The Department of Housing and Urban Development yesterday thumbed its nose at a House committee and said new regulations raising rents for low-income tenants will take effect Aug. 1, despite a committee resolution blocking the rules until the end of the month.
HUD said a law allowing the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee to delay any rules it dislikes for 90 days, a mild version of legislative veto, is unconstitutional because it lets a congressional committee give orders to the executive branch.
The regulations implement a law passed last year hiking rents for tenants in public and federally subsidized housing from 25 to 30 percent of their income.
In a notice published in the Federal Register, HUD charged that the committee was trying to sidetrack the rules because it opposes that law.
"It is apparent . . . that intent to delay any implementation of the statute was the prime motivating factor," HUD said.
The committee resolution would have delayed the regulations from taking effect until Aug. 24, giving Congress a chance to change the underlying law.
While the committee has approved a bill restoring the level to 25 percent, the Senate's version leaves the 30 percent level intact, and a committee staffer conceded it was "unlikely" the law would be changed by Aug. 24.
Caught in the middle of the power play between the committee and the department, which has long bridled at the congressional review provision, are low-income tenants who move into the housing between Aug. 1 and Aug. 24.
Under the law, tenants who are already living in the housing when the regulations take effect have their rents increased gradually by 1 percent annually over the next five years.
But the HUD rules require tenants who move in after the rules are in place to pay the extra 5 percent of their incomes immediately.
"It's almost vindictive, because it means those tenants who move in between Aug. 1 and Aug. 24 will now have to pay 30 percent automatically," said David Bryson of the National Housing Law Project, which is considering filing suit to block the hike.
"For the really poor person, it means that if they've got a $200 welfare grant they're going to end up having to spend $60 a month for rent when they otherwise would spend $50," Bryson said.
"That $10, when you're talking about a really limited budget, makes a difference," he added. "It just makes it all that much harder to get by."
Philip Abrams, HUD's general deputy assistant secretary for housing, argued that delaying the rules would cost the federal government a "significant" amount, noting that the wait would also allow tenants whose leases expire Aug. 1 to escape paying the extra 1 percent cost for an entire year.
"It's been delayed long enough," Abrams said.
Meanwhile, HUD also made a move to appease the committee, agreeing to defer to a committee resolution blocking another set of rules and wait until the 90 days expire before they take effect.
Those rules involve cost-savings measures for elderly and handicapped housing.