The Henry Rutgers Houses, a public housing development maintained by the New York City Housing Authority. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has proposed changes to federal housing subsidies. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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The proposal by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to at least triple the minimum rent that the poorest Americans pay for federally subsidized housing would put nearly 1 million children at risk of homelessness, according to an analysis of HUD data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Under current rules, families that receive housing subsidies typically pay 30 percent of their income for rent. Public housing agencies can instead charge a minimum rent of up to $50 a month. Carson’s proposal, if approved by Congress, would raise that monthly minimum rent to $150. 

The minimum rent increase would affect about 15 percent (712,000) of the 4.7 million households receiving federal housing subsidies, HUD officials said. Housing advocates say this group is the neediest and most vulnerable, consisting mostly of single mothers.

This rule change, they say, would be among the most damaging as part of Carson’s broader push for an overhaul of housing assistance.

“The biggest group affected by the minimum rent increase are families with kids,” said Barbara Sard, vice president for housing policy at the CBPP and former HUD senior adviser for rental assistance. “It is the most unfair and most harmful. It’s where the dangers of eviction and homelessness are the gravest.”

The typical household affected by the minimum rent increase would be a single mother of two, earning a median income of $2,400 a year — or $200 a month, Sard said. After paying $150 for rent, that would leave just $50 to stretch for the month for diapers, toiletries, bus fare and other necessities not covered by food stamps. About 460,000 households headed by single mothers would be impacted, Sard said.

Another 200,000 households headed by a childless adult, many of whom were formerly homeless, would also be hurt by the minimum rent increase, Sard said.

A HUD spokesman declined to comment on the CBPP analysis other than to say the agency's proposal allows for hardship exemptions.

“Suddenly tripling anyone’s rent is unacceptable. It’s especially appalling that Secretary Carson wants to do so on people already living in extreme poverty,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Attempting to balance our federal budget at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable people is abhorrent.”

In addition to tripling the minimum rent for the poorest Americans receiving housing assistance, the initiative unveiled Wednesday by Carson would raise the rent for other tenants in subsidized housing to 35 percent of gross income from the current standard of 30 percent of adjusted income.

Current senior citizens and individuals with disabilities -- who together comprise more than half of the 4.7 million households now receiving federal assistance -- would be exempt from rental increases for six years if the proposal becomes law, HUD officials said. After that, households comprised of seniors 65 or older as well as those with disabilities would be required to pay a monthly rent equal to either 30 percent of their gross income or $50, whichever is higher. Senior and disabled households who begin receiving housing subsidies after the proposal goes into effect would be immediately subject to the higher rents.

The proposal would also make it easier for the nation's 3,100 housing authorities to impose work requirements in exchange for benefits.