WASHINGTON ― Hundreds of low-income tenants at housing complexes in four states now face rent hikes thanks to the government shutdown.
A property management company told the tenants in a letter this week that because of the shutdown, the federal government is no longer subsidizing their rent.
“As of February 1, 2019, all tenants will be responsible for full basic rent,” said the letter, an image of which was tweeted Friday by a low-income housing advocate.
The company, Tri-State Management, confirmed it sent the letter to tenants at 28 buildings in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi. Altogether, the apartments have 758 units, but it’s not clear if all of the units received the letter.
An official with Tri-State told HuffPost that eviction proceedings could begin if the shutdown continues past February.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” the official said. “I hope the government shutdown is over.”
If the shutdown continues into February, rent hikes and eviction threats will probably spread as more landlords get antsy. The letter follows a similar note that a different Arkansas landlord sent to 50 properties last week.
The buildings are subsidized by a U.S. Department of Agriculture rental assistance program that supports 282,000 households nationwide, most of them with elderly residents. The agency said last week that rental assistance is funded through January.
The federal government’s bigger housing programs, run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are funded only through February. Those programs support more than 3 million households.
President Donald Trump forced the shutdown of several federal agencies, including HUD and the USDA, to put pressure on Democrats to support $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall that he previously said Mexico would pay for. Democrats have refused to budge.
The shutdown will get worse with time as 800,000 federal workers continue to miss checks, landlords miss rent and some 38 million Americans miss out on food benefits come March.
Members of Congress have been aware that HUD had failed to renew some contracts with landlords before the shutdown, jeopardizing subsidies for tens of thousands of households. But the swift response of USDA landlords has seemingly caught lawmakers off guard.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who has encouraged Trump to stand firm for his border wall and downplayed tales of shutdown woe, said he did not believe landlords could hike rent or threaten to evict their renters because of the government’s incompetence.
“On most [rental] agreements it doesn’t give them the ability to do that,” Meadows said, echoing a common sentiment among the lawmakers HuffPost has interviewed.
But housing subsidy recipients do not have ironclad protection, according to a legal analysis the National Housing Law Project released Friday. While HUD’s regulation for landlords with Section 8 vouchers does not allow rent hikes or evictions if the government stops paying its share, it does allow them to evict tenants for “business or economic reasons,” such as wanting to lease an apartment for higher rent.
And there are no clear protections for tenants with USDA rental assistance. “What owners may do in the event of a government shutdown is not set out in [USDA rental assistance] regulations,” according to the analysis.
The NHLP said 17,000 households would lose their USDA rental subsidy in February, and all the rest would lose theirs in March.
The USDA’s program finances both the landlord’s mortgage and covers part of the rent, with tenants usually required to pay 30 percent of their income. Landlords have told HuffPost they will struggle to pay for staff and maintenance without the government’s portion of their rental income.
Neither the USDA nor HUD have responded to requests for comment about the possibility of the shutdown causing evictions.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the USDA is “clearly not prioritizing” its affordable-housing programs for the poor and elderly.
“The longer the shutdown continues, the more eviction threats we’ll see for residents of this and other subsidized programs,” Yentel said.
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