Thousands of Memphians in public housing may see 25% rent increase

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thousands of families already struggling to make ends meet will have to shell out a lot more money for rent, money they may not have.

Housing secretary Ben Carson rolled out rent increases as part of a larger plan earlier this year, saying it would provide a better path toward self sufficiency.

Lashundra Crum visited the Memphis Housing Authority Wednesday to get information on moving.

She's part of the Section 8 program, a voucher that took years to get.

Crum, a single mom with two kids, says she previously paid as much as $700 a month in rent, so getting on Section 8 has allowed her to save more money.

But families like Crum's, as well as those living in public housing, could soon see their rent skyrocket.

Rolled out earlier this year, new details have emerged about HUD's proposal to increase rent for tenants and add work requirements.

In Tennessee more than 98,000 households could be affected.

They could see their rent increase by $760 per year.

"This will have a very, very big impact on the way we do business and on the households that we serve," Marcia Lewis, the Executive Director of the Memphis Housing Authority, said.

The changes could impact more than 10,000 families served by MHA, either living in its public housing units or on Section 8 vouchers.

That doesn't count people living in privately owned complexes that get Section 8 funding.

The new requirements would drastically change how rent is calculated.

"It's a big jump to go from 30 percent of your adjusted to having to pay 35 percent of your gross,"

According to the newly released data, Memphians getting housing assistance could see a yearly rent increase of $800 - a 25 percent spike.

The jump would really hit families with children the hardest.

The research shows 50 percent of children will be affected.

Lewis says while public housing programs might need an overhaul, it shouldn't be done with a broad brush.

"They're looking at the minimum wage level to determine how much minimum rent should be raised. Most of our jobs are not at that level here."

She also said the proposed rent hikes could have the opposite effect on its intent to get people working and off housing assistance.

"We, like many others in the industry, feel that it is going to make some people stop working."

Besides HUD's proposal for work requirements and rent increases, the president's 2019 budget included decreased funding for federal housing.

Lewis says it's a bad combination.

"If we lose rents and then we lose our money that is used to subsidize what we don't get, it essentially means that public housing as we know it may not exist."

It's an impact that could be difficult for Crum, but it's one that she can't worry about.

"We don't want to be on Section 8 all of our life. We want to be able to get that big house that you always wanted, but I can't predict the future," she said.

Lewis says they're still waiting to get more details from HUD and of course.

This is just a proposal, but she says they've already started notifying tenants and they're talking with legislators.

Nationwide, the rent increases could affect more than 4 million families.

HUD's proposal would still require congressional approval.