by Kate Harveston
Affordable housing has always been a target for the GOP, since the golden days of Ronald Reagan, and his famous “welfare queen” speeches during his 1976 presidential campaign. Something in this image — widowed or unmarried women living luxuriously off welfare fraud — resonated with the American public and helped ease Reagan into his presidential seat. Since those days, Reagan became the gold standard of the Republican party, and anything associated with meaningful welfare reform is deemed untouchable.
This trend remains true today, as Ben Carson — current secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development — laid out his plans for the new "Making Affordable Housing Work Act of 2018." The specter of Ronald Reagan still haunts these lands, it seems, and has found new life in this 2018 legislation. The bill targets America's poor — mainly the same single-mother demographics as the 1976 speeches did — in an area they cannot afford to lose: housing.
The bill includes several especially impactful provisions. First and foremost, it will seek to raise rent across the board for those covered under current affordable housing laws. Presently, the law requires covered families to pay 30 percent of their monthly income to their housing needs. The reforms proposed by the 2018 bill would increase this amount to 35 percent. For families living without a reliable source of income, the percentage comes directly out of their welfare checks.
However, for some families, the reforms are even harsher. Rather than taking a flat 35 percent from income, the formula calculates for families working 15 hours a week at minimum wage for four weeks in a month and withdraws 35 percent of that amount. Whichever number ends up higher — roughly $150 for the projected income, or 35 percent of actual income — is required as rent. The $150 minimum price tag is roughly three times the minimum provided by the previous legislation.
Alongside these changes, the bill also raises the price on the elderly and disabled, who are normally exempt from rent altogether. The law will now require these individuals to pay at least $50. This figure, which totals $600 a year, may be difficult for some in this category to pay, especially if they are otherwise unable to work. Many such households bring in less than $2,000 a year, of which the rent will comprise more than 30 percent itself.
Finally, the bill grants landlords and housing authorities the right to set work requirements for people paying their rent with government vouchers. Troublingly, the bill does not specify the limits of the requirements the authorities can impose, but would leave that designation to the authority of Carson himself.
Criticism for the bill primarily comes from political advocates fighting for low-income housing reform, and those directly impacted by the changes the 2018 bill will invoke. While many of these same advocates have long called for meaningful changes to the current laws, this bill represents the opposite of what they have been fighting for. The “bootstraps” approach — removing safety nets and securities for the economically vulnerable — is intended to push many within this group to get jobs and a sustainable lifestyle without government help.
However, this is not always realistic. For many of these individuals, work is a distant prospect, particularly for those who suffer long-term injuries or medical issues, have a felony record or are single parents. It’s well known that anyone with a felony record will have difficulty finding work, especially if he or she has to support children as well. And in some states, any convicted sexual crime is the kiss of death for job applications, and individuals will struggle to find work whatsoever.
More common than these, however, is the single-mother conundrum. To support their children — especially those with multiple children — many single mothers rely on government aid and housing. Taking care of kids and working a full-time job to pay rent is not realistic: There are seldom enough hours in the day to cook, clean, buy groceries, work eight hours and spend time with the kids. Further, working full-time requires paying more money out for babysitting or daycare services during the workday.
Finally, those entirely unable to work — either entirely disabled or beyond retirement age — cannot realistically be expected to pay the proposed $50 per month. Especially for the disabled persons, this will represent a substantial increase in the cost of living on someone who is already almost wholly dependent on the government: Long-term disabilities mean it is unlikely these individuals have any Social Security funds coming their way beyond disability, which is rarely enough to live on already.
The underlying philosophy of these reforms is based on a handsome lie the GOP has been parading since the Reagan days. The concept that a large percentage of the impoverished are lazy, unwilling to work and not contributing properly to society is fundamentally flawed. For many, working is not a realistic prospect: Taking care of children and other family members comes first. The so-called “party of family values” should maybe consider this from time to time.