State, Local Lawmakers Oppose HUD Proposal That Would Affect Thousands of Immigrant Families

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Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson has defended the proposed housing assistance family rule. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

State and local lawmakers are speaking out against a proposed rule by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying it threatens housing stability for thousands of immigrant families in California.

The rule change proposed on May 10 would deny federal housing benefits to an entire household if even a single member is unable to prove eligibility for housing assistance, based on immigration status. Currently, mixed-status families are allowed to live together in subsidized housing, but the assistance is prorated to exclude household members who are ineligible.

A HUD analysis report estimates the rule could affect 25,000 households and potentially separate or evict mixed-status families — including 55,000 children who are eligible for housing benefits.

U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, refugees and asylum-seekers are currently eligible to receive federal housing assistance. If the proposed rule is implemented and individuals can't provide documents proving eligibility within a permitted time frame, their household will be at risk for losing its housing assistance.

“Ultimately, it's a horrible choice for any family to make,” Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia told KQED. “Do we split our family to keep some of them in housing or keep our family together and get displaced and be thrown out on the street?”

The department expects entire household units to evacuate out of fear of families being separated, but suggests they should instead consider asking ineligible members to leave.

At a press conference with housing experts on Tuesday, Arianna Cook-Thajudeen, a Bank of America legal fellow with the National Housing Law Project, said she also foresees families sacrificing their assistance in order to remain together.

“Ninety-five percent of the individuals of mixed-status families are people of color, of which 85 percent are Latino,” she said. “Most of these families are comprised of parents who are ineligible and eligible school-age children. Therefore, it is likely that most families will choose to stay together and forgo their assistance.

More Coverage on Migrant Families

“It's important to know that being ineligible does not automatically mean that someone is undocumented,” Cook-Thajudeen added.

Some immigrants living in the country legally are ineligible to receive housing assistance, according to Cook-Thajudeen, including work and student visa holders, DACA recipients and Temporary Protected Status holders.

So far, the department has received over 10,000 comments in response to the proposal — which are mostly in opposition — Diana Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said at the press conference Tuesday.  HUD is still accepting comments from the public about the rule, and Yentel encouraged people to continue sending feedback before the cutoff on July 9.

It’s unknown if and when the rule might be finalized, but the department must review and respond to the comments when implementing a new regulation.

“And 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 community is severe.”

KQED's Peter Jon Shuler contributed to this report.