Matt Driscoll

American kids face ‘grievous harm’ under new Trump housing policy, including in Tacoma

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Typically measured, methodical and calm, Michael Mirra — the attorney turned executive director of Tacoma Housing Authority — is not one for hyperbole.

So when Mirra looked across a coffee shop table at me recently and said a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has the “nation’s affordable housing and immigrant community … in an uproar,” it naturally caught my attention.

“It’s worrisome,” Mirra said of the rule that, if implemented as proposed, would drastically reduce the ability of housing authorities across the country to serve families who depend on them.

Specifically, Mirra said, the rule has the potential to inflict “grievous harm” on children, pushing them — and their families — out of their homes and potentially out into the streets.

The warning has been echoed by housing authorities throughout the region as well as Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, who expressed “deep concerns” in a July 8 letter to HUD. That alone should be enough to make all of us stop and take notice.

According to HUD, the proposed rule is designed to prevent undocumented people from receiving federal housing aid. First floated back in May, the proposal quickly garnered thousands of responses and could move toward implementation relatively soon.

This at a time when the country already is locked in an ongoing and factious immigration debate.

The catch? Housing authorities across the country already are prevented from offering federal aid to people who are in the country illegally. It’s been that way for many years.

So this isn’t really about ensuring that only legal U.S. citizens receive federal housing aid, despite the HUD sales pitch, is it? That’s the takeaway no matter how you feel about the agency’s stated objective.

Instead, and in typical Trump administration fashion, it’s actually about being cruel and punitive to immigrants and playing to the seething red base, with little regard for the potential harm to thousands of U.S. citizens in the process, the majority of whom are children.

In a six-page letter submitted to HUD on June 26, Mirra described the proposed rule change as “unnecessary for legitimate public purposes,” going as far as to cite the English historian Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” in the process.

“(I)t will threaten a variety of important civic interests. It will harm American citizens. It will cost money we do not have. It is legally suspect. And it will far exceed the bounds of moderation because of what it will do to children,” Mirra wrote.

Precisely.

Here’s all you need to know about the proposed rule and what’s potentially at stake:

While housing authorities have long been barred from providing housing assistance to the undocumented, they are allowed to serve families with individual members who are undocumented or entered the country illegally as long as other members of the family are citizens or legal residents. Often, this involves an undocumented parent, with U.S.-born citizen children.

In bureaucratic jargon, Mirra explained, these are what’s known as “mixed families.”

Housing authorities like THA currently serve mixed families by prorating the rental subsidy they offer. Basically, it takes the undocumented individual out of the financial calculation, lowering the overall subsidy a family receives while ensuring that members of the family who are citizens or legal residents are still eligible for aid.

As proposed by HUD, the new rule would require housing authorities across the country to instead either evict undocumented individuals or evict entire families if they’re not willing to separate and remove undocumented individuals from the household.

In Tacoma, according to Mirra, roughly 60 families would be affected by such a change.

Across the country, according to NPR, which cited HUD’s own impact analysis, the numbers are far greater. Some 108,000 people would have their housing threatened, about 70 percent of whom are citizens or legal residents.

HUD’s analysis shows that three quarters of them — or roughly 55,000 — are children.

Then there’s the potential financial implications. The cost for these evictions alone could be $3-4 million.

Further, according to the surprisingly forthright in-house analysis, since mixed families typically receive smaller subsidies than unmixed families, replacing them with families requiring larger subsidies could cost the government as much as $227 million a year.

More likely, since Congress is unlikely to allocate more funds, it would lead to a reduction in “the quantity and quality of assisted housing in response to higher costs,” according to HUD.

In separate letters sent to HUD, Mirra and Woodards both anticipated additional hardships beyond the implementation price. These likely costs include serving families forced into homelessness and the likelihood of legal costs related to defending the rule in court.

Nonetheless, barring the possibility of Congressional intervention, Mirra expects HUD to persist.

“I think HUD is intent on this rule,” Mirra told me in a somber tone, promising THA will “read the final rule carefully to see what it requires of us.”

“We will be consulting widely with our partners on how to respond to it,” Mirra added. “There will be litigation on this, and maybe litigation will give us the final answer.”

Perhaps, but for the thousands of young U.S. citizens whose housing hangs in the balance, the prospect of legal wrangling likely provides little solace.

Instead, it’s yet another depressing sign of the times, with the Trump administration’s eagerness to push families out of their homes for political purposes providing another mark of presidential depravity.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.
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