Dear Former Vice President Joe Biden,
Early during his tenure as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Ben Carson’s office was involved in a controversy over furniture. He also caused quite a controversy when he said, “Poverty is a state of mind.” He was able to survive those two scandals, and not much attention has been paid to his abysmal tenure at HUD since. I’m asking you to scrutinize harmful HUD policies that can only be described as cruel and possibly criminal — policies that target our poorest citizens and families. Do these policies rise to the level of crimes against humanity? The people affected would unequivocally say YES!
I’m asking you to promise to fix the problems at HUD that are pushing tenants out of their homes. I’m going to concentrate on one particular number determined by HUD — Income Limits. That one number determines Median Family Income. The MFI is used to set the rental rates. According to HUD, the MFI has risen much more quickly since Trump was elected President causing Portland areas rent to skyrocket. It should come as a surprise to no one that HUD under the Trump administration can’t do the math. That landlords would benefit while tenants suffer under new HUD rules should also surprise no one.
I am a well-educated 70-year-old, silver-haired senior citizen living in an affordable housing unit in Portland, Oregon. Because of extraordinary legal expenses and chronic health issues occurring late in my career, I approached retirement without assets and with little resources. I do volunteer work as a way to give back some of the resources I now require. Among other things, I’m a Democratic Precinct Committee Person. My job for the next couple of weeks is to Get Out The Vote in the largest district in Multnomah County (Portland). I’d like to deliver a positive message to my constituents. I’d like to give them something besides “Biden is not Trump.” So, I’m asking you, Mr. Vice President to commit to fixing HUD to save the homes — and lives — of many thousands of Americans.
You probably know that some Portlanders are still demanding justice for the people of this city. Some of us pledged early on not to give up until our voices are heard on a number of issues. Affordable housing is one of those issues that hasn’t received much attention at the national level. Let me explain how abuses at HUD have affected the most vulnerable people in our community, noting this is an overly simplistic explanation. I’m asking that you pledge to fix the abominable mess that HUD has created during the Trump administration. Stay with me as I explain — there will be math involved.
I have been protesting this problem for years. I have contacted our local HUD branch, OHCS (Oregon Housing and Community Services), PHB,(Portland Housing Bureau), state and federal representatives and senators, county commissioners, tenants rights groups, legal aid, the media, and others. I have explained how calculation errors have affected me personally emphasizing that I am not an outlier. That these errors are causing many poor residents to be displaced from their homes and forcing many into homelessness. Every person or agency is stymied by the policy and actions of HUD.
Before getting into data sets, algorithms, and calculations, I’ll describe how HUD policy has affected me over the last few yers. I am a senior living on a very modest fixed income. I have lived in my cozy studio apartment for over 10 years. I have had to fight numerous times to stay in my affordable unit. To acquire my affordable unit in 2010, I applied, became certified by HUD, and waited for an affordable apartment to become available. Certified applicants in Portland can wait for years for an apartment to become available. Until 2017, rents had been stable — increasing or decreasing a modest, manageable amount over the years. Since 2010, I have paid over 50% of my income for rent but there were other reasons that made the choice a good one for me. (Recommended is 30%.) It has been difficult, but manageable. I’m very frugal.
The local HUD office that usually subsidizes tenants like me has not been accepting applications for years. When I asked about assistance in the light of the recent rent increases, I was told the HUD office in Portland is not accepting applications, has not accepted applications for years, and would not be accepting applications for at least six years. Any monies that HUD does receive goes to those already enrolled. I was given paperwork to submit to other Oregon counties that might be taking applications for a waitlist. My last year’s rent increase for me was ~17% which takes about 70% of my income. This year’s increase, another 12%, would have taken 80% of my income, but rents in my building were frozen because of the pandemic.
To recap: I receive just over $1,000 a month in Social Security benefits. For years my rent hovered around $588. Over eight years, it increased to $608. In 2019 my rent increased to $717 monthly. This year’s 2020 increase would have brought the amount to $806. That’s about a 30% increase in only two years. I can’t afford to pay 80% of my income for rent. I can’t find a cheaper place to live. Moving, going through a recertification process and signing on to new waitlists would be costly and take another two years, possibly longer, since so many tenants are being forced into this same precarious position.
When is the pen mightier than the sword? When President Donald Trump signs the bigegest tax for the rich in history. Here he displays the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul package he had signed on Dec. 22, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump touted the size of the tax cut, declaring to reporters in the Oval Office before he signed it that "the numbers will speak." Simultaneously, with that same stroke of the pen, he cut billions from programs like HUD.
The extreme cruelty of this process is compounded by the fact the each tenant suffers through their agony alone without support. One by one, tenants are evicted if they can’t afford the rent increase. It is a silent plague that lurks unnoticed until we see more grocery carts, sleeping bags, and tents under the bridge or on the sidewalk — and even begin to recognize people we know living unsheltered. Oregon ranks #1 in homeless children as well. Does this qualify as a crime against humanity at the behest of our government? I guess it depends on how poor you are.
How HUD manipulates the numbers — and our lives
While HUD is busily manipulating the numbers to raise the Income Limits/Area/Family Median income of the Portland area, a 2019 report recognizes a total of 34% of Multnomah County households don’t have enough income to meet their basic needs. HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) publishes annual updates to Income Limits and Fair Market Rents year that become affective April 1st each year.
Focusing on the table below, HUD declares the 2020 Median Family Income of Portlanders to be $92,100. This number is important because it is currently used to generate Fair Market Rents and Affordable Housing rates. For the past few years, tenants have been protesting that numbers generated by HUD’s PD&R for The Portland area are too high and bear no semblance to reality.This year it is especially easy to make the point without doing any math whatsoever because the COVID-19 pandemic has so diminished income in the area that the decrease is obvious.
Mr. Biden, I’m curious to know if other areas of the country have seen significant income spikes in the past four years of if Portland is being targeted yet again. Maybe you can begin a search for your area’s data here. Listed below are numbers for Portland area Income Limits for the past eight years:
2020 — $92,100
2019 — $87,900
2018 — $81,400
2017 — $74,700
2016 — $73, 300
2015 — $73,900
2014 — $69,400
2013 — $68,300
From 2013 to 2016 the Income Limit (IL) rose only $5,000. Rents were stable. From 2017 to 2020 the income Limit rose $17,400. In 2016, the IL even went down. In 2020, the IL should have gone way down because of the pandemic. .The numbers for the past four years don’t make any sense. The result has been to line the pockets of landlords while plundering the budgets of tenants. This system of accounting to determine rent has a profound impact on not only rental rates for housing, but also commercial rents, and the expendable income available to families. Many iconic businesses have been forced out of operation because of ridiculous rent increases. HUD polices have had the greatest impact on the poorest people. It is disgraceful. If it isn’t criminal, it should be.
Mr. Biden, I’ve already been notified that when I sign my lease in 2021, my rent will increase from the current $717 to $806 monthly — or more if the 2021 calculation is higher than 2020. (Oregon state law allows that.) I can’t afford it. My Social Security increase will be about 1.6% making my tota incomel $1,052 monthly. I can’t pay 80% of my income for rent. I just can’t. I won’t give up my home because of the bureaucratic meandering of policy makers at HUD. I’m prepared to fight to keep my home. I’m prepared to fight for others, too.
Joe, please tell us that you recognize the problem and will fix the problems at HUD. My constituents want to know that you will fight for them in ways that affect them personally. The simple solution would be to return to the system that seemed to be working for decades before Trump took office, Use Fair Market Rates and fund HUD sufficiently assuring that poor families have access to affordable housing. Please, please let the American people know that you recognize the problem is very real and you will fight for real affordable housing.