Jessica M. Vaughan: Carson is right to favor US citizens in public housing

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson faced harsh – and unwarranted – criticism from Democrats Tuesday when he appeared before a House committee to defend his commonsense proposal to end public housing assistance for illegal immigrants.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., called the proposal “cruel” and “inconsistent with HUD’s mission.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., called the proposal “despicable,” and said it was “among the most damaging proposals in public policy” she’s ever seen.

CARSON CLASHES WITH DEMS OVER PROPOSAL TO BLOCK ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS FROM PUBLIC HOUSING

Carson, characteristically, kept his cool at the hearing conducted by the House Financial Services Committee.

The HUD secretary told Maloney that he would like to be with her when she explains to the American families in her district who are currently on a waiting list for public housing assistance why they should take a back seat to illegal immigrants.

Far from despicable, Carson’s proposal is a good one that restores fairness to the subsidized housing system and recognizes that American citizens have a greater right than illegal immigrants to government benefits.

Carson’s proposal would provide relief to low-income households headed by American citizens who now cannot get public housing due to a short supply. It would also provide relief to taxpayers who should not have to subsidize housing – or any living expenses – for people living in the U.S. in violation of our laws.

Most Americans are probably shocked to learn that illegal immigrants can get public housing benefits. Indeed, such assistance is prohibited by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980.

Carson’s proposal would provide relief to low-income households headed by American citizens who now cannot get public housing due to a short supply.

However, successive administrations have allowed households that include at least one American citizen – often a U.S.-born child – to receive a pro-rated subsidy, which obviously benefits the entire family, including the illegal residents.

According to a HUD study, about 25,000 households that include illegal immigrants are now living in public housing. About 55,000 children who are in the U.S. legally live in those households.

Some states have openly allowed illegal immigrants to live in public housing. For example, President Barack Obama’s Kenyan-born aunt, Zeituni Onyango, lived in a public housing unit in Boston for years after her first asylum application was rejected in 2004. She was ordered to leave the U.S. but refused. She was then granted asylum in 2010 and died in 2014.

"Ask your system," Onyango said when questioned about her public housing by a local reporter. "I didn't create it or vote for it. Go and ask your system."

Right now the public housing system is unfair to Americans. Unlike other forms of welfare, access to public housing is often a zero-sum game, because the supply of units and vouchers is limited. Each apartment occupied by an illegal immigrant household is a unit that is unavailable to an American household.

That means that if the 25,000 families with illegal immigrants moved out of public housing apartments, 25,000 households made up entirely of American citizens could move into those units.

The list of Americans currently shut out of public housing includes senior citizens, veterans, the disabled, and of course tens of thousands of American families with children. Many of these people paid taxes for years before they fell on hard times and needed housing assistance.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a nationwide shortage of subsidized housing for qualified low-income families, leading to long waits both for vouchers and units to occupy.

In Washington, D.C., for example, recently there were 70,000 people waiting for just 8,000 HUD-subsidized apartments, leading to an average waiting time of 39 years for a studio apartment, and 28 years for a one-bedroom apartment.

Public housing shortages are especially acute in California and New York, where the constituents of Waters and Maloney live, along with many illegal immigrants.

Beyond the supply problem, why should taxpayers be subsidizing illegal immigrants at all?

Further, allowing access to welfare benefits may serve as an inducement for illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. illegally.

The Center for Immigration Studies, where I serve as director of policy studies, has analyzed Census Bureau data and found that more than 60 percent of illegal immigrant households access at least one major welfare program – most commonly Medicaid or food assistance, but also housing. Only about 30 percent of households made up of people born in the U.S. access at least one welfare program.

We calculated that on average illegal immigrants each cost taxpayers more than $65,000 over their lifetime, even after accounting for any taxes they might pay.

Opponents of Carson’s proposal protest that the new rules will throw families out on to the streets, including the U.S.-born children of the illegal immigrants who head these households.

Not so, Carson explained, because the agency will offer these disqualified families a grace period of up to 18 months. A lot can happen in 18 months – household members who are in the process of obtaining legal status can finish, and those with no path to legal status can prepare to return home, presumably with their children.

Carson even suggested that Congress could use that time to pass an amnesty for those affected, thus solving the problem. Unfortunately, an amnesty would address the problem of eligibility for housing assistance, but not the fiscal and housing shortage problems.

Amnesty would simply change the status of all those occupying public housing, while too many Americans still languish on the waiting lists.

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For too long, our country’s leaders have failed to acknowledge that illegal immigration is disproportionately harmful to those Americans who are struggling to support themselves and their families – and that it is an enormous financial burden for taxpayers.

Carson’s proposal is true to his agency’s mission to serve American citizens in need – not people who are in the U.S. illegally. He should be commended – not condemned – for acting in the best interests of American families in need of housing assistance.