HUD Unveils Plan To Increase Rent On Millions Receiving Federal Housing Assistance Under HUD Secretary Ben Carson's proposal, some of the poorest families will see their rents triple. About 712,000 households would see rents jump to $150 per month.

HUD Unveils Plan To Increase Rent On Millions Receiving Federal Housing Assistance

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Trump administration wants to change the way that rent payments are calculated for millions of Americans who are on federal housing subsidies. Ben Carson unveiled this plan. He's the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And under this plan, the rents for some of the nation's poorest families could triple. NPR's Brakkton Booker is in our studios. He's covering this story. Hey there, Brakkton.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Hey. How you doing, Steve?

INSKEEP: Got to tell you, some people just heard me say rents could triple for poor people and they've got to be asking why. Why?

BOOKER: Well, according to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, when he unveiled the plan yesterday and he was talking to reporters, he said basically it's simple math. He told reporters in his conference call that more and more of the department's budget goes to paying for housing for needy families, and he said it's really unsustainable. Here's what he said.

BEN CARSON: The way we calculate the level of assistance to our families is convoluted and creates perverse consequences such as discouraging these families from earning more income and becoming self-sufficient.

BOOKER: Now, Carson added that revamping how rents are calculated would incentivize those who are in public assistance to work harder and earn more wages. He also said that the plan was simpler, less invasive and more transparent.

INSKEEP: I just want to try to understand what he said there. When he says too much of the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development goes to housing, that doesn't actually make sense. But the other part here sounds like what would actually be a motivation. He feels that they need - they want to change the incentives for poor people. This is what this is about for Ben Carson.

BOOKER: Well, this is about trying to help cut down who gets public assistance because they're saying, look, this is bloating the budget and we cannot sustain all this. They also say that, you know, there are long waiting lists, sometimes decades long. And we have to help move people off of public assistance and find ways to help them strike out on their own essentially.

INSKEEP: OK. So we talked about calculations, the way you calculate the level of assistance for any given person. How were they calculating the level of rent assistance that some people got, and how has it changed?

BOOKER: So currently, Americans receiving federal housing subsidies pay about 30 percent of their income towards rent, and the federal government kicks in the rest. So Carson's plan would actually boost this to about 35 percent. It would also eliminate, you know, some income deductions for folks paying rent so you wouldn't get those deductions. And also, another thing is that the bill allows for local housing authorities and landlords the option to impose work requirements on those tenants getting the federal assistance.

INSKEEP: OK. So it's when you add all of those different tweaks together, that's where some people might end up with triple the rent.

BOOKER: That's right.

INSKEEP: And this is a big deal for for anybody who is paying for housing, right? What percentage of your income goes to housing? That's the key thing. And they're just going to move that another notch up.

BOOKER: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: What's the reaction to this?

BOOKER: Well, if you talk to anti-poverty advocates and, you know, Democrats on the Hill, they are calling this immoral. And they're saying this is unfair to needy families. You also see folks that are saying that this is in line with what Republicans want to do in cutting who is actually on the safety net. So we'll see whether or not Congress picks this up. I have to say that this plan requires congressional approval.

INSKEEP: OK, Brakkton, thanks very much for coming by.

BOOKER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brakkton Booker.

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