In May, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule that would make “mixed-status” families ineligible for public housing or housing choice vouchers, among other programs. Mixed-status families (in this context) are those whose members have a mix of eligible and ineligible immigration statuses—for example, a US citizen child with siblings who are not citizens or parents and children with different citizen and immigration statuses who reside together.
Mixed-status families are not uncommon in the US, and as of 2014, about 8 million US citizens lived in a household with at least one family member who was an undocumented immigrant. A public comment period on the proposed rule ends July 9.
Undocumented immigrants and some lawfully residing immigrants (recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, and people with student or temporary visas, for example) are already ineligible for HUD housing subsidies. Only US citizens or people who are “eligible noncitizens” (PDF) can receive housing assistance from HUD. Noncitizens eligible for HUD’s public housing and housing choice voucher programs include lawful permanent residents, refugees, other humanitarian entrants, and certain other immigrants.
For more than two decades, the nation’s public housing authorities have dealt with mixed-status families by subsidizing the rent only for the US citizens and other eligible family members—a process called proration—so that ineligible people do not receive subsidies and households pay more in rent. Proration allows housing authorities to support eligible low-income US residents in need of housing without asking them to choose between remaining with their families and keeping a roof over their heads.
HUD’s proposal would no longer permit housing authorities to house mixed-status households
Mixed-status families currently receiving assistance would lose their assistance or need to separate—with only eligible family members staying and ineligible family members leaving—within 18 months. Going forward, mixed-status households newly applying for housing would not be allowed to live together in a subsidized unit.
HUD estimates that the rule would result in the possible eviction or voluntary removal of roughly 25,000 families from housing assistance—a total of about 108,000 people. HUD Secretary Ben Carson has described the rationale for removing these families as “logical,” as it would seem to free up housing for US citizens languishing on waiting lists.
But HUD’s own analysis points out that over 70 percent of the people in mixed-status families—about 76,000 people—are in fact US citizens or eligible noncitizens, and the majority of them are children.
And the proposal may not result in a meaningful increase in housing available for other low-income households on waiting lists. Replacing mixed-status families with those who are exclusively US citizens or otherwise eligible people would require new funding, because mixed-status families receive lower subsidies than similarly sized households made up entirely of eligible people.
HUD’s own analysis suggests that serving a comparable number of households exclusively made up of US citizens or otherwise individually eligible members would require $193 million to $227 million annually in new HUD funding or redirecting existing funds from other HUD programs.
So far, we have received no indication that HUD would receive any additional funding to replace mixed-status families. Without new funding, a one-to-one replacement of mixed-status families with fully eligible households would be unlikely.
The cost of proving citizenship and enforcing new requirements
The proposal would also require housing authorities to collect official documentation of US citizenship for every citizen who receives HUD assistance—a total of over 7 million people in the public housing and voucher programs as of 2018. Currently, assisted housing residents who are US citizens attest to their citizenship but are not required to provide official documentation unless the housing authority specifically requests it.
Although ostensibly aimed at undocumented immigrants, this is noteworthy because millions of Americans, and especially seniors, people of color, and people with low-incomes may not have access to official government-issued identification or proof of citizenship. Under the proposed rule, US citizens who can’t produce these documents would also be at risk of losing their housing.
In similar fashion to the administration’s proposed expansion of public charge, HUD’s proposed rule would make public housing authorities the front line of implementing and enforcing these new requirements, which inevitably carries costs. Housing authorities have called out the administrative burden and other costs the HUD proposal would place on their agencies, potentially reducing the amount of assistance they can provide.
For example, the director of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles placed the cost of enforcing the rule at close to $10 million. Nearly 12,000 households—about a third of households served in the city and county of Los Angeles—are mixed-status families. The city council and mayor of Los Angeles have issued a joint resolution in opposition to the proposed rule (PDF).
Sylvia Blanco, the chief operating officer at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Texas, told the New York Times that the estimated administrative cost of eviction is $1,000 per household.
Public housing authorities are speaking out against the rule, as are national housing advocacy organizations. The Council of Large Public Housing Authorities issued statements opposing the rule, as have individual housing authorities like Fresno, California; Champaign County, Illinois; Tacoma, Washington; Home Forward of Portland, Oregon; and others. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Housing Law Project, Enterprise Community Partners, and Mercy Housing have all issued statements opposing the proposed rule.
Families living in public or voucher assisted housing are among the lowest-income, most vulnerable people in their communities. Nationally, about a third are headed by a person with a disability, and nearly 40 percent include children.
Evicting these families or placing their stability at risk through fear or administrative hurdles could place them at high risk of homelessness or poor housing conditions. Given the ongoing affordable housing crisis in this country, it’s not a risk we can afford to take.