HUD plan would raise rents 21 percent for Metro Detroit poor

Christine MacDonald, The Detroit News, Juliet Linderman and Larry Fenn, Associated Press
Tiesha Tims, pictured with her 16-month-old daughter, Ja’Liah Batchelor, could see her $100 a month rent at a west-side public housing complex rise to $150 a month under a new proposal from Housing Secretary Ben Carson aimed at getting more people to find work. Tims, who has four young children and works part-time as a home health aide, said it would be difficult to make ends meet with the increase.

Housing Secretary Ben Carson's proposal to raise the rents for millions of low-income households across the United States would boost housing costs by 21 percent on average for Metro Detroiters, according to a new analysis. 

Carson, a Detroit native, has said the plan, first pitched in April, would mean a path toward self-sufficiency by pushing more people who receive government-subsidized housing to find work. Advocates for the poor warn the increase could force many into homelessness, shredding an already frayed safety net from the suburbs to Detroit, the nation's poorest big city.

About 10 miles from Carson's boyhood home, where his single mother raised him by working two jobs, Tiesha Tims could see her rent rise by 50 percent. 

After a fire destroyed the home she owned more than a year ago, the 30-year-old moved into a public housing complex on the city’s west side with her four small children. She pays $100 a month, based on HUD's current requirement that she pay 30 percent of her income as a part-time home health aid.

But her rent could rise by 50 percent to more than $150 a month under Carson's proposal. 

“That will be difficult,” said Tims. “This is what it should be for, mothers with kids and people with no income.”

“At least offer people a chance. Don’t just cut it out.”

Overall, the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas, low-income tenants — many of whom have jobs — would have to pay roughly 20 percent more each year for rent under the plan, according to the analysis done by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provided exclusively to The Associated Press.

In Metro Detroit, the average increase would be an extra $710 a year.

But on Thursday in a visit to Detroit, Carson appeared to backtrack on at least part of the proposal, saying the changes were tied to HUD budget cuts that were no longer needed. 

"The original rent increases were to make sure we didn't have to raise rents on elderly and disabled people, and now we have some increased funding, and we're not going to have to do that,” Carson said. 

Carson referenced a Detroit News/Associated Press article "saying how horrible we were for raising all these rents on people." 

The rent proposal, Carson said, would "help remove barriers to climbing the ladder." One component of the plan, he said, would call for three-year income checks for those getting assistance. The other, he said, deals with rents and is "going to be simplified."

"The key thing to remember is that everything we're doing is aimed at elevating people and giving people an opportunity of removing some of the perverse incentives that have kept people in dependent positions," he said. 

Roughly 4 million low-income households receiving HUD assistance would be affected by the proposal. HUD estimates that about 2 million would feel the impact immediately, while the other 2 million would see rent increases phased in after six years.

The proposal, which needs congressional approval, is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to scale back the social safety net, under the belief that charging more will prompt those receiving federal assistance to enter the workforce and earn more. "It's our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty," Carson recently told Fox News.

"The system we currently use to calculate a family's rental assistance is broken and holds back the very people we're supposed to be helping," said Carson in a press release. The HUD secretary is to be in Detroit today.

The analysis shows that families would be disproportionately impacted. Of the 8.3 million people affected by the proposal, more than 3 million are children. An estimated 60,800 households would see a rent increase in Metro Detroit, including homes with 41,000 children. 

That stands in stark contrast to Carson's focus on children and education, which is woven into his memoirs and embedded in the very foundation of his namesake reading rooms tucked into low-income elementary schools across the country. It also runs contrary to research, housing experts say.

"There is no evidence that rent increases work," said Will Fischer, a senior policy analyst at the policy center, which advocates for the poor. "For most of these rent increases, I don't think there's even a plausible theory for why they would encourage work."

