HUD wants low-income families on housing assistance to pay more rent

Feeding America's most vulnerable children
Feeding America's most vulnerable children

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced Wednesday a proposal that would increase rent payments for more than two million of the nation's poorest.

The new low-income rent reform would require households that receive federal housing assistance to pay 35% of their gross income in rent, up from the current requirement of 30% of adjusted income. Also, it would triple the minimum monthly rent these families must pay -- from $50 to $150. Roughly 712,000 housing assistance recipients currently pay less than $150 a month.

The change would affect able-bodied, working age Americans who rely on HUD for rental assistance. These folks make up roughly half of the 4.7 million people who receive this federal housing help.

It would not have an impact on elderly or disabled residents for six years, after which time their maximum rent will rise to $50 a month. Currently, the amount seniors and the disabled pay varies based on the program they are in.

Related: House GOP bill would lock the poor out of food stamps

The proposal dubbed "The Making Affordable Housing Work Act" is a bill Congress would have to approve. HUD cannot unilaterally change the rent rules.

The overhaul would also allow housing authorities across the country to require residents to work. The move is in keeping with the Trump administration's efforts to mandate work for Americans who receive public assistance. President Donald Trump last week issued an executive order directing agencies to promote employment for those who receive government benefits. Already, federal agencies are instituting or expanding work requirements for those on Medicaid and food stamps.

Some recipients of housing assistance already have to work. Some 39 public housing agencies are currently in HUD's Moving to Work program, which allows them to impose work requirements.

"It is ironic that a man who used taxpayer dollars to buy a $30,000 dining room table for the federal agency he leads wants to raise rent on poor people," said Congressman Cedric L. Richmond, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement. "Secretary Carson's immoral, ill-advised proposal is the latest example of the Trump Administration's war on poor people," he added.

Carson said the proposal would help address rising costs of providing housing assistance, which he said currently helps only one in four families that qualify.

Related: Trump signs executive order pushing work requirements for the poor

"These waiting lists mean families must wait for years," he said. "It's clear that from a budget perspective and from a human point of view, the current system is unsustainable."

Carson said the current rules are "too confusing, convoluted, and costly," but did not explain how creating two systems -- one for elderly and disabled residents, and one for able-bodied, working age residents -- would solve the problem.

The legislation also proposes evaluating residents' income once every three years, rather than annually, which "would substantially ease the administrative burden."

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