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Commentary

June 2018

Trump administration seeks to hike the rent

by Juan Carlos Ordóñez

The Trump administration is looking to pour gasoline on the fire that is Oregon’s housing crisis.

The administration has unveiled a plan to raise the rent on just about everyone who receives rent assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The largest impact will be on seniors, children and people with disabilities. Across Oregon, some 75,000 Oregonians would see their rent go up by an average of 16 percent, according to estimates provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Federal rent assistance helps low-income Oregonians secure modest housing at an affordable cost. Those able to secure federal rent assistance pay a portion of their rent based on a certain formula, and the federal government covers the balance. Though the program serves only a fraction of those who would qualify based on need, it nevertheless constitutes a vital program for preventing homelessness among vulnerable families and individuals.

The Trump rent hike would come at a time when Oregon finds itself in the midst of a statewide housing crisis. About one-half of Oregon’s renters already devote 30 percent or more of their income toward housing — a level of spending that strains family budgets and increases the risk of eviction. There is good reason to believe that unaffordable rents are a big part of the reason why many Oregonians are struggling to put food on the table, despite a growing economy.

The plan outlined by the Trump Administration would exacerbate Oregon’s housing crisis and increase misery in our communities. Federal rent assistance keeps rent affordable, with most renters in the program paying no more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. Research shows rent assistance reduces food insecurity, enabling families to feed themselves adequately. The administration’s plan would force families to divert scarce resources they currently spend on food and other essentials toward housing. With few other options available, the proposed changes would push some families out into the streets.

A few days ago, HUD Secretary Ben Carson blamed the proposed rent hike on budget constraints, ignoring the fact that just a few months ago the Trump administration and Congress rammed through massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

The Trump administration’s proposed scaling back of the federal commitment to providing housing assistance for our country’s most vulnerable should serve as a wake-up call to Oregon lawmakers about the need for state-based solutions for our housing crisis. We need to fly with “our own wings,” as our state motto says. It’s time to discuss providing Oregon rent assistance that does its part in addressing our statewide housing crisis.

We must do all we can to persuade Congress to put a stop to the Trump administration’s cruel rent hike. But even if Congress throws out this bad idea, the Oregon legislature should still step up in addressing the housing needs of Oregonians.

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