Ben Carson is raising rent on poor people after saying he wouldn’t

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: HUD Secretary Ben Carson testifies before the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Despite previously claiming they wouldn’t, the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to boost rents by an average of 26 percent on vulnerable Americans who rely on federal housing subsidies to avoid becoming homeless. Meanwhile, a separate bill has been introduced by a Republican congressman that would raise rents on poor people at an even higher rate than what the administration has proposed.

The “Make Affordable Housing Work Act,” introduced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in April, claims to put the millions of people who rely on federal assistance to pay their rent on a path to “self-sufficiency.” The plan, which needs congressional approval, requires people receiving housing subsidies to pay 35 percent of their total income towards housing, instead of the current 30 percent. It would also boost the minimum monthly rent on the most financially vulnerable families from $50 to $150.

Shortly after a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis last month found that 8.3 million people, including millions of families and children, would be affected by the proposal (and put at even greater risk of homelessness), HUD Secretary Ben Carson suggested to reporters the agency may not push forward the plan after all. According to the Detroit News, Carson told reporters that the agency did not need to impose the plan because “now we have some increased funding and we’re not going to have to do that.”

The Trump administration had proposed slashing HUD’s budget by 14 percent in fiscal 2019 and would set aside $2 billion less in Section 8 federal rental assistance vouchers than the amount required to maintain current levels, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That proposal would kick 200,000 people off of the Section 8 system. However, House and Senate appropriations committees have ignored that request to cut HUD’s budget, and instead proposed more funding for the agency.

But during a June 27 House Financial Services Oversight Committee hearing, Carson once again changed his tune, telling members of Congress the agency was still moving forward with the plan.

“This proposal is a starting point in the conversation as you know, Congress will make the decision,” Carson said when questioned about the status of the proposal by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). “Of course we continue to back our proposals.”

“Increasing rents to the most vulnerable in our society will lead to increased homelessness and do nothing to advance self-sufficiency,” said Thomas Silverstein, counsel at the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Laws. “Secretary Carson’s repeated changes in positions and shifting justifications are systematic of a lack of a clear vision for HUD’s role in meeting the nation’s affordable housing needs.”

Congress proposes an even higher raise on rents

HUD’s plan is not the only legislation congress will consider that would raise rent on vulnerable Americans. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) has also introduced a bill that would let state and local housing authorities raise the minimum monthly rent on the poorest Americans — families with an annual adjusted income of $2,000 or less — by more than $500 a month on average, far exceeding the Carson proposal, according to Will Fischer, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That increase would cause millions of Americans to become homeless.

“The proposal itself would raise rents sharply on low-income people and have a lot of harmful effects on them,” Fischer said. “Even if they raised it by a fraction of an amount, it would be difficult for people with low incomes to pay.”

The bill would prevent tenants from deducting medical and childcare-related expenses and other elderly, disabled, and student deductions when calculating their total income, which sets the amount they pay in rent. And it would also allow public housing authorities to set tired rent systems that raise rents on non-disabled or non-elderly every few years, regardless of their financial circumstance.