Despite positive developments in funding for housing services, threats remain

In an era of relentless attacks on the services and policies that empower struggling families to achieve their American dream, federal housing assistance is the latest target.

Earlier this year, Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), announced a proposal to raise rents for families that receive federal rental assistance, eliminate some of the income deductions used to calculate eligibility and benefit levels, and impose work requirements on able-bodied adult recipients.

Rental assistance encompasses several programs, such as public housing and Section 8 housing vouchers, that ensure that more than 145,000 Michigan families can afford a roof over their heads. Safe, affordable housing is a crucial social determinant of health. People who can’t afford quality housing are forced to make budget trade-offs that jeopardize health and safety, limit academic performance and earning potential, and make it extremely difficult to rise out of poverty.

federal rental assistance promotes health ed & work 400x400Fortunately, Congress has rejected Secretary Carson’s plan thus far. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved a spending bill that increases HUD funding by nearly $2 billion, in addition to the 10% increase Congress agreed to in the omnibus budget bill earlier this year. The Senate’s bill for budget year 2019 largely maintains existing housing assistance services and even increases funding for some programs, including public housing, homeless assistance and vouchers for veterans and youth aging out of foster care. Although the HUD bill approved earlier by a House subcommittee includes lower funding than the Senate’s version, it too avoids the rent increases and other harmful cuts desired by the Trump administration.

But we can’t let our guard down just yet. The House Financial Services Committee has held a hearing and reportedly could soon vote on draft legislation that’s received substantially less attention than Secretary Carson’s proposal but could have an even more devastating impact on families that receive housing assistance. Sponsored by Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL), this bill would:

  • Replace the current method for calculating a family’s rent obligation (30% of household income, which is the level at which housing is widely considered to be “affordable”) with an income-based tiered rent structure, penalizing some working tenants with steep rent increases for a modest increase in earnings.
  • Allow elimination of income deductions for childcare and medical expenses in calculating eligibility and benefit levels, which would harm seniors, people with disabilities and working families with children.
  • Allow a tenant’s benefits to be reduced every two years regardless of income, essentially imposing an arbitrary time limit on housing assistance.
  • Allow public housing agencies (PHAs) to establish other rent setting policies with little HUD oversight or assurance of resident protection, potentially creating a patchwork of rent structures that impede tenants who need to move among communities to pursue economic opportunities.
  • In a misguided attempt to serve more households, allow PHAs to reduce the per-household voucher amount to a level that won’t support housing stability or enable struggling families to live in neighborhoods with better opportunities for health, education and employment.

This bill is counterproductive to the goal of moving families that use housing assistance to self-sufficiency. Let your U.S. Representatives know it will harm some of our nation’s most vulnerable people, create barriers to work and weaken communities. As members of the House Financial Services Committee, Michigan Congressmen Bill Huizenga and Dan Kildee in particular should hear from their constituents and advocates in their districts. Finally, if housing assistance has made a difference for your family, the League wants to hear from you! A personal story is often the most powerful tool when it comes to making policy changes. Please consider emailing us to share your story today.

— Julie Cassidy