Burning Down the House

By JEREMY JOHN

On April 25, Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration, pulled the curtain back to what typifies the worst aspects of the regressive views shared by the alt-right extremists now in power since the November 2016 election.

J_JohnHis proposed scheme, called the Make Affordable Housing Work Act, deals a brutal blow to decades of efforts by previous administrations — both Republican and Democrat — to create affordable housing and to maintain and expand the social safety net for millions of vulnerable Americans who need a decent place to live.

Under the proposal, millions of families living in subsidized public housing will see their rents rise from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of their higher annual gross income.

This subtle distinction makes a powerful difference. By changing the rules on income, the increase in reality is more than 5 percent, adding an enormous burden on poor families.

Furthermore, this increase would impact half of those families depending on federally subsidized housing.

This hits New Yorkers hard. The New York City Housing Authority, which manages public housing in the city, has some 615,000 residents—nearly as many as the entire population of Boston, Mass. Some 15,000 DC 37 members reside in public housing, and the union represents 1,000 NYCHA workers.

All these are on the frontline of Trump’s attacks.

And for some of the most at-risk families in public housing, rent payments would triple. It is estimated that more than 700,000 families would be hit with this increase.

In a time when income inequality has remained on an upward course, with this policy the arrow points downward at the hearts of those 4.7 million Americans who depend on HUD for help in maintaining housing.

Shredding the Housing Safety Net

This is just but one outrage out of many. Trump administration public housing “reforms,” including ending deductions for medical and child-care costs in rent determinations, as well as allowing the government to impose unrealistic work requirements nationwide, without regard to a tenant’s actual living situation.

In a difficult job environment for working families in the city, income is not steady for many. This proposal will only increase anxiety each year to already stressed families in public housing.

Pointing out the hypocrisy imbued in the proposals, housing activist Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said, “The bill would actually increase rents for households that have high medical or child-care expenses by eliminating income deductions for those costs. So the greatest burden of the rent increase would be felt by seniors, people with disabilities and families with young kids.”

Reaction from the U.S. Congress was swift.

“Secretary Carson’s immoral, ill-advised proposal is the latest example of the Trump administration’s war on poor people,” said U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who is also chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

He pointed out that there would be a fight against these draconian measures, saying he and his colleagues will strongly oppose the proposed changes.

At a time when large sections of the country are in the middle of a housing crisis, these proposals will only make matters worse.

The impact will be felt particularly in New York City, where skyrocketing rents and a wave of gentrification are pricing working families out of long-standing affordable neighborhoods.

Jeremy John is the director of DC 37’s Political Action and Legislation Department.

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