The Trump administration’s latest self-described “attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty” consists of raising their rent to levels where many will face the prospect of homelessness and some will end up unhoused.
In April, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed increasing rent for tenants who receive federal housing assistance from 30 to 35 percent of their gross adjusted income, part of the administration’s wider mission to slash social safety net spending on the most vulnerable Americans while simultaneously slashing taxes on corporations and the nation’s wealthiest people. The plan would also raise the minimum rent charged to HUD tenants from $50 to $150 per month, while eliminating deductions for medical and child care.
Furthermore, while HUD claims elderly and disabled households will be exempt from the increase, it is estimated that 314,000 households will lose their elderly or disabled status and be hit with rent increases.
In April, Carson slammed what he called the “perverse consequences” of the current system. The former neurosurgeon argued that more affordable rent is “discouraging families from earning more income and becoming self-sufficient.” In a recent Fox News interview, Carson went even further, calling the proposal the administration’s “attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty.”
While the Trump administration is calling a rent hike on the poorest Americans a path from poverty, critics — including many of the people who would be most severely impacted by the move — are calling it a path to homelessness. An analysis for the Associated Press done by the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found low-income tenants in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas would see a 20 percent rent increase, a rise six times greater than the annual growth in average hourly earnings. In some areas, the increase would be much higher.
Some 8.3 million people including more than three million children in four million low-income households receiving HUD assistance would see rent increases under the proposal, according to the analysis. The measure must be approved by Congress before going into effect.
“I saw public housing as an option to get on my feet, to pay 30 percent of my income and get myself out of debt and eventually become a homeowner,” Ebony Morris, a South Carolina mother of four young children, told the Associated Press. Morris, a full-time pediatric assistant who sometimes works 50 hours per week to support her family, would be hit with a rent increase from $403 to $600 under Carson’s proposal.
”This would put us in a homeless state,” she lamented.
Carson’s plan is part of a wider administration “welfare-to-work” policy that includes pushing work requirements for food stamp recipients in a country where hunger threatens one in every seven people, as well as an aggressive move to allow states to impose work requirements on people receiving Medicaid. Critics have called this particular policy racist as it would allow for waivers for rural, majority-white, Republican-leaning counties, even though they often suffer the highest unemployment rates. Detractors also accuse the Trump administration of drafting policy based on prejudicial views of poor people, especially poor people of color.
“There’s an assumption that many of the participants are not employed when they are,” Melissa Maddox Evans, general counsel for the Charleston (South Carolina) Housing Authority, told the Associated Press. “Most tenants here work two or three jobs. When they are going out and finding work, are they going to make enough to accommodate that increase?”
Progressive opponents have accused the Trump administration of deliberately targeting poor people while catering to the super-rich and corporations, which receive far more government subsidies and which have in recent decades collectively been the beneficiary of one of the most massive transfers of wealth from lower- to upper-income individuals and entities in human history. The administration itself is comprised of a record number of high-wealth individuals, including a record number of billionaires.
"Secretary Carson's immoral, ill-advised proposal is the latest example of the Trump administration's war on poor people," Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) told NPR. "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.”
Undaunted, Carson is moving ahead with his proposal, blaming “budget constraints” for his planned rent hike. This, after the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly approved an $80 billion annual increase in military spending — far more than the $54 billion increase requested by President Trump, and after the president’s multi-trillion dollar tax cut, which experts say will greatly increase his own family’s wealth at the expense of poor and working-class American taxpayers.
To many lower-income Americans and their advocates, the Trump administration’s policies and priorities seem to send the message that while there is more than enough money for endless war and tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, there isn’t enough to feed hungry children or keep elderly, disabled or poor people from becoming homeless.
“I work every day and I’m trying my hardest,” Morris, the South Carolina mother of four, told the Associated Press. “My main focus is to make sure my children are educated and to break this cycle. But taking away resources for moms? I never thought I’d be in a situation like this.”