U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Monday defended his controversial plan to increase rental rates for poor households following a tour of a housing complex in Aurora on Monday.
Carson was joined by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare, who accompanied Carson during a tour of two units at the Village at Westerly Creek near the Aurora-Denver county line. They toured a HUD-funded senior living unit and a family unit funded with tax credit assistance. The 11-acre site includes 120 units of senior public housing and 76 family units.
After the tour, Carson discussed his proposed plan, which would triple rent for some Americans on housing assistance and impose work requirements, a move Carson said would help address a “broken” rental assistance program and prevent the system from holding people back.
His plan would triple rent for roughly 712,000 tenants receiving federal housing aid and loosen the cap on 4.5 million households, according to the New York Times.
“Has there been a proposal to have people who are paying minimum rents of $25 to $50 to put a little more skin in the game? Yes, there has been a proposal that’s been made,” Carson said. “We’re talking about the ability to sustain these programs.”
There are about 4.7 million families currently receiving HUD housing assistance, with more than half of those households headed by seniors or people with disabilities.
“We’ve also made sure, in terms of any rental increases, that we protect the elderly and the disabled people,” Carson said. “The New York Times won’t tell you that. We’re looking at those work-able people. Now is the really the best time to get work-abled people to get out off there because there are jobs (available).”
Carson said the senior living facilities are “a beautiful setting” and an example of what can be done when it’s well-planned out. He praised the public-private partnership that developed the family units.
“That helps with affordability and it also helps with the long-term care, the long-term maintenance of the project,” Carson said. “This is the kind of thing that really is very helpful. Obviously, we still have to concentrate on pricing because that is an issue all over the country. It’s particularly difficult here in the Aurora area.”
Carson visited Mary and Rudy Rodriguez’s unit during his tour. The couple has been married for more than 50 years and have lived in Aurora for about 25 years. They live with their dog, Girl.
“It does help a lot,” Rudy Rodriguez said. “You have a lot of freedom. There’s a lot of things — she has a lot of things going, like bingo and stuff, she does all kind of meals and stuff, she makes meals … so she’s pretty active.”
Coffman said he believes Carson understands the state’s housing crisis.
Coffman — who is known for his public disagreement with President Donald Trump’s policies — said he’s very concerned with the state’s housing and rental crisis, which is impacting Aurora and the rest of the congressional district he represents.
“I think he gets it in terms of expanding the programs that he talked about today, that are under his department, but we need more than that from this administration,” Coffman said. “We need more from Congress.”
He said he wants to look more closely at Carson’s affordable housing proposal.
“I do think that there are, the way he certainly described it, that there are rents that haven’t been adjusted in a very long time that are very, very low relative to the income,” Coffman said. “So certainly in that situation, it should be looked at.”
Addressing homelessness remains a priority for HUD.
In January, HUD said they had awarded a record $2 billion to local homeless assistance programs in 2017. That included $30.6 million in Colorado toward 68 local programs, which included $25 million for metro Denver. The money included $16.6 million for permanent supportive housing and $6.8 million for rapid re-housing.
“One of the things we are looking at is homelessness and how do we deal with homelessness,” Carson said. “We’ve dedicated a large amount of money to a continuum of care programs, but we’re trying to look at the facts.”
Carson said he wants to focus on evidence-based funding, which he said, “is making a big difference.” He said he wants to look at how these programs are helping homeless people find resources.
“Real compassion is not patting people on the head and saying, ‘There, there, you poor little thing,'” Carson added later. “Real compassion is giving them an opportunity to realize the American Dream.”