Ben Carson grew up in public housing, received government assistance, and devoted his career as a surgeon to the people of Baltimore. Now the agency he runs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is proposing divisive cuts from the top down on the people who need help the most.
Through the “Making Affordable Housing Work Act of 2018,” Dr. Carson wants to kick the ladder out from underneath millions of seniors, persons with disabilities and working moms. The Trump-Carson HUD Bill will triple minimum monthly rents (from $50 to $150) on residents who have little or no income. It will require residents to pay a greater percentage of their incomes toward rent and end deductions of large medical expenses before calculating rents. These cuts will increase evictions and homelessness at the same time that the Salvation Army’s Booth House, one of the Baltimore’s largest shelters for families with children, is closing.
I am one of the many residents of Baltimore who rely on HUD-assisted housing to get by. I am putting my experience to work to create grassroots change, and I am writing to share why these cuts are a big step in the wrong direction.
I have worked most of my life on my feet in restaurants and for caterers at the Baltimore City Convention Center. The work was hard, but I was proud that I was able to help support myself and my family. After I was diagnosed with a medical condition in my feet that reduces my mobility, it became more difficult for me to move around and keep working. I was wrongly denied disability benefits. I am looking for a job, but who will hire a 61 year old who has no college degree and cannot walk that well?
Dr. Carson suggests that increasing my rent will make me self-sufficient — that it will finally push me to get a living wage job that does not exist for someone like me.
The stress of a potential rent hike for me and for my neighbors who rely on HUD assistance causes me to lose sleep. As it is, I get by on food stamps and meal programs. I’m also angry. Donald Trump just passed a giant tax cut that goes mostly to wealthy people and corporations. And you want me to foot the bill?
It is my experience that when you help people meet their basic needs, most respond by working to better their lives and the lives of their children. My own son just graduated from Coppin State University with a bachelor’s degree, and he is giving back to the community working in youth development and education. I couldn’t be more proud.
We should be investing to help people meet basic needs like housing so that they can focus on finding a steady job or going to school. I urge Dr. Carson to come meet with public housing residents. What if it was his mother who was a disabled senior citizen in public housing? Would he ask her to pay more to become “self-sufficient”?
While we protest appalling proposals from Washington, there is still hope at the local level. I am a member of the Baltimore Housing Roundtable that is working day in and day out to realize a human right to housing. Councilman John Bullock and Council President Jack Young have responded to the challenge of the Trump administration and proposed the “Fund the Trust Act” (Council bill 18-0221) that will provide $20 million per year to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Over 10 years, this legislation could help develop or preserve over 4,000 affordable homes, prevent over 4,600 evictions, rehabilitate 1,600 vacants and employ over 8,500 Baltimore residents. At the Housing Roundtable and Housing For All, we are pushing our leaders to act now on the bill to protect city residents from this administration’s callous and inhumane policies. This is what leadership and a grassroots plan for action looks like.
Also, our friends at Indivisible Baltimore have launched a campaign to encourage our congressional leaders to denounce the Trump-Carson HUD bill and the equally terrible bill by Rep. Dennis Ross, a Florida Republican. I urge Maryland residents to call their representatives, senators and council people about these important bills.
Dr. Carson may have forgotten the people of Baltimore, but we will not forget. All people deserve a place to call home.
Jeanette Snowden lives in Baltimore and is a member of the Baltimore Housing Roundtable.