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Higher Rents for Poorest Housing Recipients a Bad Idea

February 22, 2012 at 4:45 PM

A New York Times editorial today warns that raising rents on the poorest recipients of federal housing assistance, as both a House proposal and the President's new budget would do, could impose unaffordable burdens on these households, all of whom have incomes below $3,000.

We share that concern and believe that policymakers should reject a rent increase.

The House proposal would require housing agencies and owners to charge families with little or no income $69.45 a month in rent (and more in future years based on inflation), up from the current maximum of $50. Our analysis finds that this increase in the minimum rent could expose 491,000 households to serious added hardship and even homelessness.

These nearly half-million households include nearly 700,000 minor children, and 40,000 of the households include people who are elderly or disabled.

The President's budget would raise minimum rents even higher than the House proposal -- to $75 -- so it would affect even more extremely poor families (about 15,000 more).

As the Times notes, if policymakers raise rents on the poorest housing recipients, they should at least continue to allow local agencies to make the rent increases optional. Local agencies best know the households that they serve and should retain the flexibility to set the most appropriate policies for them.

Also, while agencies are required to provide hardship exemptions from minimum rents in certain situations, a HUD-sponsored study in 2010 found that these exemptions were very rare. Policymakers should couple any rent increase with the changes needed to ensure that the hardship exemption accomplishes its intended goal of keeping minimum rents from pushing families out of their homes.


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