Community

Louisville Metro Housing Authority officials are considering taking part in a study that, in theory, would eliminate some financial burdens that come with living in public housing.

Residents would not have the choice of opting out of the study, leading to opposition from some Louisville public housing residents and community groups.

Critics spoke out against the agency’s possible participation in the study on Tuesday at a housing authority meeting in Louisville.

The Rent Reform Study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is designed to evaluate an alternative rent policy by implementing a modified rent calculation formula onto a randomly selected group of public housing residents.

Critics described it a forced social experiment on poor African-American women.

“We don’t want the study and we don’t need the study,” said Kathleen Parks,  chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression.

If selected for the study, residents may be subjected to a higher monthly rent payment and could lose certain deductions and allowances for child care, said Cathy Hinko, the executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Commission.

According to a HUD document, residents chosen for the study will be subject to the following:

  • A revised formula to calculate tenant share of rent and utilities – 28% of gross annual income.
  • A minimum rent payment from tenants to owners of $75.
  • A revised method of determining gross annual income.
  • Elimination of deductions and allowances. 
  • Disregarding asset income of each asset valued below $25,000.
  • A triennial recertification procedure.
  • A limited number of interim re-certifications per household per year.
  • A revised methodology for determining tenant rent to owner.
  • A simplified utility allowance schedule.
  • A hardship policy to protect tenants from excessive rent burden.

Supporters argue the changes could benefit the residents who take part, said Jim Riccio, a social researcher with the New York based non-profit organization MDRC.

Riccio said the main advantage of the policy would allow tenants who get a job to not report the boost in their income for up to three years.  This varies from the current policy, which requires an annual evaluation of income.

Public housing resident’s monthly rent payment is subject to their income, so a higher income translates into a higher rent payment.

Riccio said the new policy will encourage those living in public housing to find employment while enabling them to save more money.

He said opponents to the program “may not fully appreciate the potential benefits of holding rent constant.”

He added that public housing agencies operating under the Move to Work grant are “expected” to try new policies that promote self-sufficiency.

This means these public housing agencies can change rent rules without first attaining tenant consent.

“And they have done that, but they have done it without first collecting evidence on whether this policy is a good idea for everybody,” he said.

If the Louisville Metro Housing Authority votes to take part in the study, residents would participate in a test to see if the program works as its developers hope. If it does, nationwide implementation could follow.

“The objective is, in the end, we’ll be able to indicate if those who have access to the new policy earned more money, had more income, experienced less poverty, experienced less material hardship,” Riccio said.

Despite this, however, some residents criticized the study, calling it a cruel way to increase the burden on people already struggling to make payments.

Chanell Helm, a spokesperson for Women in Transition—a group that works for economic justice—said pushing the study on the public is “utterly ridiculous, it’s bad business.”

The Louisville Metro Housing Authority has yet to vote on the issue.  Lexington, Washington D.C., and San Antonio are also moving forward with the study.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.