be passed by the Senate,” Kane said. “A lot will depend on the outcome of the elections this fall on whether these proposals will see the light of day.”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.