WASHINGTON — Landlords and local officials across the country say a White House proposal to eject undocumented immigrants from subsidized housing would displace some of their most reliable tenants and add major financial strains to an already cash-strapped system.
Officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, prodded by hard-liners like Stephen Miller, President Trump’s top immigration adviser, say the proposal, which would prohibit households with at least one unauthorized immigrant from living in federally subsidized housing, is needed to ensure that only verified citizens receive the benefits.
But landlords and local public housing administrators who would have to evict as many as 108,000 people receiving benefits say the plan would, in essence, add immigration enforcement to their responsibility of providing shelter to some of the nation’s most vulnerable families. Undocumented immigrants, they say, generally pay the rent on time, in part out of fear of attracting attention and referrals to law enforcement.
“The housing authority would bear the brunt of the expense of having to completely evict and go through the court action of having to evict these families,” said Sylvia Blanco, the chief operating officer at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Tex. “We would be on the hook for having to pay for that.”
The government’s housing program includes public housing projects as well as vouchers for subsidized rent in buildings managed by private landlords. Although unauthorized immigrants are not allowed to receive federal housing subsidies, families of mixed immigration status can live in subsidized housing if one family member — even a child — is a legal resident.
Federal housing officials have said the proposal would reduce the backlog of more than 4.2 million people nationwide who are on waiting lists for housing vouchers and public housing. But the department’s own analysis found that the policy would mostly displace thousands of children who are in the country legally. Local housing officials fear the regulation would also add to costs for landlords and increase the homeless population.
Public housing administrators say they would need to verify the immigration status of every resident every year. Administrators would also have to issue eviction notices, potentially take families to court and move them out. Ms. Blanco said legal fees and staff expenses for each eviction in Austin would cost about $1,000 per household. She said more than 40 families who rely on vouchers in Austin are at risk of losing assistance from the proposal.
In Los Angeles, where more than 30 percent of people living in public housing are mixed immigration families, the cost of enforcing the policy would be nearly $10 million.
“You can imagine, if you’re forcing the eviction of nearly one-third of these very large public housing sites, the impact that has on households as well as the broader community,” said Doug Guthrie, the president and chief executive of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
Under the current system, although undocumented immigrants may live with families receiving house subsidies, the assistance is prorated based on the number of eligible members of the family.
“Most of our members are saying that’s a process that works,” said Tim Kaiser, the executive director of the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association, referring to the current law. “It’s a system that’s been in place that’s fair. They don’t want to see this practice changed.”
An analysis by the housing department found that many families would leave their homes out of fear of family separation. Thousands of legal residents and citizens, including 55,000 children in the country legally, could also be displaced.
Many career officials in the department said they were alarmed by the policy, and have pushed for a provision that would allow for a renewable six-month extension for tenants facing eviction.
Even Ben Carson, the housing secretary, questioned the regulations when they were sent to him by the White House. But Mr. Carson did not object, according to people familiar with the situation, and expressed no reservations at a hearing last month on Capitol Hill.
“It’s not that we’re cruel, mean-hearted,” Mr. Carson said. “It’s that we are logical. This is common sense. You take care of your own first.”
A housing department spokesman offered a fact sheet about the proposal but did not respond to specific questions.
In addition to the added toll for local housing authorities, the housing department’s analysis concluded that enforcing the policy would cost the agency $193 million to $227 million in the first year.
Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restricting immigration, said the costs were worth it.
“That’s a short-term expense in the long run,” Mr. Krikorian said. “Obviously it’s going to help Americans because more Americans are going to be able to benefit from the subsidy.”
After a family leaves, the public housing provider would then have to prepare the unit, which includes cleaning and repairs. Mr. Guthrie said preparing a public housing unit can cost $10,000 in Los Angeles.
Private landlords would have trouble enforcing the law, too. If a family loses assistance in the private sector, the landlord would then have to charge them the market rate.
“Most likely they can’t afford the market rent, so they’d have to evict them for nonpayment,” said Denise Muha, the executive director of the National Leased Housing Association, which represents both public and private housing providers.
Cutting off vouchers for mixed-status families, which are used to supplement their incomes when paying rent, could discourage private landlords from renting to future families with vouchers.
“Private landlords have their pick of renters that can pay their price,” said Ms. Blanco of the Housing Authority in Austin. “Once they catch wind of this — that we’re needing to terminate assistance for closer to 40-plus families — that’s going to have a negative impact on our ability to attract landlords. It has so many ripple effects.”
The housing authority administrators and landlords also worry that many of the displaced families would fail to find homes because of a nationwide shortage in affordable housing.
“Los Angeles has a very serious homelessness problem here that has been getting worse,” Mr. Guthrie said. “This does nothing more than to put as many 11,000 plus individuals back into a situation of potentially becoming homeless.”
At Mr. Guthrie’s Rancho San Pedro housing development, families are already panicking over the policy.
“This rule hasn’t been implemented yet, but it’s already frightened everyone and shaken their tranquillity,” said Beatriz Mendez, president of the development’s resident advisory council. “That is already causing trauma to the children of those families.”