Ben Carson, who heads the Housing and Urban Development Department, has proposed tripling the rental rate while also requiring able-bodied tenants to get jobs.
Legislation the secretary submitted to Congress, the Making Affordable Housing Work Act, calls for hiking the rent from the current 30 percent of a tenant's income to 35 percent. According to The Washington Post, that could result in monthly rent soaring from $50 to $150 for some of the poorest Americans. Public-housing residents would have to work at least 15 hours per week, or obtain job training, to remain in the program.
In a written statement, Carson claimed that “the system we currently use to calculate a family’s rental assistance is broken and holds back the very people we’re supposed to be helping.” He continued: “Today, we begin a necessary conversation about how we can provide meaningful, dignified assistance to those we serve without hurting them at the same time.”
The rent increases obviously would hurt low-income families, who already struggle to cover the cost of food and other necessities. It is true that the system is “broken,” as evidenced by the fact that only one in four eligible families gets housing assistance.
This is not the first time Carson, a wealthy, retired brain surgeon, has shown a lack of empathy for the poor. He once infamously argued that “poverty is a choice.” One of the few silver linings in the secretary's new plan is that the rent hikes will not affect seniors or low-income tenants. However, more than half of those in public housing are elderly or disabled.
The proposal is being mocked as “Welfare Reform 2.0’’, a reference to former President Bill Clinton’s policies in the 1990s. He severely reduced government payments that low-income parents relied upon to feed their children.
Officials project that the HUD initiative would affect about 712,000 households. It comes on the heels of President Trump's recent executive order to impose stricter work requirements for those who benefit from Medicaid, food stamps and other programs. In mid-April, the Republican-led House of Representatives wrote into the 2018 farm bill a mandate that food-stamp recipients get jobs.
Advocates for the poor were quick to slam Carson's bill. “When we are in the middle of a housing crisis that’s having the most negative impact on the lowest-income people, we shouldn’t even be considering proposals to increase their rent burdens,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The bill would actually increase rents for households that have high medical or child-care expenses by eliminating income deductions for those costs. So the greatest burden of the rent increases would be felt by seniors, people with disabilities and families with young kids.”
Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also blasted the rent hike. “Secretary Carson's immoral, ill-advised proposal is the latest example of the Trump administration's war on poor people,” the lawmaker declared. “Thankfully, this proposal would require congressional approval before it can become law, and the Congressional Black Caucus will work with our colleagues in Congress to oppose it and other related measures.”
Activists warned that work requirements for food-stamp beneficiaries will result in as many as a million of them losing the benefits in the coming decade. The prediction was based on data the Congressional Budget Office released. “Food is coming off the table to pay for this vast bureaucracy,” said Stacey Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The draconian, anti-poor proposals are likely to get a warm response from the Republicans who control Congress. But this year's mid-term elections could result in Democrats seizing the majority in the House, and possibly in the Senate.
Carson, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, apparently received his Cabinet position as a reward for ultimately endorsing Trump's candidacy and campaigning on his behalf. He did not get the job because of any expertise or experience in public housing.
The secretary has been embroiled in controversy since taking over the reins at HUD. In March, he came under fire for using taxpayer money to purchase a $31,000 dining set for his office. Responding to criticism, Carson canceled the furniture order and blamed his wife for the incident.
The Carsons may not think $31,000 is that much money, considering their wealth. The doctor's net worth of $30 million dramatically sets him apart from his department's public-housing tenants.
The Detroit native, who graduated from Yale University before getting a degree in medicine from the University of Michigan, amassed his fortune as a pediatric neurosurgeon and conservative author. He also has been a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University.