Public Housing Agencies Oppose HUD's Plan to Evict Immigrant Families

There's a problem with the Trump administration's proposal that Secretary Ben Carson defended before Congress on Tuesday. Local authorities don't want to enforce it.
by | May 21, 2019 AT 2:28 PM
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson testifies
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson testifying at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

SPEED READ:

  • A new HUD rule would evict families from public housing if an undocumented person lives there.
  • HUD Secretary Ben Carson defended it on Tuesday during a congressional hearing.
  • There's a bill in the House to block it.
 

In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Democrats grilled Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson about a proposal that puts 55,000 children at risk of losing their home.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a rule this month in the Federal Register that would disqualify families from living in public housing or receiving Section 8 housing vouchers if they have an undocumented person living with them. It's now subject to a 60-day comment period, ending in mid-July.

It was proposed by Stephen Miller, President Trump's immigration policy adviser, as a way to help nonimmigrant families get off the waitlist for public housing.

Undocumented immigrants are already barred from directly receiving housing subsidies but not from living in public housing. The Trump administration's rule would disqualify an entire family from public housing unless every person living with them can prove their lawful immigration status.

The Democrat-controlled House is currently weighing a bill that would block HUD from implementing the rule.

“Your plan to create vacancies by making 55,000 American children homeless is one of the most damaging proposals I’ve ever seen in public policy,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, during a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

Secretary Carson defended the potential eviction of mixed-status families by arguing that “there are hundreds of thousands of children, as well as elderly and disabled, who are on the waiting list who are legal American citizens.”

But pro-immigration advocates point out that the HUD rules puts some children who are U.S. citizens at risk of losing their homes. (People are U.S. citizens if they're born in this country to undocumented parents.)

Housing experts say the rule would put families out on the street without substantially cutting down on waitlists. A 2016 analysis estimated that there are 1.6 million families waiting for public housing. HUD's new rule could create tens of thousands of openings.

“It won’t solve the problem that people are struggling with housing insecurity,” says Martha Galvez, a principal research associate for the Urban Institute.

The Public Housing Authorities Directors Association (PHADA), whose members would be charged with enforcing the HUD rule, are against it.

“We were told by career HUD staff that it took even them by surprise. ... The fact that they didn’t consult with career public servants is quite telling,” says Tim Kaiser, executive director of PHADA. “For our members, it feels unnecessary, and like they are changing the rules in the middle of the game. It’s a reinterpretation of a long-standing policy, making families that we are already serving ineligible.”

Local housing agencies argue that the rule would put an additional financial and administrative strain on them.

“Removing a family is not free. It takes staff time. It takes legal resources. Staff will have to sit in court instead of screening families or going over eligibility applications. It doesn’t seem like a quality way to maximize the slim resources we do have,” says John Clarke, president of PHADA and executive director of the New Brunswick, N.J. Housing Authority.

In Los Angeles, housing officials estimate that 31 percent of people receiving some form of housing assistance live in a mixed-status household, leaving 11,600 at risk of eviction.

“We are talking about whole communities [impacted]. It seems to me to be quite mean-spirited -- the families we consider mixed-status have been playing by the rules,” says Doug Guthrie, president of the city's housing authority. “We are prepared to fight this.”

The Trump administration has made zero tolerance on immigration a cornerstone of its policy priorities. Another proposed rule would make it harder for legal immigrants to get green cards or permanent residency status if they receive government benefits -- such as housing aid, Medicaid and food stamps -- even if they qualify for them.