At another time and under a different Republican HUD Secretary, Ben Carson’s proposal today (right before appearing before a Republican-controlled congressional subcommittee) to triple the minimum rent paid by the poorest public-housing tenants while imposing work requirements and reducing subsidies generally would have been predictable. The GOP hasn’t harbored many real defenders of public housing for a long time, and reducing the cost of housing subsidies is the kind of thing Republicans favor reflexively as an alleged belt-tightening measure.
But coming shortly after the GOP blew up the federal budget with huge upper-income tax cuts (with some expensive sweeteners to cut middle-class voters in on the bonanza at a significantly reduced level), this eagerness to strike a blow against really poor people is at a minimum unseemly. That it is happening during a highly politicized season when Congress is not about to enact a budget or any major legislation is gratuitous and symbolic, and not in a good way. And Ben Carson’s association with this nasty piece of business adds insult to injury, after all the claims during his confirmation hearings that he was a former public-housing resident with a special bond of compassion towards those now similarly situated. (It actually turns out he did not “grow up in the projects” as was initially claimed, but instead lived for a while in subsidized private housing.)
The Washington Post’s Tracy Jan explains the most explosive part of the Trump administration proposal made by Carson:
Tenants generally pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent or a public-housing agency minimum rent — which is capped at $50 a month for the poorest families. The administration’s proposal sets the family monthly rent contribution at 35 percent of gross income, or 35 percent of their earnings working 15 hours a week at the federal minimum wage. Under the proposal, the cap for the poorest families would rise to about $150 a month — three times higher than the current minimum. About 712,000 households would see their rents rise to the new monthly minimum of $150, HUD officials said.
The proposal also encourages the establishment of work requirements for recipients of federal housing subsidies, part of the administration’s broader effort to make the supposedly shiftless “welfare” population earn their paltry benefits.
Even if you think public housing is a trap for its residents or that subsidy programs are too generous, an approach targeted at increasing costs for the very poor is not a “reform” initiative, but an expression of contempt if not hostility. That it comes during a period when the administration is focused on “energizing” its conservative base for the midterm elections, its malign motives are pretty transparent. As Jan notes, the Trump/Carson proposal would be seriously devastating if actually implemented:
Barbara Sard, vice president for housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the latest proposal, if passed, could result in millions of individuals losing their homes. “The very purpose of these programs is to provide a stable home for people who otherwise can’t manage on their own,” Sard said. “Ignoring that destroys the effectiveness of these programs to prevent homelessness and keep children out of foster care.”
When the best you can say about a proposal is that it’s merely demagogic since it won’t actually be enacted, that’s pretty bad.