Obama's proposed hike to minimum rent for HUD-assisted families could put poorest in the street

Obama's proposed hike to minimum rent for HUD-assisted families could put poorest in the street

A proposal in the 2013 presidential budget  to raise the minimum rent in public housing could put the poorest families at risk of ending up on the street, say advocates.

And what may be most surprising for some people, Pres. Obama's proposed hike is more than what's being asked for by the Republicans. Plus, it pitted two local pols against each other over this issue in Washington.

John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Chicago-based Metropolitan Tenants Organization called the proposed increase, which would raise the minimum rent to $75 a month from $50 for all households assisted by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, "horrible.

“People can’t get back on their feet if they don’t have a home, and some of them will lose their home because of this,” said Barlett.

$75 may not sound like much, especially in Cook County, where the average price is $853 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that 19,602 Illinois families in project-based Section 8 housing, supportive housing and those using housing choice vouchers administered by HUD would be negatively impacted by the rent increase.

What's more, Illinois would be hit harder than the national average: 14.11 percent of households relying on rent assistance here would face an increase, compared to 12.4 percent of households nationally.

"There has been a lot of pressure on discretionary programs in general,” said Barbara Sard, author of the Center's report on the cuts.  “All of the low-income housing programs are part of the discretionary side of the budget.”

The problems of the recession on low-income people have been compounded by cuts to social programs, which have been accelerating since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in the November 2010 election, Sard added.

The proposal to raise the minimum rent in Section 8 housing originally came from the House, which proposed in October 2011 to raise the rent to 12 percent of the local Fair Market Rent, or to $69.45 a month and index it for inflation.

The leader of this push in the House was Republican Rep. Judy Biggert, Chair of the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, from the 13thCongressional District of Illinois, which is in the Southwestern suburbs. And one of the most vocal opponents of the bill was Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez from the 4th Congressional District west of downtown Chicago.

"Raising rents for the poorest of the poor. I just don’t know how this makes sense,” said Rep. Guttierrez, in a February discussion of the rent increase. He had offered an amendment in February to remove the provision from the budget, which he later withdrew.

In response, Rep. Biggert told the subcommittee that increasing the minimum rent for rent-assistance housing would lower the overall cost of the program and allow more people to receive help.

In the end, the difference between the proposal coming from Rep. Biggert--$69.45--and the increase proposed by President Obama--$75--was minimal.

But Sard noted that “for the first time ever the administration proposed an increase in a minimum rent to an even higher level than the Republicans had proposed.”

And when looking at assistance for the “very, very poor,” every penny counts, she said.

“Congress and the president have a lot of discretion as to picking winners and losers,” in the budget cuts, said Sard, and “housing programs are only a small side of the overall budget.”

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that, along with raising the minimum rent, the 2013 fiscal year budget is "at least $1.7 billion below the amount needed to fully renew rental assistance provided this year under HUD’s three major rental assistance programs."

Barlett, from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization,  sees the proposed raise in the minimum rent as part of a larger attack on the poor.

“It’s more of a tax increase on the poor instead of taxing the billionaires.”

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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