The “Make Affordable Housing Work Act,” announced on April 25, would allow housing authorities to impose work requirements, would increase the percentage of income poor tenants are required to pay from 30 percent to 35 percent, and would raise the minimum rent from $50 to $150 per month. The proposal would eliminate deductions for medical care and child care, and for each child in a home. Currently, a household can deduct from its gross income $480 per child, significantly lowering rent for families.

The last comparable rent increase was in 1981, when it rose from 25 percent to 30 percent of adjusted income, Fischer said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development says elderly or disabled households would be exempt from the changes, but an estimated 314,000 households stand to lose their elderly or disabled status and see their rents go up, according to the outside analysis.

Fischer said he believes elderly would see rent increases phased in over time. 

"But most low-income elderly people don’t have any way to raise their incomes, so they will still struggle to pay these increases a few years from now," Fischer wrote in an email. 

A 90-year-old senior at Livonia’s McNamara Tower, who makes $9,200 a year from Social Security, could see her rent go from $161 a month to $231, a 43 percent increase in part because of the loss of deductions, said James Inglis, executive director of the Livonia Housing Commission who has been running numbers to gauge the proposal's effect.

“This little senior has to figure out how to come up with $70 more a month,” Inglis said. “They have the least disposable income.”

“It goes way too far.”

Claudia Sanford, director of tenant organizing for Detroit’s United Community Housing Coalition fears the changes will force many low-income renters “to cut into food and medicine, the basic necessities.”

“It’s too harsh,” Sanford said. “Keeping jobs can be very difficult for people with undiagnosed issues. No one wants this to be a lifestyle. People want jobs.”

Cutting her food budget would be Lorna Tarpley’s first option if her $142 a month rent rose 20 percent. The 54-year-old Detroiter lives in a west-side public housing complex with her daughter and grandchild. She makes $9.34 an hour as a sorter at a nearby recycling facility.

“I can’t afford it,” said Lorna Tarpley, 54. “That’s why we are living here. My job doesn’t pay enough." 

The impact of the rent proposal would affect low-income residents and families across the country.

Rent for the poorest tenants in Baltimore, where Carson made history as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and where his own story of overcoming poverty inspired generations of children to dream of possibilities beyond the projects, could go up by 19 percent or $800 a year. Households in Washington, D.C., one of the richest regions in the country, would see the largest increases for its poorest residents: $980 per year on average, a 20 percent jump.

Not all residents receiving housing assistance think the plan is unfair.

Shalonda Skinner, 29, has five children under the age of 11, and pays just $9 to rent an apartment in a subsidized complex in Charleston, South Carolina. She's lived there six years, and styles hair on the side to earn about $160 each month. She supplements her needs with food stamps, and intermittent payments from her children's father. If the rent were to go up she says, "I'd work more," taking more clients and asking her family to watch her children.

"I'm in favor of it," she said of Carson's policy. "Housing helps a lot of people. It will probably put a good amount of people out because some people don't like to work, they're not independent. But it's fair."

The data analysis was conducted using 2016 HUD data and includes tenants living in public housing complexes and receiving vouchers to rent apartments on the private market. It excludes housing authorities participating in the Moving to Work program, which allows districts to determine their own rent policies.

The potential rent increase nationally is about six times greater than the growth in average hourly earnings, putting the poorest workers at an increased risk of homelessness because wages simply haven't kept pace with housing expenses.

"This proposal to raise rents on low-income people doesn't magically create well-paying jobs needed to lift people out of poverty," said Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "Instead it just makes it harder for struggling families to get ahead by potentially cutting them off from the very services that make it possible for them to find and keep jobs."


Rent increases

A low-income rent increase proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 100 largest metro areas would increase rents in:

Metro Detroit: 21 percent, $710 a year 

Grand Rapids-Wyoming: 19 percent, $750 a year

Highest: Columbia, South Carolina: 28 percent, $900 a year

Lowest: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim: 13 percent, $650 a year

Source:Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provided exclusively to the AP and its members