After 10 years as a home-health aide, Karon Taylor earns just $11 an hour. She has a teenage daughter, and she's also raising two grandchildren. So she has a hard time seeing how the government could improve her economic prospects by raising her rent.
"I'm a working mom, and I still sometimes have to go to the food pantry," said Taylor, who lives in a townhouse on the East Side.
Her family is among more than four million low-income households across the United States that could see their federally subsidized rents rise significantly under a proposal by Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who says increasing rents and work requirements are a means to boost self-sufficiency.
According to an analysis done by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provided to the Associated Press, low-income tenants who receive federal housing assistance in the nation's 100 largest metro areas would have to pay about 20 percent more each year for rent under the plan. That's about six times the growth in average hourly earnings. Like Taylor, many of those renters already have jobs.
"I know how to budget, and I can stretch $20 really far," said Taylor, who now pays $492 a month in rent. "Wages — that's the problem."
Congress would have to approve the proposal, and housing advocates say they're hopeful most legislators won't support the Trump administration's effort to scale back housing assistance for the country's poorest families.
"It would make people who are very vulnerable, and who are struggling on the edges in our society, that much more precarious," said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. "To make their lives less stable is an outrage."
The center estimates that rents for more than 400,000 people in Ohio, among the 10 states facing the biggest percentage rent increases, would jump by an average of 23 percent, or $730 per year, to $3,910. In the Columbus area, the projected annual increase is about $740, or 22.3 percent.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has said elderly or disabled households would be exempt, but thousands of households could lose their elderly or disabled status and face higher rents, according to the analysis by the center, which advocates for the poor. In Columbus, the changes could affect more than 62,000 people, including 9,500 elderly residents, 8,300 people with disabilities and 27,800 children.
Carson's "Make Affordable Housing Work Act" was announced in late April. It would allow housing authorities to impose work requirements, increase the percentage of income that tenants are required to pay to 35 percent, up from 30 percent, and would raise the minimum rent from $50 to $150. It also would eliminate deductions for medical care, child care and for each child in the home.
"It's our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty," Carson said in an interview with Fox News.
Faith said the proposal reflects an administration that is out of touch, unsympathetic and without innovative approaches to housing policy.
"I'm not close-minded to cost savings that could be directed into serving more people," Faith said, but he questions why such an effort wouldn't be aimed at financial institutions and housing developers. "The first thing we'll do is make the poor pay?"
Bryan Brown, chief operating officer for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, said the average household income in the agency's family units is $14,941 a year, with tenants paying an average of $240 a month in rent. For tenants with housing vouchers, which allow them to rent on the private market, average household income is $15,452, and the tenant's share of rent is about $288.
Even those who are employed, such as Taylor, are close to the limit of what they can manage. Columbus' vibrant economy and fast-growing population continue to fuel a white-hot housing market that pushes home prices and rents ever higher. According to the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, rents have been rising at twice the pace of income, and more than 54,000 of Franklin County's poorest households spend more than 50 percent of income on housing.
"We are already in an affordable housing crisis," Brown said. "We have an eviction problem. The last thing we need is a federal policy that makes more low-income people housing insecure."
The policy center's analysis is based on 2016 HUD data, and includes tenants living in public housing and tenants receiving Section 8 and project-based vouchers.
"If these programs were not around, there would be a lot more people out there impoverished or homeless," said DeShaunte Upchurch, a 38-year-old medical assistant who lives on the Northeast Side. She has been successful in HUD's family self-sufficiency program, which helps tenants gradually reduce their dependency on rental subsidies.
"I was able to slowly but surely reach this point," Upchurch said. She has advanced in her job, is moving off assistance and can cover her $700-a-month rent.
"But not everyone is going to make it to that mark," she said, and increasing their housing costs won't help. "To hear that this might be possible is kind of sad."
Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.