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As Affordable Housing Crisis Grows, HUD Sits on the Sidelines

Millions of low-income Americans are paying 70 percent or more of their incomes for shelter, while rents continue to rise and construction of affordable rental apartments lags far behind the need. The Trump administration’s main policy response, unveiled this spring by Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development: a plan to triple rents for about 712,000 of the poorest tenants receiving federal housing aid and to loosen the cap on rents on 4.5 million households enrolled in federal voucher and public housing programs nationwide, with the goal of moving longtime tenants out of the system to make way for new ones. Low-income renters and many local officials who run housing programs see the federal assistance as a semi-permanent hedge against evictions and homelessness that needs to be expanded in times of crisis. Still, both proposals represent a paradigm shift in federal housing policy, ending the requirement that low-income tenants spend no more than 30 percent of their net income on rent. Tying rents to incomes has been a central part of the system since 1981, especially for the Section 8 housing voucher program, enabling 2.1 million low-income families to rent private apartments they could not otherwise afford. A survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a worker earning the state minimum wage could afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in only 22 of the country’s 3,000 counties. During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama promised to fund an affordable housing trust fund for the construction of new units. In March, Republican and Democratic negotiators rejected Mr. Trump’s budget, adding $1.25 billion to HUD’s rental assistance programs and injecting an additional $425 million to the HOME program, which funds state, local, nonprofit and private partnerships to build affordable housing. From 2001 to 2013, the number of rental apartments for high-wage earners increased by 36 percent, while units for poor people shrank by nearly 10 percent, according to federal housing statistics. For his part, Mr. Carson publicly acknowledges the crisis in most of his speeches.