"The cost of living in Oakland is outrageous," leshia Moss says as she shows me around her community on Twenty-Fourth and Wood Street. She's right. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland, California, is about $2,200 a month, well beyond her means. And so, like everyone else in her encampment, Moss has constructed a hut out of discarded junk.
"Just because we live on the street doesn't mean we're homeless," Moss insists.
The encampment, which houses about two dozen people, has existed for nearly five years. During that time, homelessness has increased by the thousands in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, due in part to cuts in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to a 2015 report, "the recent loss of redevelopment funds reduced the city's annual affordable housing funds from $20-25 million to $5-7 million."
The situation is not likely to improve anytime soon. HUD's controversial secretary, Ben Carson, voices at best tepid support for his own department's existence, let alone its mission of providing fair housing.
Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, faults Trump for tapping operatives to head federal agencies. "My fears are that there are people in Carson's ear who don't know anything about public housing or who fully understand and are working to undermine it," she says.
Carson backed the President's call to severely slash funding for HUD, but Congress refused to go along, restoring the proposed cuts and more in March. Undaunted, Carson proposed significantly raising the rents of families living in subsidized public housing. The Make Affordable Housing Work Act, which needs Congressional approval, would raise the share of rent paid by public housing residents from 30 percent to 35 percent of household income.
Carson's apparent indifference to the plight of people barely able to afford housing comes as the nation faces a historic cost-of-living crisis. According to HUD's own estimates, more than 550,000 people were homeless in the United States last year. And Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies estimated that 18.8 million U.S. households were severely burdened in 2015, meaning they devoted at least half of their incomes to housing expenses.
"Oh my God, these prices are terrible," Rachel Johnson tells me by phone about her housing search in the Miami area.
Johnson is an organizer for the Faces of HUD Housing Unity Project, which connects tenants in subsidized housing. She lodges with friends, helping them with their own housing struggles. Several years ago, she got in trouble when taking care of her routinely sick daughter made retaining jobs difficult. In greater Miami, more than half of families spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, one of the highest rates in the nation.
Johnson lists the jobs she's taken to afford rent, from secretarial work and bartending to collecting cans. Her income often isn't enough. At one point, Johnson slept in her car in a Walmart parking lot while working shifts as a bartender.
"My life was a series of evictions," Johnson says.
These experiences convinced her to join Right To The City Alliance, a national group that operates as a network of local movements. Now Johnson keeps track of buildings that receive Section 8 funding through HUD, which are subject to...