TO WHAT END?
By John Berry,
Last week HUD proposed a bill that raises rents for families who receive housing aid. It also establishes additional work requirements for those getting aid. The changes potentially will impact millions of families, families that need assistance and are struggling already to make ends meet. The intent, according to HUD, is to increase ‘self-sufficiency’ among those receiving housing assistance. The end result however may likely be an additional burden on those families that are least able to afford them; potentially driving people to make an unacceptable choice between food, healthcare, or utilities and housing. Evictions of the poorest of the poor are not unimaginable.
The proposal, the ‘Making Affordable Housing Work Act of 2018’ was introduced last Wednesday. It includes provisions that raise the rent for families who receive housing assistance to the higher of 35 percent of their gross monthly income (from 30%) or 35 percent of the wages of someone working 15 hours a week for four weeks at minimum wage (whichever is higher). That minimum would be $150, a threefold increase over what families pay now.
Of even more concern, the proposal also sets a new rent for those who today are exempt from paying 30%; the elderly and disabled – those on uncontrollable fixed incomes that have no ability to change that income by their own efforts or changes in work status. The new minimum is $50 – an amount that might seem insignificant to many, but is in fact a tremendous burden to someone who barely makes it through the month on a fixed income that can be shockingly low.
So why is HUD doing this? Along with the claim that these changes will increase self-sufficiency among aid recipients, the Secretary of HUD has cited long waiting lists for housing aid and budgetary constraints that prevent increasing aid to those on waiting lists as drivers for the changes.
Many housing advocates disagree. In an email to the web magazine CityLab, Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition said “Despite claims that these harmful proposals will increase ‘self-sufficiency,’ rent hikes, de facto time limits, and arbitrary work requirements will only leave more people without stable housing, making it harder for them to climb the economic ladder.”
What also seems to be missing from HUD’s consideration is the reality that while the intent may be to drive ‘self-sufficiency’ and increase incentives to create more financially stable families, many cities, such as Atlanta, face a severe shortage of affordable housing. As such, the options for people at or below the poverty level are very limited. Another concern is that training and work requirements do not adequately consider that cities like Atlanta that are at close to full employment have limited options for the poor and under-educated to work in jobs that will provide income growth or schedules that support attendance in training programs.
“It isn’t clear that there’s any policy rationale behind this,” said Will Fischer, a senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, referring to the reforms when HUD first floated them in February. “If you work, they raise your rent. If you don’t work, they raise your rent. If you’re elderly, they raise your rent.” (www.citylab.com/equity/)
So, we need to ask. To what end?