While the news media has been engrossed this week in the FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen’s office, potential military action in Syria, and House speaker Paul Ryan’s retirement, President Trump quietly issued an executive order that could lead to additional work requirements for those receiving housing subsidies.
Dubbed the “Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility” executive order, the directive mandates that multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), enforce existing work requirements and propose new ones within the next 90 days.
Work requirements, long a staple of the conservative vision for welfare programs and rumored to be coming to HUD programs for months, stipulate that those who receive federal subsidies such as Section 8 housing vouchers work a certain number of hours before qualifying for the subsidy. While Trump’s EO doesn’t set a specific policy, the implication is clear—the president wants tougher rules on people of limited means who need assistance with housing.
“Work requirements don’t work,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in a statement. “They do not create the jobs with decent pay and opportunities needed to lift people out of poverty. Instead, imposing such requirements could cut struggling families off from the very housing stability and services that make it possible for them to find and maintain work.”
This push to establish work requirements for housing subsidies comes at a time of raised awareness about the effects of evictions and homelessness on families. Earlier this week, Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, released the largest and most complete dataset ever on evictions in the U.S.
The data shows that evictions are more widespread than previously thought, concentrated in cities in the Rust Belt and Southeast, where poverty is rampant. The data also calls into question whether eviction is not just a symptom of poverty, but a cause.
Work requirements for housing subsidies are a troubling prospect for poverty advocates because much of the population that receives those subsidies are either elderly and thus past the age of working, or disabled and can’t perform the type of work required.
The language of the EO mirrors that of HUD secretary Ben Carson. In March, Carson removed anti-discrimination language from HUD’s mission statement and replaced it with one that emphasizes “opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency.” And last year he claimed that poverty was largely “a state of mind.”
The Trump administration has twice submitted a budget proposal that attempts to dramatically cut HUD’s funding, including cuts to rental assistance programs, the public housing capital fund, and numerous formula block grants that communities use to address affordable housing problems. And Congress has twice rejected Trump administration budgets that slash HUD funding.