Proposed HUD Rule Would Bar Vulnerable Children from Subsidized Housing

Mike Nicholson
Center for Migration Studies

Credit: Studio 37 / Shutterstock

Proposed HUD Rule Would Bar Vulnerable Children from Subsidized Housing

On May 10, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed rule that would bar households from receiving public housing assistance unless every household member residing in the assisted housing unit is eligible. This follows a 2018 proposed regulation which would require the US Department of Homeland Security to consider immigrants’ use of non-cash public benefits when determining their eligibility for admission to the United States or adjustment to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.[1] If approved, the HUD rule would effectively bar mixed-status families — families comprised of both undocumented immigrants and US citizens or LPRs — from public housing. According to a HUD analysis, it would force thousands of families, including an estimated 55,000 children, to leave their homes (HUD 2019). The rule could also bar thousands of vulnerable immigrant families from eligibility for housing assistance in the coming years.

Using American Community Survey (ACS) data from 2017 (the most recent year available), the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) estimates that up to 11.5 million people could lose eligibility for housing assistance under the proposed rule. About 7.4 million of these 11.5 million individuals belong to mixed-status families with incomes at or below HUD’s “very low” income limit, the threshold to receive assistance from HUD’s largest programs — tenant and project-based Section 8 housing choice vouchers and the public housing program — in most jurisdictions nationwide. An additional 4.1 million persons reside in “low income” mixed-status families that meet income requirements for most housing assistance programs but receive lower priority.

Many of these 11.5 million people might choose not to apply for housing assistance even in the absence of the rule. Other eligible families might not receive assistance due to limits on Section 8 funding and limited affordable housing availability. It is thus not possible for CMS to predict exactly how many people the rule would affect beyond those currently residing in public housing. That said, the proposed rule would increase material hardships for many families and reduce resources available for their children’s food, education, and medical care. As a consequence, the rule could have particularly severe consequences for thousands of children in mixed-status families, many of whom are US citizens.

The ostensible purpose of the proposed rule is to bring HUD’s regulations into greater alignment with Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980, which prohibits the Secretary of HUD from providing financial assistance to persons other than US citizens and certain categories of eligible noncitizens—namely LPRs, refugees, and asylum seekers, and Cuban and Haitian entrants.

However, HUD policies already block financial assistance to ineligible immigrants. Households receive prorated assistance based on the number of eligible persons in the household. Ineligible immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are not counted into benefit calculations, although they are permitted to reside in subsidized housing provided that they live with eligible family members. The proposed rule would bar households from eligibility for housing assistance through Section 214-covered programs if even one member lacks eligible status.[2] It would require that each household member under 62 years old verify his or her eligibility for housing assistance. Consequently, thousands of mixed status families could be evicted from their homes and countless others could be barred from applying for housing assistance. Moreover, immigrants without eligible status would be barred from serving as leaseholders.

HUD runs several housing assistance programs, the largest of which are the public housing program and the Section 8 housing choice voucher program. According to HUD’s analysis, 99 percent of individuals in mixed-status families that received housing assistance in December 2017 participated in these two programs (HUD 2019). The public housing program provides families in need with affordable housing managed by local housing authorities. Under the Section 8 housing choice voucher programs, families in need receive rental support for housing units of their choice.

Eligibility for HUD’s public housing and housing choice voucher programs is determined by local housing authorities on the basis of HUD-calculated income thresholds.[3] HUD classifies families as “very low income” if they earn less than or equal to 50 percent of the family median income of their county or metropolitan area of residence, with adjustments for family size and allowances for areas with high or low income-to-housing cost ratios. Families earning less than or equal to 80 percent of their area’s family median income, with the same adjustments, are classified as “low income.”[4] Both families’ gross income and assets are taken into account. Local housing authorities have substantial discretion in determining eligibility for housing assistance. In general, families must possess “very low” incomes to qualify for HUD’s public housing although “low income” families also may qualify if there are enough vacant housing units in a given area (Perl and McCarty 2017). To qualify for “Section 8 housing choice vouchers,” families generally must possess incomes that are, at most, “very low,” although “low income” families are also granted vouchers in some cases (Perl and McCarty).[5] Several smaller programs covered by the proposed rule, Section 811 housing for persons with disabilities and Section 202 housing for the elderly, also employ the “very low income” threshold. In general, all housing assistance programs give highest priority to families with “extremely low incomes” not exceeding 30 percent of the local median family income or the poverty line, whichever is higher. When families meet eligibility requirements for these programs, they are placed on a waitlist for assistance.

