In October 2013, some renters in Charlotte, N.C., received notice: To maintain their federal housing assistance, they soon would be required to work.
The requirement wasn’t onerous, just 15 hours a week. But it was the start of the Charlotte Housing Authority’s efforts to move people off the rolls and toward being able to afford housing on their own.
Today, there’s a waiting list of more than 13,000 households for housing vouchers in Charlotte. Usually, the list is closed — at the time the notices were sent out, the list had opened up only once in the millennium.
Across the country, one in every four people who qualify for federal housing aid receive it. To close that gap, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed getting people off assistance and into self-sufficiency, including through experimentation with work requirements. The former neurosurgeon argues that if people get good jobs, they can move out of government-assisted housing or give up vouchers. That, in turn, would open up spots for others who need them.
Carson and congressional Republicans are seeking to pass legislation this year that would allow housing authorities all over the country to experiment with work requirements and other changes meant to encourage work.
They’re basing their case for the overhaul on the track record of the program that allowed Charlotte to experiment with several pro-work policies.