There is a painful, chronic lack of affordable housing in urban areas. The causes are often rooted in local law and policy, notably exclusionary zoning that limits high-density projects so as to protect the property values of single-family homeowners.
So the first point to make about the changes in federal housing aid that House and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson rolled out on April 25 - including potential rent hikes and work requirements - is that, at best, they would amount to a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid.
The second is that there is little chance Congress will adopt his plan: It is a rehash of ideas lawmakers rejected earlier this year in the course of increasing federal housing spending for fiscal 2019, contrary to what Carson had recommended. The announcement seems designed as Carson’s response to President Donald Trump’s April 10 executive order demanding that all agencies submit plans for linking safety-net benefits to work.
Still, given that the Trump administration seems so wedded to these ideas, it’s worth the effort to understand exactly what’s right and, mostly, what’s wrong with them.
We’re all for reducing any disincentives to work. Carson’s plan addresses one by proposing that public-housing authorities calculate tenants’ rent every three years rather than annually, so as not to “tax” any short-term income boosts they may earn. It might also be smart, and a lot simpler, to base rents on gross income rather than income after adjustments and deductions. However, the Carson proposals offset those wise reforms by jacking up a tenant’s share of the rent from 30 percent of adjusted income under current law to 35 percent of gross income - a stiff increase for a group of people who are among the poorest of the poor.