HUD’s plan would increase the minimum to $150, but it also includes needed flexibility for cities.
The rationale for Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was that the government should take a more active role in helping people get on their feet. Today the federal government is more active than ever in this regard, but whether its efforts are truly helping is debatable.
Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon who now runs the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, understands that often the best way for the government to help the poor is by getting out of their way. In an interview Monday, Mr. Carson explained to me how some of America’s federal rental-assistance programs have become barriers to upward mobility by effectively discouraging work, marriage and other behaviors that tend to help people advance economically.
“We have stagnation,” Mr. Carson said. “We have people in public housing not for a few years but for a few generations, with no incentive to come out.” In New York City, which has the nation’s largest public-housing system, the average tenant has been there for almost 20 years. “We’re trying to get people out of chronic poverty.”
Many of Mr. Carson’s critics are more interested in defending a status quo that keeps poor people dependent on government aid. HUD is urging Congress to pass legislation allowing local public-housing authorities, among other things, to impose work requirements and reduce red tape. In public housing, the more money you make, the more you pay in rent. The incentives couldn’t be more perverse, often leading people to hide income or work less.