According to HUD’s analysis, 25,000 mixed-status families consisting of over 108,000 members currently live in subsidized housing. Up to 25 percent of these families, including some 55,000 children, could be evicted if the proposed rule is enacted (HUD 2019). These families already face significant hardships. Many possess “extremely low incomes” as defined by HUD guidelines. Many of these families also live in states with relatively high average rents, such as California (37 percent) and New York (12 percent). Eviction from public housing would only magnify their burden. Evicted families could face between $9.5 million and $13 million in upfront moving costs (HUD 2019). Many of these families could be forced to pay higher rents or live in overcrowded or substandard conditions.

Beyond the 25,000 families that could face eviction, the proposed rule would also bar many vulnerable mixed-status families from eligibility for housing assistance. CMS calculates that, as of 2017 (the most recent available data), up to 11.5 million people could lose their eligibility for housing assistance. Of those 11.5 million, 7.4 million individuals in mixed-status families with “very low incomes” are mostly likely to be affected. A further 4.1 million individuals reside in “low income” mixed-status families that receive lower priority but might be eligible for housing assistance in areas with enough vacancies or if they received prior assistance. About 66 percent of the 7.4 million (4.9 million) qualify as “extremely low income” families that would receive highest priority for public housing and Section 8 vouchers in the absence of the rule.

Of the 7.4 million in “very low income” families, 3.02 million are US citizen children under age 18, and 680,000 are citizen adults between 18 and 61 years of age. About 2.77 million of these children have at least one undocumented parent. The rule could also affect some 836,000 legal noncitizens and 2.8 million undocumented persons in “very low income” families, including 458,000 children under age 18. Some 2 million of these 7.4 million individuals reside in California, 1.3 million in Texas, 590,000 in New York, 409,000 in Florida, and 322,000 in Illinois. Many reside in cities with steep housing costs.

Many of these 11.5 million families might never apply for housing assistance even in the absence of a rule change. Others might be barred from receiving housing benefits due to their rent histories, references, and other factors. Many more might never receive benefits due to limitations on Section 8 funding and the limited availability of affordable housing across the country. As of 2018, only 37 affordable rental homes exist nationwide for every 100 “extremely low income” renters (Aurand et al. 2018). Correspondingly, CMS cannot determine exactly how many families would ultimately lose housing assistance if the rule is approved. That said, the rule will bar thousands of children living in those families, the majority of whom are US citizens, from subsidized housing.

Barring children from subsidized housing could have deleterious consequences for their development. Housing assistance can improve families’ physical living conditions (Newman and Schnare 1993; Currie and Yelowitz 2000). It also decreases the proportion of income that families must set aside for rent, enabling them to spend more of their income on children’s education and health (Newman and Harkness 2002). Moreover, housing assistance can increase families’ residential stability by reducing their vulnerability to rent increases. High rents are correlated with children’s food insecurity, malnutrition, and missed preventive care (Child Health Impact Working Group 2005; Aratani et al. 2011; Cunningham and MacDonald 2012). High rents are also associated with low school engagement and poorer mental health among children (Harkness and Newman 2005). Residence in subsidized housing during childhood, in contrast, correlates with increased employment and earnings and reduced welfare use during adulthood (Newman and Harkness 2002).

For some families, housing assistance can be a vital safeguard against homelessness. A 2008 study found that eligible families receiving housing vouchers are 74 percent less likely than eligible non-recipients to sleep in shelters or on the street (Wood, Turnham, and Mills 2008). Childhood homelessness can lead to chronic physical ailments, anxiety and depression, and poor academic performance (Wood 1989; Molnar et al. 1990; Wood et al. 1990; Parker et al. 1991; Zima et al. 1994).

