U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to increase rents and impose work requirements on HUD-assisted tenants is outrageous, but it is not new; it has been part of President Trump’s budget proposals for the past two years. They amount to a complete reversal of 80 years of federal housing policy and HUD’s mission of “providing a decent home in a suitable living environment” for low-income Americans.
If taken seriously, they spell the virtual abandonment of public housing and its half-million residents here in New York City. This should not surprise us in a period of radical federal reversals, where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting environmental degradation and the U.S. Department of Education is seeking to erode the public education system.
The proposed increase in tenant rent contributions from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income will mean average rent increases of 20 to 25 percent across the board in all HUD housing programs, including public housing, private subsidized housing, and housing for the disabled and the elderly. These changes can only result in rising rent arrears, mounting eviction actions, and increased risks of homelessness. Nor will they provide any additional funding for capital-starved housing authorities or for private owners. As rent payments increase, HUD’s subsidy will correspondingly decrease. HUD’s budget is the major beneficiary.
To keep their homes, HUD tenants will be required to pay higher rents out of their limited budgets. They will be forced to cut meager funds available to meet food, health, education, work-related transportation, and other basic needs.
Secretary Carson appears to be concerned about “dependency” among HUD tenants who rely on federal housing aid, as he opens the way for time-limits on tenancy--even in tight, high-cost rental markets like New York. If so, he should also concern himself with the growing dependency of homeowners on mortgage interest income tax deductions. The foregone federal income tax revenue each year is three times the HUD budget.