Staff Columnist

New federal housing assistance proposals are obscene

Those receiving less than $5 per month from tax cuts would have monthly rent raised by $100

Ben Carson and Donald Trump speak during a round table with the Republican Leadership Initiative at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. August 25, 2016.  (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Ben Carson and Donald Trump speak during a round table with the Republican Leadership Initiative at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. August 25, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Did you hear the one about the federal Cabinet secretary who spent $31,000 on a dinette set and then said poor Americans in public housing aren’t paying their fair share? It’s, unfortunately, no joke.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson — he of spendy table and chair fame — rolled out proposed legislation last week that aims to fundamentally and structurally change public housing, making access to basic shelter more onerous for the poor.

Since 1981, affordable housing has been defined by the federal government (HUD specifically) as shelter “for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities.” While the definition is and was intended as a guideline, it has been such a long-standing one that the 30 percent threshold has become a standard used by large and small jurisdictions to determine overall accessibility to affordable living spaces.

Carson’s proposal summarily dismisses this standard by requiring those receiving housing assistance — the elderly, disabled and poor — to increase their household rent contribution to 35 percent of their adjusted gross income. According to HUD officials, rental payments for the nation’s most needy would triple.

And, for good measure, the proposed legislation also reduces some of the expenses households are currently allowed to use for deductions against income liability. Child care and medical expenses, for instance, would no longer be subtracted when calculating adjusted gross income.

The changes would immediately affect all public housing residents who are not elderly or disabled. Those over the age of 65 or disabled would have a six-year delay on the larger percentage of rent they would be expected to pay; however, loss of deductions, especially medical expenses, would be immediate and costly.

In keeping with a Trump executive order, the proposal also includes the possibility of work requirements. Under Carson’s proposal, public housing agencies or property owners would decide if minimum work or job training requirements are established. Such requirements would not be allowed on people with disabilities or those over the age of 65. Unlike a similar proposal for food assistance, however, parents of young children would not exempt.

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The changes would negatively affect more than 4.5 million families that rely on housing assistance, including thousands of Iowans. At the same time, thousands more sit on waiting lists because federal investment doesn’t match local needs.

Tax cuts enacted earlier this year disproportionately benefited Americans with the most resources, leaving housing assistance waiting lists to stagnate and grow. Carson’s proposal to charge those who received less than $5 per month from the tax cuts at least $100 more each month for housing is obscene.

Research proves stable, descent housing is the foundation for positive outcomes. Health, learning, productivity and more are inextricably linked to basic shelter.

Republicans running the federal government want us to believe this type of inhumane policy will result in the poor grasping mythical bootstraps and magically rising up and out of poverty. But tripling the rent of those most in need of public shelter and assistance while creating more unnecessary red tape are the types of tactics employed by slumlords, not public servants.

Not one American should stand for it.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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