Thousands of Families Could Lose Housing in California Under Trump Proposal

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Doug Guthrie, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, speaks on June 28, 2019, against a proposed rule that would deny federally subsidized housing to thousands of people, many of them U.S. citizen children. (Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles)

A federal plan to deny public housing and rental aid programs to households that include an ineligible immigrant could leave thousands of families homeless in California.

Nationwide, 70% of people who would be impacted by the proposed rule change are U.S. citizens or lawful residents — often children with parents who are undocumented immigrants, according to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A period of public comment on the change ends Tuesday night.

Overall, the agency estimates that 25,000 families could lose their housing across the country; the largest share of those — 37% , or 9,250— live in California.

In Los Angeles, that translates into 11,500 people who could be left without a home — the most of any city in the country, local housing authorities say.


"Many of these eligible family members are minors, who due to the circumstances of the families they are born into, are now at risk of becoming homeless," Doug Guthrie, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, wrote in a letter to HUD in July. It is "inconceivable" that HUD would add to Los Angeles' homeless population, estimated to be about 58,000 people, Guthrie added.

Currently, such "mixed-status" families get less federal housing aid because they include people who are ineligible to receive funding. Immigrants who can't get HUD financial aid include undocumented people, as well as those with student visas and other time-limited permits, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Dreamers.

Under the proposed changes, a household would not receive assistance unless every member residing in the unit is of eligible immigration status, which would force mixed-status families to live apart or to forgo the benefits. The plan would also require local housing authorities administering aid to check the immigration status of all recipients under age 62.

By law, HUD provides financial aid only to U.S. citizens, green card holders and other legal residents, such as refugees and asylum-seekers.

The agency said the proposed rule is meant to bring HUD into "greater alignment" with the law, and ensure that U.S. citizens and lawful residents are first in line for the benefits, which have waitlists of more than two years on average.

"There is an affordable housing crisis in this country, and we need to make certain our scarce public resources help those who are legally entitled to it," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a statement. "Given the overwhelming demand for our programs, fairness requires that we devote ourselves to legal residents who have been waiting, some for many years, for access to affordable housing."

In Los Angeles, the cost of evicting so many public housing residents, when taking into account the process to release units and lost rental revenue while changes are implemented, could reach up to $49 million, according to Housing Authority CEO Guthrie.

In May, the L.A. City Council approved a resolution officially opposing the proposal. And in June, Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote to Carson urging him to withdraw the proposal.

"Its sole purpose isn't about smart immigration policy, public safety or fiscal responsibility," said Garcetti. "Its goal is to spark fear in immigrant households, and its effects would target U.S.-born children and their families."

Housing advocates worry the policy change would lead eligible immigrant households to drop benefits out of fear or confusion. Local governments, they say, would have to shoulder the steep costs of additional homelessness in areas with tight housing markets. HUD's analysis puts that figure at $20,000 to $50,000 per each person who is displaced and ends up homeless.

"If suddenly there are literally thousands of families who need to live in a shelter or they need emergency housing assistance, where's that going to come from? You know the shelters are full," said Karlo Ng, an attorney with the National Housing Law Project in San Francisco.

Of the public housing residents and Section 8 program beneficiaries affected by the proposed rule change, 95% are people of color and half are children, according to a report released earlier in July by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.