In conclusion, the proposed rule would harm thousands of mixed-status families and impede the long-term development of the children in them. Some 55,000 children reside in families that could face eviction if the rule is approved. In addition, about 3.1 million children that are US citizens or legal noncitizens would be no longer be eligible for housing assistance on the basis of “very low” or “extremely low” incomes. An additional 1.4 million citizen or legal noncitizen children live in “low income” mixed-status households that are eligible to apply for housing assistance but receive lower priority. It is likely that only a fraction of mixed-status families would apply for housing even in the absence of the rule, and many might never receive housing assistance due to housing shortages and funding limitations. That said, the rule would prevent thousands of families, including children within them, from ever receiving housing assistance. This could have severe consequences for these children’s development and exacerbate the inequities they already face.

Methodological Appendix

For this analysis, CMS first tabulated the number of individuals residing in families with at least one citizen or LPR, and at least one undocumented[6] member, using 2017 one-year ACS microdata. It then identified families whose income fell below the 2017 HUD eligibility thresholds for Section 8 housing benefits, which are used to determine eligibility for all programs covered by the proposed rule. CMS matched HUD thresholds to ACS data on the basis of individuals’ family size and county of residence. Under these thresholds, families are likely to be eligible for housing assistance if they earn less than or equal to 50 percent of the family median income of their county or metropolitan area of residence (i.e., “very low income families”), with adjustments for family size and with allowances for areas with high or low income-to-housing cost ratios.[7] HUD’s measure of family median income is based on 2010-2014 averages adjusted for inflation through April 2017.

The above estimates mostly represent counts of individuals living in “very low income” mixed status families. Importantly, however, some “low income” families that earn less than or equal to 80 percent of the family median income of their county of residence may also be eligible for housing benefits. Correspondingly, CMS also included key counts of individuals in “low income” mixed status families in this report. Data limitations prevent CMS from gauging exactly how many “low income” families would qualify for housing assistance — these families’ eligibility is a mostly function of regional housing availability at the time of application and their previous receipt of housing benefits.

The ACS identifies counties on the basis of other low-level geographic identification units such as Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAS) and State Economic Areas (SEAs).[8] Small counties within larger PUMAs or SEAs are not identified. Consequently, many rural counties are not identifiable through the ACS. It was thus not possible to directly apply HUD thresholds to households living in many rural areas. To ensure that families in rural areas were included in its final estimates, CMS calculated state-level averages of HUD’s estimates of 2017 mean low-income and very-low income thresholds for all counties that were not identified by ACS. It then applied those thresholds to non-metropolitan counties in the ACS.

CMS estimates of the undocumented population are based on the reported characteristics of non-US citizens (noncitizens) in the 2017 one-year microdata of the ACS. Estimates of the undocumented population are based on methodology developed by Warren (2014). The three relevant data items from the survey are country of birth, citizenship, and year of immigration. Noncitizens that entered the United States before 1982 are excluded because (a) pre-1982 entrants could have legalized under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and (b) those who did not legalize have had 28 years (as of 2010) to leave the undocumented resident population.

After selecting noncitizens that entered after 1981, the methodology involves three major steps: (1) applying a series of edits, referred to here as “logical edits,” to identify and remove as many legal residents as possible based on responses in the survey, (2) deriving separate population controls, for 145 countries or areas, for undocumented residents in 2010, and (3) using the population controls (also referred to as ratios) to make final selections of individual respondents in the ACS to be classified as undocumented residents. These procedures yield accurate and detailed estimates of the population each year, and the overall probability of being undocumented is about 90 percent.

Because the ACS does not identify LPRs as such, CMS defines LPRs as individuals who are neither citizens, undocumented, nor nonimmigrants.

[1] For CMS’s analysis of this proposed “public charge” rule, see

[2] Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 811, Section 202, Project-Based Housing, Public Housing, and Section 236.

