Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson discussed the agency’s new “Making Affordable Housing Work Act” proposal for rent reform with Townhall Friday, emphasizing that the main goal of the changes is “moving people along to a position of self-sufficiency.”
“If you look at HUD over the last couple decades it’s been mostly about just putting people under a roof and sort of keeping them there,” Carson said.
The result, he says, is that “instead of it being a stepladder it’s become a mode of life and, in many cases, for generation after generation of individuals and I don’t think it’s their fault. I think it’s the fault of the system that has basically sapped the incentive for people to work.”
Carson said one example of this is that currently “we base the rent on a person’s income every year, they’re not incentivized to go out and get a job and make a lot of money because then their rent goes up.”
This proposal would change that by evaluating the rent based on income every three years which means “they get used to the whole concept of you know the American way which is going out and proving yourself, making your own money, not really being dependent on someone else.”
The changes include requiring work-able households that receive federal housing assistance to pay 35 percent of their gross income in rent, an increase from the current requirement of 30 percent of their adjusted income. It also triples their minimum monthly rent from $50 to $150.
The proposal has brought plenty of criticism since it was unveiled Wednesday.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, reacted to the rent increases in the proposal in a statement saying, "Secretary Carson's immoral, ill-advised proposal is the latest example of the Trump Administration's war on poor people."
Carson takes these criticisms in stride.
“I would only be shocked if someone said yes, please increase my rent,” he said. “No one’s ever going to say that, but you know we have exemptions for anybody for whom this is going to be a great hardship.”
“For the vast, vast majority of cases it is not going to be,” he emphasized.
He added that “this is a particularly good time because the economy’s improved quite a bit, there are a lot of jobs now.”
Carson also addressed how the proposal would simplify the system for Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and families. He said looking at the gross rather than the adjusted income for rent calculations “greatly simplifies the calculation effort on behalf of the tenants, on behalf of the landlords, everybody involved."
“Right now the way it is you could have exactly the same income but pay vastly different amounts in rent depending on how you know how to manipulate the system,” he explained. “We want it to be straightforward, very simple, and it’ll be considerably less costly to administer under those circumstances as well.”
The proposal must be approved by Congress and Carson says it is just “the beginning of the conversation.”
“Any changes obviously have to be approved by Congress and so you know we’ll be in discussion with Congressional leaders,” he said, adding, “we have to begin the discussion because what we are doing now simply is not sustainable.”
Carson says the bottom line is that the government created "a system where people will say I prefer not to take a job because it’s going to increase my rent,” and “we have the responsibility to fix it. We have to fix it you know gradually and in a sensitive way and we’re doing that.”
“Obviously we’re sensitive to people who have exceptional situations,” he added, “obviously we’re going to take care of those people in an appropriate way but the key thing for people to understand is that doing nothing simply is not an option.”
“If we continue to accumulate debt at the rate that we’re accumulating it by the year 2048 every penny that the government takes in will be used to service the debt and the debt will be that large,” he emphasizd.
Carson pointed out that the government has “to spend millions of dollars more each year just to tread water and you have more and more people being added to the system.”
He says the overall plan is to “create a situation where there are plenty of jobs for people to get, where there’s training for people, where there’s childcare particularly for young mothers so they can go ahead and get their GED, their associate’s degree, their bachelor’s degree.”
“We’re going to be able to hook people up with things like that through the Envision Centers,” he added, referencing a HUD initiative started in December that aims to provide these resources.