Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson unveiled a plan Wednesday to raise public housing rents in an effort to bring more money into the federal housing system and encourage residents to be more self-sufficient.
Carson's proposed changes would raise the rent paid by public housing residents to 35 percent from 30 percent of household income and eliminate all deductions that could lower that number. Elderly and disabled tenants would be exempt from the increase, and rents would be evaluated every three years instead of annually.
Congress would still have to approve the plan, dubbed the Make Affordable Housing Work Act.
"The way we calculate the level of assistance to our families is archaic and has perverse consequences, like discouraging these residents from earning more income," Carson told The Associated Press. "It's clear from a budget perspective and from a human standpoint that this is not sustainable."
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who grew up in poverty in Boston and Detroit, has long promoted the idea that too much government support creates a culture of dependency. During a 2016 speech at his alma mater, Yale, Carson said: "Government should not keep people in a dependent state. It should be used as a springboard, and not as a hammock."
Jack Cooper, executive director of the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, called Carson's proposal "a war on low-income people."
Cooper told The AP that the likely effect would be to force families into homelessness. He said the nationwide average annual income for public housing residents was $12,000, and many families simply won't be able to keep up with the additional expenses.
"We're talking about keeping a roof over people who can't afford the market," he said. "They're devastating folks that are already in dire straits."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.