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House Republicans want to impose work requirements on foster kids facing homelessness

“This is part of an effort to punish low-income people and take away the support they need to make ends meet."

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 18:  A homeless teen panhandles on a street near Eighth Avenue in Manhattan on May 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 18: A homeless teen panhandles on a street near Eighth Avenue in Manhattan on May 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

House Republicans are pushing a bill that would impose work and education requirements on foster youths who are facing homelessness, putting their ability to get federal housing subsidies at risk.

The bill, called the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act,” sounds positive: it attempts to prevent at-risk youths who age out of the foster care system at 18 and forced to abruptly fend for themselves from becoming homeless by placing them at the top of the long line for the limited number of federal housing subsidy vouchers nationwide. However, after the first 30 months of receiving those vouchers, those youths are required to meet certain work, training, and education requirements that are decided at the local level. Those young people would age out of the program when they turn 25.

The bill also fails to increase funding for affordable housing, which would make wait times for everyone on the list longer. And it comes amid other efforts by the Trump administration to raise rents on people already in federally subsidized housing.

Republicans voted the bill out of the House Financial Services Committee along party lines by a 34-23 vote. Affordable housing advocates fear that the bill’s passage could make it easier for Republicans to impose future work requirements on the millions of people — in addition to these foster kids — who receive housing assistance, an idea the Trump administration introduced earlier this year.

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduced the “Make Affordable Housing Work Act” in April. If it passes, it would raise rents on people receiving federal housing subsidies and allow public housing authorities to impose work requirements. The administration claims the plan will put people receiving those subsidies on a path of “self-sufficiency” and no longer rely on government assistance. 

“We are certainly worried that this would open the door for more work requirements and other arbitrary decisions on housing assistance,” said Jessica Cassella, a staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project.

“This is part of an effort to punish low-income people and take away the support they need to make ends meet,” added Sarah Mickelson, the senior director of policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “We are really worried that if this bill were to pass it would open the door to imposing these kind of requirements to all other households that are receiving these benefits.”

The Senate appropriations committee also attempted to address homelessness among youths who aged out of the foster care system by providing an additional $20 million in federal housing vouchers for that vulnerable population in its spending bill. The additional funds does not include any work or education requirements, and according to advocates, is a more effective way in helping them become self-sufficient.

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The Senate bill “invests resources instead of imposing requirements and actually would help support self-sufficiency through an existing program,” Cassella said.

The House bill provides no additional funds for federal housing vouchers.

Currently, public housing authorities or housing project owners generally have the ability to decide what populations — typically vulnerable resident such as seniors, disabled people, veterans, and homeless people — should have precedent over a limited number of federal housing subsidies that they are allowed to distribute. The House bill would require housing authorities to make foster youth one of its population preferences without providing more funding.

Under the proposed legislation, those housing authorities would be required to impose work, education, and/or work training requirements on foster youths who are 18 or older in their housing. Authorities would have the option of requiring youths to complete a “family self-sufficiency program” that teaches them how to reduce their dependency on housing subsidies.

“While we strongly support youth, we are concerned about the precedent this bill would set both for federal interference with community determined preferences and for imposing arbitrary and burdensome conditions on assistance,” Cassella said. “We don’t think those are effective ways in supporting youth achieving self sufficiency.”