202 Funding in Spotlight at Hearing

Legislation | October 16, 2017 | by Linda Couch

HUD Secretary Ben Carson, questioned about steep rent increases for older adults if HUD’s rent reforms proposals are enacted, said that any older adult who “can’t see a way out” should ask for an exemption from their housing provider. Issues raised at the October 12 House Financial Services Committee hearing ran the gamut, from hurricane relief in Puerto Rico to HUD’s request to cut HUD funding 15% and eliminate the HOME and CDBG programs.

Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) stated his hope that Congress move quickly on tax reform, saying, “There is not better federal housing policy than a strong economy.” In his opening statement, Char Hensarling also blamed HUD for failing to lower the nation’s persistently high poverty rate. “HUD was intended to be the main weapon in the war on poverty. Now 52 years later and $1.6 trillion later, the poverty rate remains basically unchanged,” Chair Hensarling said.

Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) led her questioning of the HUD Secretary with questions about how HUD’s proposed rent increases would impact “Larry,” a HUD Section 202 Housing for the Elderly resident in south Los Angeles, in her congressional district. “He lives on a fixed income of $1015 a month. After paying for rent, utilities, groceries, medical expenses, personal hygiene, he has exactly $110 left at the end of the month. The rent increases proposed in your recent HUD budget would mean and $80 monthly increase for Larry,” Ranking Member Waters said.

“Do you mean to tell me it is the vision of this Administration to raise rents on low income seniors like Larry? What do you expect Larry to do if your proposal is enacted,” Ranking Member Waters asked Secretary Carson.

“”If Larry does not see a way out, he can apply for an exemption, which will be available to him,” Secretary Carson responded.

“I don’t accept hardship exemptions as an adequate solution because they have historically failed to actually help people who are eligible for the exemptions,” Ranking Member Waters said.

“The situation you described is not a typical situation. I don’t believe that elderly and disabled people will see that big of an increase,” Secretary Carson said, taking issue with Ranking Member Waters’ use of an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing HUD-assisted older adults would see an average rent increase of $83 a month, or a 28% rent increase, if HUD’s rent reform proposals are enacted. Secretary Carson did not offer his own analysis of the impact of HUD’s proposals on older adult households.

Representative Roger Williams (R-TX) asked Secretary Carson about HUD’s efforts to roll back regulations. Secretary Carson said that HUD has established a regulatory reform committee within its Office of General Counsel and is looking at 10 rules right now “to do away with,” although more rules will be reviewed by this committee in the future. In June, LeadingAge recommended HUD consider certain regulatory reforms and looks forward to HUD’s regulatory reform committee making progress.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) questioned the Secretary’s stated support for public-private partnerships. “In HUD’s 2018 budget request, HUD targets for cuts and elimination programs that encourage public-private partnerships,” Representative Maloney said. “Private housing organizations really depend on government programs. One in particular is 202 Senior Housing. There’s always a waiting list by seniors needing the housing but also developers who are willing to put it up. But the funding has not been there. The program has been cut back dramatically since I first came to Congress. How can you think the Administration can encourage public-private partnerships if the budget largely cuts out the government’s role because the funding for the government’s role is [gone]?,” Representative Maloney asked.

“Here’s the situation,” Secretary Carson responded. “Would we like to have almost unlimited money to deal with these problems? Absolutely. But we don’t. We have a $20 trillion national debt. I’m not going to have to pay it, [future generations are].” Representative Maloney responded, “If you put your money into things that leverage more money and more housing, it’s certainly dollars well spent. The budget does cut public-private partnerships. My request is to see if we can work together to restore some of it.”