Thousands of American children will be at risk of homelessness under a controversial proposal by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to public housing leaders.
The plan, which would evict families in which a member is undocumented from obtaining subsidized housing, threatens the housing stability of 25,000 mixed-immigration status families, including 55,000 children who are U.S. citizens or otherwise eligible for HUD assistance, say officials who are fighting the move.
The proposal is a major change from a long-standing rules that allow families of mixed-immigration status to reside in subsidized housing as long as one family member is a legal resident.
Opponents of the new proposal stress that housing subsidies do not support undocumented immigrants. These individuals are permitted to live with their families, but the rents are prorated to ensure that subsidies do not assist with the undocumented immigrant’s portion of the rent.
“The proposal would force mixed-status families to decide between a roof for some or homelessness for all,” said Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities in Washington, D.C. “This unwarranted attack on immigrant families is also antithetical to the mission of public housing, which is to provide safe affordable housing to very low-income families.”
In addition to exacerbating a crisis level of homelessness in the country, the move would burden public housing authorities, which would be required to verify the immigration status of all residents in millions of households as well as cover the costs of enforcing the rule.
The plan would also create additional burdens on private landlords who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program, which serves more than 2 million low-income households. “This adds to the already difficult task of recruiting private landlords to accept Sec. 8 Housing Choice Vouchers,” Zaterman said in a call with reporters.
The impact of the proposal would be devastating in Los Angeles, said Doug Guthrie, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA).
“We are probably hit harder by this rule change than any other community in the United States,” he said, noting that Los Angeles has identified approximately 11,600 members of mixed-status households at risk, including 31% of its public housing residents. The majority of residents affected are children who are American citizens.
“In Los Angeles, as elsewhere, we’re in the middle of an affordable housing crisis, and especially in Los Angeles a homelessness crisis that the city has been tackling head on for some time, but it’s been extraordinarily challenging. With this rule change, we’re going to be forcing American citizen children into homelessness.”
The cost to the system also would be extraordinary. HACLA estimates that it would cost between $25 million and $50 million to turn over nearly 1,500 public housing units and administer the rule.
For many housing authorities, HUD is creating a problem where there hasn’t been one.
“Dealing with mixed-status households has not been a controversial issue, so this just comes across as mean-spirited and heartless, and whoever wrote this rule either doesn’t understand the impacts that this would have or more sadly maybe they do understand the impacts, and that is quite concerning as well,” Guthrie said.
The proposal is also opposed by Tory Gunsolley, president and CEO of the Houston Housing Authority.
In addition to the many objections outlined, the plan would “destroy trust between the people that we serve and the housing authority,” he said. “The people that this proposal is targeting are the people who follow the rules and follow the law and disclosed to us that they have a family member who is a nondocumented immigrant and pay the higher rent … It’s outrageous that we’re attacking the very folks who have been good tenants and have followed the law.”
The proposal is looking to turn housing authorities into an arm of immigration enforcement, he said.
Gunsolley said there are 42 mixed-status households out of 22,500 families that the housing authority serves. But he still stands in opposition to the HUD proposal, saying it’s fundamentally wrong and bad policy.
Housing leaders are urging people to submit comments to the plan as well as contact their elected officials.
So far, more than 10,000 individuals and organizations have submitted comments to HUD, the vast majority in opposition to the proposal, according to Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Opponents are also working with Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who have introduced legislation preventing HUD from moving forward with the proposed rule. There’s also language in the HUD spending bill that has passed the House of Representatives that would stop the plan.
“At a time when the housing crisis continues to worsen, it is truly appalling to have the HUD secretary use his authority to propose increasing homelessness and to increase it among some of the country’s most vulnerable people,” Yentel said. “The cruelty of this proposal is breathtaking, and the harm it would inflict on children, families, and communities is severe.”
The proposal isn’t housing policy, according to opponents.
“It is anti-immigrant policy, and we will use all avenues to stop it from being implemented,” Yentel said.