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Jun 5, 2019

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Advocacy Alert: HUD Rule Would Terminate Housing Assistance to American Citizens

by | Jun 5, 2019

Tens of thousands of American citizens and permanent residents including up to 500 Colorado families would lose their housing assistance if a new rule recently proposed by the Trump Administration goes into effect – putting their health and financial security in jeopardy.

The rule would change the way HUD determines eligibility for housing assistance programs covered by Section 214 of the 1980 Housing and Community Development Act, as amended. That law prohibits the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from providing housing assistance to individuals unless they are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens, such as permanent residents, asylum seekers or refugees. However, the statute clearly states, “If the eligibility for financial assistance of at least one member of a family has been affirmatively established under this section, and the ineligibility of one or more family members has not been affirmatively established under this section, any financial assistance made available to that family by the applicable Secretary shall be prorated…”

Following statute, HUD currently prorates housing assistance for such families, also known as “mixed families,” provided at least one member of the family is eligible. For example, a family of four in which three members were U.S. citizens but one member was ineligible would only receive 75 percent of the benefits they would otherwise get. On average, mixed families receive an annual subsidy that is $2,100 per person less than non-mixed families. Meanwhile, the income for all family members, regardless of their eligibility, is counted toward the programs’ income requirements. In this way, HUD is able to balance its responsibility to provide housing assistance to American citizens and eligible immigrants without violating the law. It is important to note that being ineligible for HUD housing assistance programs does not necessarily mean an individual is in this country illegally. Regardless, the Trump Administration has framed this rule as a way to remove undocumented immigrants from public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher program.

If enacted, the proposed rule would require all members of a family to verify their citizenship or eligible immigration status in order to receive benefits. As such, mixed families would no longer be eligible to receive prorated benefits. According to HUD’s analysis, there are approximately 25,000 mixed families currently living in public housing or receiving some sort of housing assistance through a program covered by the rules of Section 214. These families represent 108,104 people, 71 percent of whom are eligible for HUD benefits. The majority of eligible members are children, while the majority of ineligible members are adults. Due to this rule change, mixed families will be forced to choose between kicking out the ineligible member(s) and losing their home. Those that do lose their housing assistance will be at an increased risk of homelessness—most families are in housing assistance programs because they were unable to find affordable housing in their local housing market. As many as 55,000 children could be made homeless because of this rule.

Denying assistance to these 25,000 mixed families would allow the HUD to redirect between $179 million and $210 million to non-mixed families (i.e., families in which all members are eligible for benefits). However, because benefits for mixed families are prorated, they receive an average per person subsidy of $1,900 each year. Non-mixed families receive an average subsidy of $4,000 per person per year. Replacing mixed families with non-mixed families would increase HUD’s annual expenditures on housing assistance programs by between $193 million and $227 million. As a result, HUD would either have to pay a lower per person subsidy to families receiving housing assistance or reduce the number of families it is able to assist. By HUD’s own estimation, the quantity and quality of public housing could decline since less funding would be available for unit maintenance or resident services.

While the rule is targeted towards immigrant families, it could also affect families in which all members are U.S. citizens. If an American citizen is unable to provide the necessary documentation to verify their citizenship status (such as a passport or a birth certificate), they and their families would lose their housing assistance. Americans of color, Americans with disabilities, and older Americans are likely to be disproportionately affected by the requirements included in the proposed rule. In addition, these new requirements create more barriers for Americans who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness.

This rule is bad public policy that fails to achieve its purported objectives. Instead, it punishes Americans for having an immigrant in their family and places America’s most vulnerable citizens at risk of eviction, homelessness, or separation. By HUD’s own admission, any American who relies on housing assistance or is on a waiting list will be harmed by this rule, as less funding would be available to support HUD programs. Even if the rule would not result in fewer resources for housing programs, removing 25,000 families from housing assistance would do little to reduce the approximately 1.6 million families who were estimated to be on waitlists for these programs as of 2016.

The comment period on this rule ends on July 9, 2019. If you or your organization is interested in submitting a comment, please visit www.keep-familes-together.org for a comment template and additional resources and information regarding this proposed rule.

In addition, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, recently introduced a bill that would stop the implementation of this rule. We encourage you to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet to urge them to support this bill. Thus far, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (7th District) is the only member of Colorado’s Congressional delegation to have signed onto letters or legislation opposing this rule.

– By Charles Brennan

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