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Families with noncitizens could lose federal housing benefits if HUD proposal moves forward

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

Tuesday is the last day for public comment on a proposal that could evict or even separate thousands of families with mixed-citizenship status who receive housing assistance in Texas.

Since 1980, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allowed households that include noncitizens to receive benefits for public or subsidized housing. The proposed rule, however, would rescind that coverage for current recipients and any going forward. Those under 62 living in mixed-status homes without a citizen as the head of household could be evicted or have their benefits dropped if the rule takes effect.

The department estimates the financial impact to be anywhere from $179 million to $210 million.

Nationally, the rule change would affect 25,000 families, or roughly 100,000 people, according to HUD. As many as 6,000 households in Texas could be affected.

Michael Roth, director of housing operations for the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, said 130 families in the area would either have to move out or split up if the proposal goes into effect.

“You’re putting families in a choice of either splitting up the family so that those that have legal status can stay,” Roth said, “or moving the entire family, which disrupts kids, disrupts schools, disrupts health care, disrupts employment.”

Of those 130 households, HACA estimates 41 are in its housing choice voucher program and 89 are in its public housing and rental-assistance programs.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, said the proposal comes at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find in communities across the county.

“At a time when the housing crisis continues to worsen, it is truly appalling to have the HUD secretary use his authority to propose increasing homelessness – and to increase it among some of our country’s most vulnerable people,” Yentel said. “The cruelty of this proposal is breathtaking, and the harm that it would inflict on children, families and communities is severe.”

A NLIHC study earlier this year found a 7.2 million shortage of affordable homes – 600,000 of them in Texas. Roth said the rule change would amplify affordability issues in Austin. Though the number of households doesn’t represent a large portion of the 6,000 served by HACA, the individuals in mixed-status homes make up roughly 10 percent of clients receiving public housing and rental assistance.

“In our community and our city, where affordable housing is extremely difficult to come by, it runs the risk of having families being homeless,” he said.

HUD said it is following its existing policy of providing benefits only to eligible U.S. citizens.

So far, the proposed rule has received more than 3,000 comments on the Federal Register website. After the deadline, the department will consider the comments before adjusting, implementing or canceling the rule change.

It’s unclear how long HUD would take to roll out the policy, but Yentel said she could see it coming as soon as the end of the year.

“I do think that, because the impetus for this proposal seems to be coming from the White House and seems to be part of a larger anti-immigrant policy agenda, I think that they will rush this one and try to get it finalized as soon as possible,” she said.

The rule change does have opposition in Congress. Both 2020 presidential contender Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Houston Democratic U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia have filed bills to prevent HUD from moving forward, and language in the HUD spending bill could prevent the rule change, as well.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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