No, undocumented immigrants aren’t impacting the waitlist for public housing in Houston

May 30, 2019
In The News

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spent several hours in a congressional hearing answering questions about his department’s plan to evict unauthorized immigrants from government-subsidized housing.

After the May 21 hearing, Carson tweeted at U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Houston, about the lack of public housing available in her city.

"There are more than 100,000 American citizens waiting for public housing in Houston, TX," Carson wrote. "Do you think they should continue to wait while people here illegally are taking their space?"

Carson’s claim is off base. He is right when he says there are more than 100,000 people waiting for public housing opportunities in Houston, but the delay is not because people who are not legal residents are taking up space in public housing.

Housing assistance is limited to legal residents

Carson did not return a request for comment, but information provided by the Houston Housing Authority shows that his claim leaves out important details.

People in the country illegally are not eligible to receive housing subsidies or live in public housing. However, "mixed-status" families — those with family members of different immigration statuses — are allowed to live in public housing, as long as at least one member of the family is eligible to receive assistance (including children born in the U.S. or a spouse).

Nationally, about 25,000 households of the 1.2 million living in public housing units (about 2%) have at least one family member who is ineligible to receive assistance, according to an analysis by HUD.

In Houston, 42 households of the 22,500 that receive housing assistance from the city’s housing authority are "mixed-status." Put another way: 0.19% of households receiving assistance in Houston include at least one family member lacking legal immigration status.

Tory Gunsolley, president and chief executive officer of the Houston Housing Authority, said assistance offered to these households is prorated, meaning anyone within a household who is not in the country legally would not be receiving any government dollars.

"This is what the rules have been and we have families that have followed the rules to their own detriment," Gunsolley said, noting that these families pay higher rents and report information about their family’s immigration status to the government.

If they don’t report this information, they could be evicted.

In the past year, the housing authority has had two evictions from public housing units and 17 "terminations of assistance" in the voucher program, but none were due to undocumented immigrants staying.

Although rent is prorated for mixed-status families, they still have to meet the same benchmarks for eligibility as other households seeking assistance.

The first benchmark is income-based. Gunsolley said earnings for the entire household are taken into account — including any income received by a family member who is in the country illegally.

Income eligibility limits are set by HUD based on the median income in the area and the number of family members applying for assistance.

Many factors contribute to Houston waitlist

Gunsolley said more than 100,000 people were waiting for public housing at the end of March and more than 26,000 people were on the wait list for housing vouchers at the end of March, the latest available count.

The public housing program provides affordable housing options to lower income families and the voucher program offers vouchers for rent to low-income families for units they have selected themselves.

The waitlist has become so large that the Houston Housing Authority has temporarily closed it and stopped accepting new applications for public housing, Gunsolley said.

"We have fewer affordable housing units per person who needs them than most large cities," Gunsolley said, referencing data maintained by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

The coalition, which advocates for more affordable housing options, listed the Houston metropolitan area as one of the "most severe" when it comes to shortages of rental homes available for extremely low income households, in a 2018 report.

The Houston area, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, has 19 "affordable and available" rental homes per 100 "extremely low income renter households."

Other areas on the "most severe" list include the Dallas area, which also has 19 homes available per 100 households, as does Sacramento, Calif.

Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles both have 17 homes available per 100 households and Las Vegas has the least number of homes available, with 10 per 100 households.

The Houston Chronicle, a PolitiFact Texas partner, reported that the problem in Houston has existed for decades, due in part to the city’s reliance on the market to provide affordable housing options as opposed to government subsidies.

The crisis has only worsened in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the city in 2017.

In 2016, there were more than 27,000 people waiting for housing and in 2017 there were nearly 43,000 on the waitlist. In 2018, 107,800 households were waiting for public housing options in the city.

A report from the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium published in March found that the "damage caused across Harris County by Hurricane Harvey amplified the affordable housing challenge by rendering thousands of multi-family units unlivable and tightening an already competitive rental market."

Our ruling

Carson said on Twitter: "There are more than 100,000 American citizens waiting for public housing in Houston, TX. Do you think they should continue to wait while people here illegally are taking their space?"

There are more than 100,000 people waiting for public housing (or public housing vouchers) in Houston, but this waitlist doesn’t exist because individuals in the country illegally are taking up spots in public housing. Houston has struggled with a lack of available public housing for decades, a problem that has become worse in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

We rate this claim Mostly False.