HUD Floats a Plan Intended to Reduce Reliance on Housing Assistance

Ben Carson, the secretary for housing and urban development, at a Senate hearing this month. The proposed legislation could triple rents on the poorest tenants in federally subsidized housing.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has proposed legislation that could triple rents on the poorest tenants in federally subsidized housing as part of a push to redefine housing assistance as a temporary benefit instead of the permanent source of shelter it has become for millions of poor people.

The legislation, spurred by Mr. Trump’s conservative budget director, Mick Mulvaney, and drafted by aides to Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, would also allow local governments to impose work requirements on tenants in public housing deemed fit for work.

The plan would also increase rents for elderly and disabled people after six years, agency officials said.

But the new rules would hit the poorest residents hardest, with minimum monthly rents in public housing developments and for recipients of Section 8 vouchers rising to $150 a month from $50.

The increases would affect about 712,000 families over the next several years, HUD officials said. Rent hikes would gradually be phased in for tenants based on their income and other provisions that could effectively limit the amount of time some tenants would be allowed to remain in government-funded housing.

“Every year, it takes more money, millions of dollars more, to serve the same number of households,” Mr. Carson told reporters Wednesday in a conference call. “It’s clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable.”

The proposal, geared at streamlining the agency and cutting the deficit, was intended to start the conversation and should not be regarded as final, Mr. Carson said.

Housing advocates and congressional Democrats immediately condemned it. “What pretends to be a hand up is really a foot in the back,” said Shamus Roller, the executive director of the National Housing Law Project.

On Wednesday, even as Mr. Carson was promoting the plan, department officials acknowledged that it would probably be superseded by a somewhat scaled-back set of rent increases and work requirement proposals House Republicans plan to unveil next month. And the new plan stands little chance of being passed in the Senate, where moderate Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine are likely to reject it.

The proposed cuts would also appear to run counter to Mr. Carson’s behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent the sweeping reductions proposed in Mr. Trump’s first budget. Mr. Carson told friends this year that he would quit if the president did not restore proposed cuts to programs aiding the disabled and the elderly proposed by Mr. Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and the most powerful advocate for small government inside Mr. Trump’s governing circle.

Mr. Mulvaney has encouraged the new HUD rules as well as similar work rules being enforced in Medicaid and food assistance programs.

They are intended to shift the debate over safety net programs sharply to the right by redefining “welfare” to encompass programs beyond direct cash assistance, like housing subsidies, that have long been regarded as quasi-entitlements, several administration officials said.

Mr. Trump, aides said, refers to nearly every program that provides benefits to poor people as welfare, a term he regards as derogatory. Historically, welfare has been defined as direct cash assistance to the poor, programs that have been consistently shrinking since bipartisan welfare overhaul in the 1990s.

Advocates for poor people say that the rent increases, which seem small to those living above the poverty line, will create great hardships for families struggling to get by in areas where jobs are scarce and barriers to higher income are steep.

“It is part of a larger assault on the entire social safety net — proposing to take away limited benefits for health care, food and housing from struggling families just months after giving massive tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires is the height of cruel hypocrisy,” said Diane Yentel, the president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“This proposal would inflict unimaginable hardships on Americans living life on the brink of financial instability and significantly increase the risk of homelessness and hunger among children and at-risk populations,” said Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democrat of New York who serves as chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

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