I have recently reviewed a draft, unpublished document dated January 17, 2018, from HUD that introduces minimum work requirements for some residents of assisted housing and raises rent for others.
This seems to continue the pattern of requiring work in return for some forms of welfare assistance. In January, the Administration said that it would permit states to impose work requirements for Medicaid and the Department of Agriculture announced in December that it will permit states to set work requirements for people who use the SNAP (food stamp) program.
While requiring work in return for aid seems reasonable, a review of the specific proposals raises questions about the impact on the most at risk families.
The proposed changes would allow public housing agencies (PHAs) to introduce minimum employment requirements for families in order to be eligible for housing assistance. Without proof of employment, housing assistance could be denied. This is only a draft (discussion) document, but it has a lot of weaknesses relative to the broad swath of families that would be impacted. For example, the draft does not provide exceptions for persons who need to care for children or disabled relatives. Nor, does it address the circumstances when a person just cannot find a job. It also does not deal with the issues of seasonal or cyclical employment.
While requiring able-bodied adults to work, train, or volunteer – at least on a part-time basis – in return for taxpayer assistance is reasonable, this draft document does not recognize volunteer work toward the minimum work requirements, nor does it count part-time work. This is a major weakness, since obtaining part-time work may be very possible, but full time employment opportunities are much more limited.
Incredibly, the language in the document includes no exemption for parents who care for children, essentially giving PHAs discretion as to whether single mothers could qualify for the housing. If such loss of housing were to occur due to a lack of employment, the risk to families would increase significantly. Without adequate housing, children may very well be placed in foster care.
The draft language caps the work requirement at 32 hours per week on average per adult, excluding elderly or disabled families. Both active employment and vocational training would qualify.
In addition to the work requirement, the proposal would raise the rent-burden on low-income families from 30% of adjusted income to 35% of gross income. Under this proposal, there would be no more deductions for expenses such as medical, dependent, childcare, disability, etc. Under the draft guidelines, each household would be required to pay a minimum rent of $50 – including elderly and disabled – regardless of income.
This draft document may explain why there has not yet been a regulatory implementation of the 2016 Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA). It appears that the current administration may want to go in a completely different direction. Since HOTMA is statutory, HUD cannot just ignore its requirements. However, regulatory agencies have great discretion in how they interpret laws and HUD appears to be looking for ways around some of the HOTMA requirements.
If I receive any more information about informal HUD efforts in these areas I will let you know, but at this point, I would not count on any short-term regulations from HUD implementing the changes outlined in the 2016 legislation.