Hundreds of Phoenix-area families may be evicted under new Trump immigration policy
Hundreds of Arizona families could lose public-housing assistance under a proposed Trump administration rule designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, under President Donald Trump, is floating a new rule that would evict families living in public housing if any member of the household is undocumented.
Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive public housing assistance from the federal government, but they can live in public housing if a family member, who is a U.S. citizen, qualifies for assistance.
The new HUD rule would change that — and at least 380 families in Maricopa County could be evicted as a result.
Legal residents could be evicted
HUD provides housing assistance to low-income households through a variety of programs, such as the Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and traditional public housing. Most commonly, families pay about 30 percent of their household income on rent, and HUD makes up the difference.
Only legal residents are eligible for HUD assistance. Currently, "mixed-status" households — families with both legal and undocumented members — can apply for housing assistance, but the amount of funding they receive is prorated to only support the legal residents.
For example, if two children are in the United States legally, but their parents are not, local housing authorities can provide housing assistance to that family, but will reduce the amount of assistance to 50 percent, as to only apply to the children.
If the new HUD rule takes effect, the 25,000 mixed-status families that currently receive housing assistance across the country no longer would qualify.
Unless the undocumented members of the household leave, the entire household — including those who are legal residents — would be evicted.
HUD estimates there are about 108,000 people in the U.S. currently living in mixed-status households that receive HUD assistance — 76,000 are legally eligible to receive housing assistance and 55,000 are children.
At least 380 such households currently receive housing assistance from the Maricopa County, Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Chandler and Scottsdale housing authorities.
This number does not include all impacted households in Maricopa County, as it does not include households that receive assistance from the Arizona Public Housing Authority, Tempe's housing authority or directly from HUD.
The lion's share of mixed-status households — 300 families — reside in Phoenix, according to the city's housing department.
However, mixed-status families make up only 3% of the total number of households that receive housing assistance through Phoenix's housing department.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego criticized the proposed rule, saying, "We want to be reducing homelessness, not increasing it."
"I have grave concerns about the number of children who are U.S. citizens and could lose their housing as a result of this rule. We want all people in our community to have roofs over their heads," Gallego said in a statement.
Former Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, now represents Arizona’s 9th district in Congress.
"The proposed HUD rule is simply cruel — and it's clear that it was inspired out of prejudice, and not by any common sense. In fact, the costs of transferring or evicting families could actually cost the government upwards of $17 million.
"This is not good policy," he said. "It doesn't improve our immigration system, it doesn't make our communities safer — it has the potential to hurt children and put families at risk of homelessness."
Ben Carson: 'Take care of your own first'
Millions of families are on wait lists for housing assistance across the country.
During testimony before the House Financial Services Committee earlier this month, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said the new rule was necessary to move fully documented families into housing.
"It seems only logical that tax-paying American citizens should be taken care of first. It's not that we're cruel, mean-hearted. It's that we are logical. This is common sense. You take care of your own first," Carson said.
HUD estimates that the new rule would remove about 25,000 households — or 108,000 people — from its housing assistance programs.
Housing experts say the new rule a far cry from solving the nation's affordable housing crisis, and could end up decreasing the number of families HUD assists.
"It's not going to make a dent in the problem," Urban Institute researcher Martha Galvez said.
According to HUD's impact analysis, replacing mixed-status families with fully documented families will cost the department an extra $193 million to $227 million annually, because mixed-status families cost HUD less since their assistance is prorated.
If Congress does not increase HUD's funding to cover the increased costs, the department may end up providing assistance to fewer families because of the budget shortfall.
Galvez also pointed to the potential cost of administering the new rule, which only applies to a small percentage of the people who receive public housing assistance.
"How much (administrative) time are people expected to spend on a small number of people?" Galvez said.
In a hearing, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson mixed up Oreos with a real estate term. USA TODAY
'Changing the rules in the middle of the game'
Tim Kaiser, executive director of the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association, said local housing authorities are concerned about the administrative burden of the new rule — but mostly they fear they'll be forced to evict people to whom they have previously assisted.
"The most objectionable thing for our members is this is moving the goal posts for the residents that have been served under an existing policy," Kaiser said.
Chicanos Por La Causa, a Phoenix-based Hispanic nonprofit that provides housing and other services throughout the Southwest, manages eight properties with HUD funding, according to Nikki Ramirez, director of supporting housing services.
"We would be denying applications in the future that we would have approved in the past," Ramirez said of the new rule. "The majority of (people in those) households are American citizens, and they have a right to public assistance."
She said it's difficult to quantify the true impact of the rule, because it would affect not only mixed-status families that are currently receiving housing assistance but also those on wait lists who are expecting to receive assistance in coming years.
She said if the rule takes effect, it will be difficult to find other housing options for these families, who typically make between 30-50 percent of the average area income — especially in Maricopa County, which is facing significant housing affordability issues.
"Where else do they go? What else can they do?" Ramirez said.
'Chilling effect' for other services
The proposed HUD rule is in a 60-day comment period that will wrap up in early July. The rule could face some obstacles from Congress and other outside agencies.
"It's questionable whether this policy will ever be implemented. It has a lot of opposition in the housing community and Congress," Kaiser said.
But just the talk of such a policy could breed fear and decrease the likelihood that U.S. citizens with immigrant family members will accept public services they're entitled to, Urban Institute researcher Hamutal Bernstein said.
The gap between what Phoenix-area residents earn and what they pay for housing is growing and putting the squeeze on many. Arizona Republic
She compared it to the proposed expansion of the "public charge" rule, proposed by the Trump administration last year, which would decrease immigrants' chances of receiving legal status if they rely on government assistance.
The expanded rule has not taken effect but is already causing a chilling effect, according to an Urban Institute study published this week.
The study found that one in seven adults in immigrant families reported that they or a family member did not participate in a benefit program (such as food stamps or housing assistance) in 2018 out of fear of risking their future green card status.
"There's a lot of fear around requesting services and receiving them because of this great unknown about what the implication might be for the rest of their family," Galvez said.
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