HUD secretary proposes rent increases, work requirements

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's recent proposal to triple the rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies may affect those closer to home.

Jennifer Bergman

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's recent proposal to triple the rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies may affect those closer to home.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to expand work requirements for low-income Americans receiving Medicaid, food stamps, public housing benefits and welfare.

"Secretary Carson just spoke to us actually last Monday," said Jennifer Bergman, executive director of the Brainerd and the Crow Wing County Housing and Redevelopment authorities.

Bergman attended the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials in Washington, D.C., as part of a Minnesota delegation meeting with lawmakers.

"But I think we're a long ways from the work requirements actually kind of being imposed because I think there's a lot of discussion left yet to have. Obviously, a lot of our disabled population and our elderly population are not going to work full time," she said.


Carson's proposal last week included tripling rent for the poorest American households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements-mandating that most adult recipients under 60 work part time or enroll in a state-run training program.

The rent cap for families earning the least would increase to about $150 a month - three times higher than the existing $50 ceiling.

"We meet with our lawmakers to tell them about our programs and inform them about Section 8, public housing, our funding and what we're doing with it, and just to kind of educate them what our programs do and how they benefit their district," Bergman said.

The city of Brainerd created a Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority by resolution in 1966. The purpose of the HRA is "to provide a sufficient supply of adequate, safe and sanitary dwellings in order to protect the health, safety, morals and welfare of the citizens of this state."

"The Crow Wing County HRA does not run any federal programs at all. The Brainerd HRA operates two federal programs," Bergman said. "We have a public housing program, so we own 203 public housing units in Brainerd, and we get funding from the federal government."

Those units include the North Star Apartments, 162 one-bedroom, utilities-included apartments in a smoke-free building on East River Road-in which tenants pay 30 percent of their gross adjusted monthly income for rent-and the rest are housing units scattered throughout the city.

The federal government once made up the difference between what the tenant pays for rent and what the landlord is charging for accommodations, but due to the automatic spending cuts to the federal government in 2013, the HRA receives about 85 percent of what it is eligible to receive.

The Brainerd HRA's stated purpose also is to remedy the shortage of housing for low- and moderate-income residents, and to redevelop blighted areas, "in situations in which private enterprise would not act without government participation or subsidies."


The Brainerd HRA also operates a federally subsidized housing choice voucher program, often referred to as "Section 8," in which eligible families find their own rental units in Crow Wing County that must meet housing quality standards and with landlord participation in the program.

"The rent must be reasonable, so we actually do what's called a 'rent reasonableness' check where we compare that unit to other comparable units because we want to be sure that somebody isn't charging more than what the market is," Bergman said.

"That landlord treats that tenant just like any other tenant they have. The only difference is the tenant pays 30 percent of their gross adjusted income directly to the landlord for rent, and we pay the difference directly to the landlord, and we have 320 housing choice vouchers monthly."

Bergman said 87 percent of tenants in Brainerd HRA-owned family housing units scattered throughout the city are already working, and some of its other properties house the elderly and the physically challenged.

"They're working maybe part time, maybe they're working seasonal jobs, they might be a single mom with two kids working a minimum wage job ... I think our able-bodied people are working," she said.

"Our Family Self-Sufficiency Program with our Section 8 Program where we are helping those program participants meet certain goals. ... Often those goals are attending school and getting a job."

Carson also proposes raising the rent for tenants in subsidized housing to 35 percent of gross income (or 35 percent of their earnings, working 15 hours a week at the federal minimum wage), up from the current standard of 30 percent of adjusted income.

"When Secretary Carson says we're doing a disservice, I think he's kind of missing the point on this. I think we're doing a disservice to working families by calculating on gross income instead of net income. If we really wanted to be fair, we should be basing it on net income," she said.


"If that is in his proposal, I am all for that because now we're evening the playing field. I do not hear Secretary Carson saying that however."

Secretary Ben Carson
Secretary Ben Carson

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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