The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Low-income D.C. tenants petition Congress to spurn Ben Carson’s plan to raise rents for America’s poorest

District housing advocates and low-income tenants delivered a petition to Congress on Tuesday demanding that lawmakers reject Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal this spring to raise rents for the poorest Americans.

About a dozen people gathered outside the office of Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) at 11 a.m. to deliver the petition, which garnered more than 100,000 signatures from people across the country. Hensarling chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

“You must oppose any and all proposals that would raise rents and put stable, safe housing out of reach for more families,” the petition reads. “Instead, help solve the housing crisis by fully funding HUD and assess the need to reinstate inactive HUD programs that can support alleviating families from the burdens of the nationwide affordable housing emergency.”

Carson’s proposal, if approved by Congress, would lead to a threefold increase in the rent paid by extremely low-income Americans. His plan, announced in April, would increase the rent paid by tenants in subsidized housing from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income. It also would raise the monthly minimum rent charged by public-housing agencies from $50 to $150.

A recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) showed that Carson’s plan would cause rent for Washington’s poorest residents to increase by an average of $900 per year. That means the District would see a larger increase in rent than any of the 50 states would experience, according to the CBPP.

Carson has said that raising rents would force low-income tenants to become more self-sufficient. He told Fox News that the plan represents “our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty.”

Hensarling was at lunch when the petitioners arrived, so an aide accepted the petition on his behalf.

Later in the afternoon, Clinton Jones, senior counsel for the Financial Services Committee’s housing and insurance subcommittee, met with the petitioners to discuss their demands.

A committee spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement that “committee staff had a productive discussion with the group.”

The petition effort was organized by advocacy groups including ONE DC, Bread for the City and the Poor People’s Campaign, which just concluded 40 days of protest and civil disobedience across the country on behalf of America’s poor. Petition sponsors included the Center for American Progress Action Fund and CarsonWatch, a group working to prevent President Trump and the HUD secretary from enacting far-reaching changes to the U.S. low-income housing system.

Jones assured advocates that the HUD proposal would not be voted on this year, but “he did not assure us that the proposal was off the table,” said ONE DC organizer Kelly Iradukunda in a statement.

Bread for the City volunteer Chearie Phelps-El, 55, said she helped deliver the petition because Carson’s rent increase, if it became law, would affect her “traumatically.” Phelps-El is unemployed and lives in public housing. She earns $530 a month in Supplemental Security Income.

“They raise everything but our income, and I don’t think it’s fair for a doctor to come in here and try to regulate housing laws,” Phelps-El said. “This is the nation’s capital, and it needs to stop here.”