[3] In the case of public housing applications, HUD also requires that applicants submit references in order to verify their rental history and suitability as tenants.

[4] For additional information about how HUD calculates these thresholds, see here:

[5] HUD also mandates that 75 percent of new households granted Section 8 vouchers each year must be “extremely low income.”

[6] The method CMS used to estimate the undocumented population is described later in this Appendix.

[7] Housing officials take references and applicants’ rental history into account when determining eligibility for public housing. Correspondingly, it is not possible to calculate exact numbers of eligible individuals.

[8] A PUMA is a geographic area containing about 100,000 people. SEAs are generally either single counties or groups of contiguous counties within the same state that had similar economic characteristics when they were originally defined, just prior to the 1950 census. For more information on ACS identification of counties, see


Aratani, Yumiko, Michelle Chau, Vanessa Wight, and Sophia Addy. 2011. “Rent Burden, Housing Subsidies, and the Well-Being of Children and Youth.” New York: National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Aurand, Andrew, Dan Emmanuel, Diane Yentel, Ellen Errico, and Marjorie Pang. 2018. “The GAP: A Shortage of Affordable Homes.” Washington, DC: National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Child Health Impact Working Group. 2005. “Affordable Housing and Child Health: A Child Health Impact Assessment of the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program.” Boston: Child Health Impact Working Group.

Cunningham, Mary, and Graham MacDonald. 2012. “Housing as a Platform for Improving Education Outcomes Among Low-Income Children.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Currie, Janet, and Aaron Yelowitz. 2000. “Are public housing projects good for kids?” Journal of Public Economics 75: 99-124.

Harkness, Joseph, and Sandra J. Newman. 2005. “Housing Affordability and Children’s Well-being: Evidence from the National Survey of America’s Families.” Housing Policy Debate 16(2): 223–55.

Kerwin, Donald, Robert Warren, and Mike Nicholson. 2018. “Proposed Public Charge Rule Would Significantly Reduce Legal Admissions and Adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident Status of Working Class Persons.” CMS Essays. New York: Center for Migration Studies.

Molnar, Janice, William Rath, and Tovah Klein. 1990. “Constantly Compromised: Impact of Homelessness on Children.” Journal of Social Issues 46:4, pp. 109-124.

Newman, Sandra J., and Ann Schnare.1993. “Last in Line: Housing Assistance for Households with Children.” Housing Policy Debate 4(3): 417-56.

Parker, Ruth, Lesilie Rescorla, Jonathan Finkelstein, Nathaniel Barnes, John Holmes, and Paul Stolley. 1991. “A survey of the health of homeless children in Philadelphia shelters.” American Journal of Diseases of Children 145(5): 520-26.

Perl, Libby, and Maggie McCarty. 2017. “Income Ineligibility and Rent in HUD Rental Assistance Programs: Frequently Asked Questions. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development). 2019. “Regulatory Impact Analysis: Housing and Community Development Act of 1980: Verification of Eligible Status. Proposed Rule Docket No. FR-6124-P-01.” Washington, DC.

Warren, Robert. 2014. “Democratizing Data about Unauthorized Residents in the United States: Estimates and Public-Use Data, 2010 to 2013.” Journal on Migration and Human Security 2(4): 305–28.

Wood, Michelle, Jennifer Turnham, and Gregory Mills. 2008. “Housing Affordability and Family Well-Being: Results from the Housing Voucher Evaluation.” Housing Policy Debate 19(2): 367–412.

Wood, David. 1989. “Homeless children: their evaluation and treatment.” Journal of Pediatric Health Care 3(4): 194-99.

Wood, David, R. Burciaga Valdez, Toshi Hayashi, and Albert Sen. 1990. “Health of homeless children and housed, poor children.” Pediatrics 86(6): 858-66.

Zima, Bonnie, Kenneth Wells, and Howard Freeman. 1994. “Emotional and behavioral problems and severe academic delays among sheltered homeless children in Los Angeles County.” American Journal of Public Health 84(2): 260-64.