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Real Estate

HUD Secretary Ben Carson lays out his plans for affordable housing and regulatory reform

Carson speaks at NMHC Fall Meeting

On Friday, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spoke at the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Fall Meeting.

In his remarks, he highlighted the issues facing the American housing market and laid out plans to address housing shortages and persistent poverty.

Keeping with his previous rhetoric on the subject, Carson reiterated his commitment to finding a way to cycle people up and out of public housing developments.

Carson laid out three components of his plan for reforming public housing.

The first is eliminating policies that increase rents as income goes up.

“The current policies ensure that the more our residents earn, the more rent they have to pay. Where then, is the incentive to work, or to get a better paying job, or have two parents living together and sharing their wages? There isn’t any, which really defies common sense. Our rent reform proposal, therefore, removes these perverse incentives by having a three-year recertification of income — and removes the requirement that tenants must report any income increases, immediately. One could even say it’s like not having to pay taxes for three years,” Carson said in his remarks.

The second is to allow public housing authorities the freedom to implement any of the Choice Rent structures for their properties.

The third aspect of Carson’s plan is to use HUD funds to provide families in public housing with programs and resources that he hopes will help break poverty cycles.

Carson commented on the imbalance between supply and demand in the market and essentially said that private investment through public-private partnerships are the key to addressing the lack of affordable housing in the U.S. According to Carson, only one in four applicants who qualify for HUD assistance get it, and the lack of supply is right at the center of that abysmal rate.

This is a position the NMHC and the National Apartment Association hold in conjunction with Carson, and last week, Gables CEO Sue Ansel spoke to HousingWire after giving her testimony on Capitol Hill on behalf of the multifamily industry espousing many of the same ideas regarding public-private partnerships that Carson issued in his remarks at the NMHC Fall Meeting.

In May of this year, Carson announced that he would be eliminating the software program used under the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. This is part of larger reform for the rule, which was put in place to ensure that racial discrimination did not take place in public housing. Critics of Carson’s decision to essentially gut this rule by negating the mandate to use the software used for complying with the rule say that this makes minorities vulnerable to discrimination and that Carson is more concerned about budgeting and pandering to the multifamily industry than maintaining equality.

In August, under pressure from advocacy groups, Carson invited the public to comment on the reform process. HUD will be taking public comment and suggestions through October 15.

“As many of you are aware, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit which challenged our approach to amending the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, or AFFH, Rule — in particular, the judge upheld our decision to suspend the use of a computer tool that was failing to help communities meet their fair housing responsibilities, as required under the Fair Housing Act,” Carson said.

“The reliance on models and computer technology to make fair housing assessments and decisions was at the center of the current rule. What we want to do in pursuing new rulemaking — and why we’re asking for public comment from all parties concerned — is to lessen regulatory burdens, while at the same time, help local officials meet their obligations,” he added.

To help add to the supply of affordable housing, Carson is also seeking ways to expand landlord acceptance of housing vouchers. To that end, Carson said he has created an agency-wide task force to address the pain points in the housing voucher process for developers and other multifamily stakeholders.

In his remarks at the NMHC's Fall Meeting, Carson essentially rehashed what he has been saying all along: Less money, fewer regulations, better programs and an incentive to move out are the factors in the public housing reform he thinks the nation needs. Time will tell whether his policies help or worsen the affordability crisis.

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