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Ben Carson’s rent increases can empower domestic abusers


Rent is becoming less affordable, particularly those who are low-income, and getting worse. A proposed increase for people using federal housing subsidies will most affect single mothers and their children, putting them at risk for homelessness, increasing their risk for domestic violence.

We knew Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s idea to encourage self-sufficiency would hurt, now we know now much: Federal subsidies are expected to jump 20 percent, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for the Associated Press. People already working every day would be squeezed even more.

{mosads}Over 3.3 million extremely low-income Americans receive housing subsidies, and millions more are homeless or pay more than half their income in rent, locked out of housing subsidies because of HUD limits or lack of low-cost housing.


A majority of domestic violence survivors already have experienced financial abuse. This means their partner has kept them from their finances, wouldn’t let them work, harassed them at work by showing up or calling excessively, or purposely destroyed their credit.

Physically abusive partners may abuse women to the point they cannot show up for work and lose their jobs. If women are able to leave an abusive partner, they often can only afford low-cost housing. But where will they go if they can’t retreat to the safety of affordable housing?

As a public health researcher embedded in these communities, the answer is simple: Nowhere.

Women in abusive relationships are likely to leave abusers when the rent’s too high. Of the 25 percent of women abused by partners, many stay with or return to abusers because there’s not enough room in shelters or available affordable housing. Higher rent will only increase the likelihood of staying in abusive relationships to avoid homelessness.

I’ve recently spent time in Milwaukee interviewing low-income women and mothers, most in abusive relationships. They faced a variety of stressful situations such as living in apartments that should have been condemned, staying with abusive partners for economic reasons, moving frequently or living on the streets because of lack of affordable housing.

The more they were squeezed financially or unable to find work, the abuse increased, they told me. The constant stress, panic and anxiety these women faced daily was astounding as was their resilience. To make matters worse, many states and landlords have “zero tolerance for crime” policies, so if someone calls the police due to domestic violence, the landlord can the evict them.

Those rent increases we’re all experiencing? That can increase stress between couples and foment more violence against women. Current policies, lack of availability in shelters and the length of time it takes to secure housing can increase the likelihood staying with abusive partners.

Most vulnerable individuals affected by Carson’s rent increase earn about $200 a month. That means 75 percent of their income goes for rent, leaving $50 for everything else.

Carson has also proposed adding a work requirement: Many of these individuals are unskilled for a variety of reasons, including lack of opportunities for a solid education, transportation and institutional racism, and often need job training. Let’s give Carson the benefit of the doubt and say training is available. Then who will pay for transportation? Childcare?

There goes that leftover $50.

The women I’ve interacted with were looking for work or more work, and were trying to go back to school to either get their GED or an associate’s degree. They were not happy with their financial or living situation, and all wanted their children’s lives to be better. None were trying to “work the system,” as Carson has said. Many were overworked, underpaid and living in horrible living conditions. Several did not have access to transportation or childcare. Do people game the system? Sure, but it’s no more typical than folks who dodge paying taxes.

President Roosevelt established public housing in 1937 to ensure safe, affordable housing available for low-income Americans. Currently, 1.1 million public housing units are available nationwide and this number has declined over the years because buildings have been allowed to deteriorate or have been underfunded. Only a small portion have been replaced with new housing.

Congress should do what Carson can’t: Remember the social safety net exists for a reason and reject the dangerous, insulting idea that vulnerable women should suffer more than they already are.

Liesl Nydegger, PhD, MPH is an assistant professor in health behavior & education at The University of Texas at Austin. She is a public voices fellow with the Op-Ed Project.

Tags Affordable housing Ben Carson

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