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Ben Carson Wants To Evict Families With Undocumented Immigrants From Public Housing

Carson says the new rule will reduce long waitlists for public housing for citizens. Housing advocates say all it will do is split up families with mixed immigration status.

Posted on April 19, 2019, at 2:04 p.m. ET

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is pushing a new policy to prevent undocumented family members of US citizens and documented immigrants from living with them in public housing.

“Thanks to @realDonaldTrump's leadership, we are putting America's most vulnerable first. Our nation faces affordable housing challenges and hundreds of thousands of citizens are waiting for many years on waitlists to get housing assistance,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson wrote in a tweet on Thursday, announcing the administration’s proposed rule.

The Trump administration’s proposal seeks to evict undocumented family members from public housing, rather than continuing the practice of adjusting their families’ benefits to exclude them. The rule was sent to Congress for a 15-day review period on Wednesday, and will then be available for public comment before it can move ahead.

The proposed rule is part of a much broader Trump administration crackdown on immigration, including at HUD. As BuzzFeed News reported in December, the department has been quietly denying federal housing loans to DACA recipients. Two weeks ago, Carson testified at a Congressional hearing that he didn’t know why DACA recipients were being turned away for federally-backed mortgages.

Groups who work with landlords, housing authorities, and tenants say HUD’s new proposal is trying to address a problem that doesn’t exist when it comes to undocumented immigrants, while at the same time failing to address the very real public housing shortage.

“We’re very concerned about this, this is obviously part of the administration’s overall attack on immigrant families,” said Karlo Ng, supervising attorney at the National Housing Law Project. “There’s a lot of concern for families who are currently being assisted. This is going to add to the chaos for families who need crucial assistance.”

Some 25,000 households in public housing buildings or who use rental assistance vouchers are mixed-status, according to NLIHC, meaning at least one member of the family is a US citizen, permanent resident, or refugee, and at least one member is undocumented. The majority of mixed-status families are in Texas, New York and California, according to NLIHC. The proposed rule would mean that those families’ public housing aid would be revoked if an undocumented family member continues to live there.

“If forced to, the majority of [mixed-status families] would likely split up their families rather than lose the assisted unit. So while the proposal may scare or force families into breaking up their household, it’s very unlikely to free up units for others on the waiting list,” said Yentel.

Undocumented people already don’t qualify for public housing assistance, and under current law, all applicants must be US citizens or documented residents and go through an immigration screening process. Families with undocumented members receive partial subsidies that only cover the members of their family who are citizens or documented, but can live with them in the same home.

“Ineligible household members do not receive a subsidy. In those cases, assistance is prorated to only cover eligible household members. As such, ‘mixed’ [immigration status] families pay higher rent, sometimes near market rate,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), said.

Low-income housing groups say that despite Carson’s rhetoric, the rule would make little or no dent in the severe national public housing shortage, which leaves millions of families on waitlists for affordable places to live. In some parts of the nation, like Miami and New York, the waitlist is years long and many families who would qualify can’t even get on the list.

Advocates and industry groups who spoke with BuzzFeed News also noted that the administration’s budget proposal for HUD, which was rejected by Congress, would have cut the agency’s budget and resources to provide more public housing assistance by close to 20%.

Adrianne Todman, CEO of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, said housing authorities and landlords have already “for years worked within the confines of how to not provide benefits to undocumented immigrants.”

“I can’t imagine what the process will look like for housing agencies that are now trying to remove people from units, or effectively rip families apart” if the proposed rule goes into effect, Todman said.

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