INDIANAPOLIS – In April, we learned that three Indiana localities have the dubious distinction of being in the top 20 U.S. cities with the highest eviction rates. The newly established Eviction Lab, spearheaded by “Evicted” author and researcher Matthew Desmond, tells us that Fort Wayne (13th), Indianapolis (14th) and South Bend (18th) see people pushed out of housing at higher rates than most cities.
 
In Indianapolis, that equates to more than 30 households evicted per day. These statistics shine a spotlight on Indiana’s housing crisis and bust the myth of the Midwest’s affordability, at least for low-income families.
 
Forty-two percent of renter households in Indiana are cost-burdened, defined as spending 30% or more of gross income on rent and utilities. Rent-burdened households are more likely to be evicted, have less to spend on other basic needs like food and medical care, and more frequently must rely on food assistance and other safety net programs. On the flip side, stable housing has a host of benefits, especially for children, who are less likely to be placed in foster care and switch schools less often.
 
Figuring out how to make housing affordable for more families is an ongoing challenge, particularly in light of stagnant wage growth and limited rental housing stock. And while the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides rental assistance and subsidized housing to nearly 90,000 Hoosier families each year, this aid serves far fewer households than qualify. Only one in four eligible households receives the support they need. These tend to be the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and families with children.
 
Unfortunately, on April 2, HUD Secretary Ben Carson proposed changes to rental assistance programs that would do little to improve the program and may actually undermine current benefits:
 
n Families are currently expected to pay 30% of their adjusted income in rent. With the proposed changes, medical expenses and childcare costs would no longer be deducted, and rents will be calculated at 35% of gross income for families with a non-disabled, non-elderly adult.
 
n Currently, housing agencies may charge the poorest families $50 per month even if that amount exceeds 30 percent of the family’s adjusted income. The HUD proposal triples this floor to $150 per month. This would affect about 15% of individuals receiving housing subsidies, mainly single mothers.
 
n Housing authorities would be allowed to impose (paper)work requirements, even though nine in ten households receiving assistance are elderly, disabled, receiving TANF (and already subject to work requirements), or already working.
 
Estimates suggest HUD’s changes will result in an average increase of $760 per year per household. This comes on the heels of tax cuts that disproportionately favor higher earners and corporations, leaving the bottom 20% of earners with an extra $100/year on average, barely a dent in the new rent bill.
 
To prevent evictions from further destabilizing Indiana families and their communities, policymakers should oppose these HUD changes and take a hard look at current landlord-tenant laws and other policies that affect housing stability and affordability for low-income families.
            
Erin Macey, Ph.D, is a policy analysist for the Indiana Institute of Working Families