Topeka Housing Authority: HUD rent increases potentially ‘devastating’

By Morgan Chilson, April 28, 2018

HUD Secratary Carson speaks to reporters outside the Women's Center

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson talks Tuesday to
reporters at the Downtown Women's Center in Los Angels. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Proposed cuts to housing assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could be “devastating” for residents in Topeka public housing, according to an official.

On Wednesday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced measures that would increase rents for people living in public housing or receiving subsidies for Section 8 housing. The effects would be felt in Topeka in multiple ways, said Trey George, executive director of the Topeka Housing Authority.

The proposal includes raising minimum rent from $50 to $150, and increasing from 30 percent to 35 percent the amount of their adjusted gross income that a family pays. The proposal also would eliminate deductions for certain medical expenses and child-care costs that currently are subtracted from income. Added to the HUD proposals is President Donald Trump’s executive order earlier this month that requires government agencies to strengthen work requirements for low-income Americans who receive Medicaid, public housing and other welfare benefits.

“Of 707 households, we currently have 174 households that are paying the minimum rent, and basically you would be tripling what they’re paying right now,” George said.

In addition, 132 households — 19 percent of THA’s residents — currently pay between $51 and $149 for rent. Those residents, depending on where they fall on that range, would see rent increase from as little as $1 to up to $100.

From the perspective of an organization serving families with an average annual income of $11,969 a year, small increases can mean a lot, George said. The increase from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent will average about $50 per month for many families, he said.

“The average right now is $299 per month. If you go to 35 percent, it would go up to $349 on average,” he said. “For some, it probably won’t be that much of an impact. But it happens every week, somebody walks in and says, ‘Well, either I buy my medication or I pay my rent.’ You’re just further burdening a household that’s already low-income or extremely low-income.”

The increase from 30 percent to 35 percent also affects residents in Section 8 housing, which is subsidized housing for low-income families paid to private landlords, George said. The average annual income for Topeka’s Section 8 families is $14,078 a year, which means their rent would jump from $352 to $411 per month.

JoAnn Sutton, executive director of the Manhattan Housing Authority, said she estimates that 60 to 65 percent of residents served in public housing and Section 8 rental assistance programs would see increases. HUD issued information on Thursday about the program to housing authorities nationwide, so Sutton was still reading to understand the full effects.

Still, one element stood out to her during an initial examination. HUD proposed changing the requirement for income certification from once a year to once every three years. In a news release, HUD said the measure was put forth in an effort to ease the administrative burden on public housing authority staff. It also was expected to encourage residents who weren’t working to go to work, knowing that their rent wouldn’t be adversely affected for three years.

However, Sutton said, the MHA relies on that rental income. If someone goes to work, the rental income typically goes up, and changing that pattern could be detrimental.

“Housing authorities depend on that dwelling rent, in our case, more than we depend on the operating subsidy,” she said. “We depend on both. I’m not seeing how HUD’s going to reconcile that.”

George said the work requirements being proposed would affect a small percentage of the people who live at THA because 48 percent of those in public housing are either elderly, disabled or both. In Section 8 housing, that number is 68 percent. The elderly and people who are disabled are excluded from the work requirement. About 10 percent of families at THA have no current income.

Sutton, George and other area leaders working with families who receive subsidized housing will await further HUD guidance over the next weeks to understand the effects of the proposed changes.

George said he primarily worries about the effects on families that may teeter on the edge of financial problems. To help people understand, he uses an analogy of being thirsty and a bottle of water costs $1.

“That’s not a lot of money, but if I don’t have that dollar, I can’t buy that bottle and I’m still thirsty,” he said. “It might as well be $1 million.”

http://www.cjonline.com/news/20180428/topeka-housing-authority-hud-rent-increases-potentially-devastating

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