Ben Carson backs off HUD plan that would raise rents

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made an appearance in Detroit on Thursday to unveil the first of more than a dozen hubs across the country to aid low-income households. (Photo: Anthony Lanzilote, Special to The Detroit News)

Detroit — U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday backed off aspects of a controversial proposal this spring that would have led to higher rents for low-income households in the United States.

Carson, during a news conference in Detroit, said the plan was considered in April as officials were faced with budget restrictions. Since then, he said, more funding has come through, eliminating the need to impose the rent increases, as proposed, in favor of other options.

“The original rent increases were to make sure we didn’t have to raise rents on elderly and disabled people and now we have some increased funding and we’re not going to have to do that,” Carson told reporters in Detroit after a news conference unveiling plans for the first of what will be more than a dozen hubs across the country to aid low-income households in the path to “self-sufficiency.”

Ben Carson makes HUD announcement at Life Remodeled in Detroit

“The key thing to remember is that everything we’re doing is aimed at elevating people and giving people an opportunity of removing some of the perverse incentives that have kept people independent positions,” he said.

Carson on Thursday referenced a Detroit News/Associated Press article, “saying how horrible we were for raising all these rents on people.” Carson said he’s told the media that the consideration to raise rents was tied to HUD’s budget restrictions. At that time, he said, it had been “the only option.”

The “Make Affordable Housing Work Act,” announced on April 25, would allow housing authorities to impose work requirements, would increase the percentage of income poor tenants are required to pay from 30 percent to 35 percent and would raise the minimum rent from $50 to $150 per month. For Metro Detroit, the move would boost housing costs by 21 percent on average, according to the new analysis.

“As far as the rents are concerned, they’re going to be simplified,” Carson said Thursday, adding the numbers used for gross, rather than adjusted income, will depend on negotiations with Congress.

“But again bear in mind: We would only raise rents if we have to raise rents. If we don’t have to raise them, that’s not part of the proposal. That has nothing to do with self-sufficiency, raising the rents. That has to do with practicality and making sure that we didn’t have to raise rents on the elderly, disabled or displaced people who are already in the program.”

Carson said rents will only need to be raised if they have to be, and he’s confident he’ll be able to work with Congress.

“Congress will work with us,” he said. “We’re already in negotiations with them.”

Carson made the remarks as he stood alongside Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to announce a Detroit-based “Envision Center,” one of what will be 17 around the nation.

Carson touted the plan as one of his signature initiatives to offer HUD-assisted families access to support services and expand the use of limited federal dollars for assistance to more people who need them.

The federal government is not putting money, only support, into the program that is leveraged by dollars from local public-private partnerships, Carson said.

“We’re talking about our people, not Democrats or Republicans,” Carson said. “The road to self-sufficiency is not an easy one. We must all come together and try.”

Carson said the EnVision Centers will provide more solutions to help move families out of poverty and federal assistance to a “much more rewarding lifestyle.”

In response to Carson’s proposal for higher rents for those receiving HUD assistance, Duggan said he was “concerned for one hour” until Carson informed him Thursday that the proposal was first made when Carson thought the federal budget was being cut.

“Now the money has been reinstated, and there won’t be any rent increase,” Duggan told reporters.

Earlier, the mayor told a crowd gathered at the Life Remodeled EnVision Center on Collingwood Street that the facility will bring services to people in the neighborhoods.

“This is about creating opportunity,” Duggan said, adding that Carson is starting in Detroit with a place that can help individuals who need it most. “I think this is going to be great progress.”

The center, officials said Thursday, will be a tenant in the Durfee Innovation Society. The facility features a gymnasium and will offer a makers space, educational and literacy programs for young children as well as neighborhood job training services. Life Remodeled is a city-based nonprofit that invests in Detroit neighborhoods and has been working for more than a year on renovations inside the former Detroit Public Schools building it’s leasing from the district.

The EnVision Centers, to be located near public housing developments, will serve as incubators to support what Carson says are “four key pillars of self-sufficiency,” including economic empowerment, educational advancement, health and wellness, and character and leadership.

The effort is driven by federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofits, faith-based leaders, public housing authorities and others. The centers, officials said, will leverage public-private partnerships to connect HUD-assisted households with services that offer pathways to self-sufficiency.

“All of us together, we are the answer,” said Chris Lambert, Life Remodeled founder.

In Michigan, there will be two centers in Detroit and a third in Inkster, according to a HUD news release.

Other centers will be located in states from California to Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.

Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland said after the event that he’s excited about the center and that Carson was in Detroit to announce it. But Carson’s focus forward has to be on negotiations in Washington, D.C., he said.

“Mr. Carson needs to be in Washington, negotiating the principles that he talked about today and spending more time with Congress,” Leland said. “I’m not sure he accurately explained the rough and tumble relationship that Congress has with this president. Carson should be in Washington to boost up those relationships and get to work.”

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