As a response to the unveiling of the new Housing Bill by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, leaders in the field of social work and homelessness policy have responded with a statement (posted below) on how the new bill is harmful to low-income families and people at risk of homelessness.
HUD’s Making Affordable Housing Work Act: Dangerous Policy in a Time of Crisis
As social workers and homelessness researchers, we speak out in opposition to the Making Affordable Housing Work Act, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on April 25th and seeks to introduce in the U.S. Congress.
The proposed legislation would have a devastating effect on millions of Americans who receive federal housing assistance through rental subsidies and public housing. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition:
Currently, most families receiving federal housing assistance pay 30% of their adjusted income as rent. Under the proposal, families, with some exceptions, would instead have to pay 35% of their gross income or 35% of the amount earned by working at least 15 hours a week for four weeks at federal minimum wage, whichever is higher. With this provision, HUD would essentially set a new mandatory minimum rent of $150—three times higher than the current minimum rent that housing providers may apply to families. The bill would also increase rents for households with high medical or child care expenses by eliminating income deductions, the impact of which would disproportionately fall on seniors, people with disabilities and families with kids. The bill provides the HUD secretary with the authority to impose even higher rents through alternative rent structures and de facto time limits.
Although the act is couched in the language of “self-sufficiency,” this rings as empty rhetoric. The proposed policy does little to address the systemic issues that create the need for housing assistance, namely a lack of living wage jobs and affordable housing. Instead, it serves to further weaken an already fractured and severely underfunded network of housing assistance. The proposed legislation comes in the midst of a nationwide affordable housing crisis, as rental vacancy rates reach record lows and housing costs escalate far faster than wages (and disability benefits and Social Security). On average, a person would need to work full-time and earn at least $21.21 per hour in order to rent a two-bedroom apartment at the 30% of income affordability threshold, without housing assistance. The average required wage rises astronomically in cities like San Francisco, where one would need a staggering hourly wage of $58.04 to afford a two-bedroom apartment ($30.92/hour in California as a whole). With federal minimum wage stagnant at $7.25/hour since 2009, housing is simply not affordable for low-income households without federal housing assistance.
HUD’s proposal comes at a time when more public housing and rental assistance is needed, not less. Even with programs like public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program, only 45 units of affordable housing are available per every 100 extremely low-income households in need of rental housing in the United States. This is because, unlike other benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or Social Security, housing assistance is not an entitlement in the United States. A household can qualify for housing assistance but not receive it because programs are vastly underfunded, relegating low-income individuals and families to a fate of homeless shelters, doubling up, or ‘sleeping rough’ as they languish on years-long wait lists.
At a time when federal housing assistance is already well below the level of need, raising the rent, removing deductions for expenses like health care and child care, and imposing time limits and work requirements will only compound the problems of poverty for vulnerable people. On the heels of the first increase in homelessness in the United States since 2010, HUD’s proposed changes will undoubtedly escalate the crisis of homelessness and housing insecurity. Recent data has already revealed that evictions are more common in the U.S. than previously thought, with nearly one million households experiencing an eviction in 2016.
In short, the Making Affordable Housing Work Act will make housing more unaffordable for more people and will amplify the problem of homelessness in the United States. We call on all who support social work’s Grand Challenge to End Homelessness to:
Stay informed on the Making Affordable Housing Work Act as it moves through Congress. The National Low Income Housing Coalition provides policy updates, analysis, and calls to action and advocacy.
Speak to Senators and Representatives about the harmful impact of this Act on vulnerable individuals and communities and its implications for increasing the homelessness crisis in the United States.
Continuously advocate to keep the federal rental assistance calculation at 30% of adjusted income and increase funding for federally assisted units to mitigate the chronic affordable housing shortage in the United States.
Follow the Grand Challenge to End Homelessness and the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services for updates and to learn more about how to engage in additional policy advocacy activities.
Elizabeth Bowen, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Amanda Aykanian, University at Albany, State University of New York
Benjamin Henwood, University of Southern California
Heather Larkin, University at Albany, State University of New York
Deborah Padgett, New York University
Emmy Tiderington, Rutgers University
Daniel Herman, Hunter College
References and Further Information:
Budds, D. (2018). New data shows how pervasive the U.S.’s eviction epidemic really is. Retrieved from https://www.curbed.com/2018/4/9/17216054/eviction-records-data-matthew-desmond-princeton
Fessler, P. (2017). Homeless population rises, driven by West Coast affordable-housing crisis. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/12/06/568605069/homeless-population-rises-driven-by-west-coast-affordable-housing-crisis
Getsinger, L., Posey, L., MacDonald, G., & Leopold, J. (2017). The Housing affordability gap for extremely low-income renters in 2014. The Urban Institute. Retrieved from
National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2018). Affordable housing advocates tell HUD and Congress – Keep housing affordable for low income families. Retrieved from http://nlihc.org/press/releases/10642
Peters, A. (2017). This map shows how much you need to earn to rent an apartment in the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/40430400/this-map-shows-how-much-you-need-to-earn-to-rent-an-apartment-in-the-u-s
Sisson, P. (2017). State of U.S. rental market: Rich get more options, poor suffer affordability crisis. Retrieved from https://www.curbed.com/2017/12/14/16776074/apartment-rent-harvard-study-rental-market
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2018). Secretary Carson proposes rent reform. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/HUD_No_18_033