In a plan revealed on Wednesday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed a plan that would increase rental rates for some public housing residents.
If approved by Congress, the plan would raise the rent cap on the poorest families to $150 per month — the current maximum is $50. It would also make it easier for work requirements to be imposed on renters by housing authorities. Disabled and elderly tenants would be exempt.
Carson said, "The way we calculate the level of assistance to our families is archaic and has perverse consequences, like discouraging these residents from earning more income. It's clear from a budget perspective and from a human standpoint that this is not sustainable."
He added in a call to reporters: "There is one inescapable imperative driving this reform effort. The current system isn't working very well. Doing nothing is not an option."
Under the new plan, HUD would also do away with income deductions for medical costs and child care expenses, which Carson says will level the playing field. He says that oftentimes, tenants with the same income end up paying vastly different rates become some people "know how to work the system."
Executive director of the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, Jack Cooper, called the new HUD plan "a war on low-income people," saying, "we're talking about keeping a roof over people who can't afford the market. They're devastating folks that are already in dire straights." Cooper says public housing residents in the US have an average income of around $12,000.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition also weighed in, saying, "When we are in the middle of a housing crisis that's having the most negative impact on the lowest-income people, we shouldn't even be considering proposals to increase their burdens."
But Carson sees the initiative as an opportunity to encourage self-sufficiency for those receiving public housing assistance.
In applauding President Trump's executive order last week, aimed at reducing poverty, Carson wrote in an op-ed: "Our social safety net exists to protect low-income families from poverty and hardship, and to help people get back on their feet. Despite all the good intentions, our nation's welfare system continues to encourage a culture of dependency rather than self-sufficiency."