Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is proposing a plan to make public housing residents more self-sufficient.
In congressional legislation he unveiled Wednesday, Carson plans to raise the required amount that residents pay in rent from 30 percent to 35 percent of their income, according to The Hill.
Elderly and disabled tenants would be exempt from the plan which also imposes work requirements and will evaluate rents every three years instead of annually. Rents for low-income families would “rise from about an amount not exceeding $50 per month to $150 per month,” The Washington Post reported.
“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,” Carson said in a statement about the plan, dubbed the Make Affordable Housing Work Act.
“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,” he said.
HUD is seeking to eliminate deductions for medical and child-care costs when determining rent, a factor that Carson said has given some residents an unfair advantage.
“They know how to include certain deductions that other people may not be aware of,” Carson said in a call with reporters, according to the Washington Post. “We really want to level the playing field and make it much more even for everyone.”
The retired neurosurgeon who grew up in poverty in Boston and Detroit said each year, fewer eligible people are reached by increased government spending on housing, with only one in four eligible families receiving the benefits.
“Every year, it takes more money, millions of dollars more, to serve the same number of households,” Carson said. “It’s clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable.”
Critics, however, are slamming the plan by Carson and HUD which recently came under fire after reports of a $31,000 dining room set purchase by Carson and his wife.
“When we are in the middle of a housing crisis that’s having the most negative impact on the lowest-income people, we shouldn’t even be considering proposals to increase their rent burdens,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said according to the Post.
Jack Cooper, executive director of the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, denounced the proposal as “a war on low-income people,” forcing families into homelessness.
“We’re talking about keeping a roof over people who can’t afford the market,” he said, according to Fox News. “They’re devastating folks that are already in dire straits.”
Under Carson’s leadership, HUD announced changes to their Obama-era mission statement in March, eliminating the words “inclusive” and “discrimination-free.”
The Trump administration has been working to help people out of poverty with a series of budget proposals and changes that seek to expand work requirements and a suggestion of replacing half of the cash benefits for families with a box of nonperishable, government-sourced goods, according to the Post.
A House Financial Services subcommittee hearing on rent reform was scheduled for Wednesday and Carson detailed his plan ahead of the meeting.
“Changes that are made to the rental structure ultimately have to be approved by Congress,” Carson said. “These are the suggestions that we are making.”
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