Jon Anderson: As Housing Prices Become Painful For Everyone, Federal Legislation Aims to Squeeze the Poor

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One would think that growing up in a poor and broken home would inform your worldview towards empathy later in life. But no, apparently it’s just like parents’ age-old freak-out on sex education that forgets their own terrible first experiences on the topic. It’s almost like hazing theory: “If I had to go through it, so should you.”

Last week, former poor kid and current Housing and Urban Development director Ben Carson outlined how his office wanted to make poverty even more like a prison sentence. Currently there are 4.7 million families utilizing federal housing assistance (a ghastly number). More than half of those are senior citizens and the disabled. Think about that. If at 65 years old you need federal money for housing, your first 65 years haven’t been peachy. You’ve likely been miserably poor your whole life.

New recommendations from Carson’s HUD would triple the minimum rent they’d have to pay to be in the program that’s currently set at $50 per month. Think about that. Current federal guidelines require 30 percent of adjusted income come from the tenant. If your income is so low that $50 per month is less than 30 percent of your monthly income, “poor” is an aspirational state.

Sure, for you and I, having to pay $150 per month for anything versus $50 is spare change. But if you’re a senior citizen or disabled, is it medication, food or electricity? In the middle of a housing price boom, is it the difference between housing and the street?  If $50 per month is less than 30 percent of your income, $150 is almost your entire income. For HUD director Carson who attempted to spend $196,000 on office furniture, that one expenditure represents 163 years’ worth of his proposed payment increase for one family.

Of course, not everyone pays the $50 minimum. In fact, it’s just 175,000 families out of $4.7 million, but it’s more than the population of Waco.

For the remaining poor who don’t pay the minimum, the rate will be increased from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent. Again, most of us see those few dollars as meaningless until you begin to understand how small these people’s budgets are. Let’s say your adjusted income is roughly $10,000 per year (full-time minimum wage minus deductions). That five percent is the difference between $542 and $583 per month. It makes a lot of difference.

Again, half are senior citizens and disabled.

Almost all take deductions for medical and child care expenses when figuring out their contribution. HUD wants to eliminate those deductions. The result will be postponed medical care and more in-danger children. Children of working parents will be packed off to less ideal conditions or simply left alone.

HUD tosses the old and disabled a bone. The increases wouldn’t hit them for six years. For those that don’t conveniently die in time, HUD also wants to require all recipients to work.

I’m on the fence about a work requirement. If you’re young and healthy enough to work, you should. But what HUD isn’t proposing is a system for retraining the poor to enable them to make enough money to get off public assistance.

The country is at essentially full-employment but there are hundreds of thousands of people needed in the construction trades alone as the country shakes off a decade of underbuilding. Were HUD to open schools that paid and trained the able-bodied poor to be electricians, plumbers and carpenters, it might actually make a long-term difference. (You have to pay them while they learn so they can survive school.)

If you’re in the HUD system, the recipient, and especially any recipient’s children, should be steered towards education that would break the cycle of poverty and lift them up. Just as your first sexual experiences were frightening and awful due to prudish education you’re now passing to your children, HUD also forgets that education is the best road out of poverty. “Teach a man to fish …” and all that.

Instead, it’s the same old snake oil of penalizing poverty in a prison without physical bars.  HUD’s recommendations must be approved by Congress.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.


Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

Reader Interactions


  1. mmCandy Evans says

    If half of those utilizing federal assistance are seniors, how sad they didn’t plan better and create some savings for retirement in their golden years. Perhaps their employers did not provide pension benefits? I know many people, readers of this blog, who invest in real estate for retirement income. They buy rental properties early in life, let the rents cover PITI, and then in 30 years they have full ownership. This is one reason why I was so against the state of Texas pulling the rug out (last year) from under almost 10,000 Dallas police and firefighters who had paid into the system and worked believing they had a plan. I understand helping those down on their luck, or those blindsided by misfortune. But truly, you are responsible for yourself. The state is not responsible for you.

    • mmJon Anderson says

      The federal and Texas minimum wage is $7.25 per hour or $15,080 per year with zero vacation…plan away. And that doesn’t take into account people who have lost it all to medical expenses, bad investments, the Recession or getting financially caught in any number of unplanned ways. The defined pension plan has gone with the dinosaur for private sector employers.

    • LonestarBabs says

      Oh my. As a PhD in Applied Gerontology, my first reaction to your comment was that it sounded like “let them eat cake.” I KNOW you’re not that elitist, right? It’s not quite as simple as saving more, or getting a pension, or “golly, they should have planned better.” Yes, the state is not responsible for you — I agree. But there are so many socio-economic-political factors that frame the aging experience and also taking into account rural vs urban it’s not, unfortunately, surprising that many seniors utilize federal assistance. Do they want to do so? More than likely, they do not. It’s a complicated discussion with many issues, clouded by assumptions.

      • mmCandy Evans says

        Oh I agree, and I know more than anyone how disaster can blindside. It is totally complicated.,But I will always, always stress that planning is of utmost importance and in fact, I will profile some folks who had meager means but managed to save up a little real estate nest egg. It can be done!

  2. Sarah Jones says

    Whenever I read something so one-sided (no matter which side) I like to do a little research for myself.

    An easy trip to states, “The rent reforms proposed today will not increase rents paid by qualifying households currently receiving assistance that are comprised of elderly persons or persons with disabilities.”

    It seems like your article is a little sensational!

    And, in addition this sounds like a positive part of the plan — “Under this core rent proposal, PHAs and owners would only be required to verify income every three years rather than annually. This would substantially ease the administrative burden on PHAs, owners, and residents and would effectively encourage increased earned income without adversely impacting a household’s rent for up to three years.”

    • mmJon Anderson says

      Your research should have uncovered that the proposal doesn’t increase rents for the elderly and disabled for the first six years as I said…but they still eventually increase.
      You’re correct on the every three year change for income verification, lessening the administrative burden for HUD. HUD paints this as a window where recipients can earn more money without immediate reclassification of their contributions. I’m not sure I believe their motive is generosity.

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