This segment begins at ~10:30 of Episode 6. Have a listen!
For more episodes, visit: https://www.tarbellnyc.com/discon
Public housing has long been demonized in the United States. And it is been under a relentless assault by both parties for years, with the Democrats being particularly culpable for changing laws to bring about a new neoliberal dystopia where public housing barely exists. Here’s the big picture:
There are 1.2 million units of public housing in the US, in a country of 300 million people. 15% of those units, or 179,000, are in NYC
Compare that to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is less than 3% the size of the US—only 7.8 million people live there—but there are 766K rental public housing units and and 2.6 MILLION total units of subsidized public housing!
Now, it may not surprise you that our spending on public housing is paltry compared to the rest of the world—but did you know that the United States, since 1998, has effectively FROZEN the number of public housing units, stopping any new construction that would increase the number of public housing units?
In 1998, 1-term Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) created the “Faircloth Amendment” or “Faircloth Limit” to the “Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act,” which blocked HUD (the Dept of Housing and Urban Development) support for construction of new public housing. As the NY Observer noted, “cities must manage the number it has, subtracting a few dozen or hundred from one project while adding others elsewhere.”
Fun fact about 1-term Senator Faircloth—when Bill Clinton was doing Welfare Reform, Senator Faircloth tried to insist that unwed teen mothers be banned from receiving any welfare at all. From an AP article from 1995: “Faircloth said the ban on aid to young mothers was needed to combat illegitimacy, which he said is at the root of welfare dependency.” This man’s amendment banning future public housing construction is still on the books.
But not only can we not build new public housing, we can’t even properly repair the housing we do have!
The tiny amount of funds allocated for repairs all but ensures that the total number of public housing units will only decrease more rapidly over time: in 2013, after sequestration, the US spent only $1.777BN in capital expenditures—money that can be used for repairs.
US Public Housing Hall of Shame
But freezing the number of units of public housing that can exists isn’t all the US has done. I’d like to walk you through the Hall of Shame of public housing reform since the 1990s.
1. Hope VI
The Clinton Administration created a program called Hope VI, whose purpose was to demolish and rebuild dilapidated public housing. It created huge grants of 20-$30 million that allow public housing authorities to demolish the public housing and rebuild it. There is no 1-for-1 replacement requirement; it was repealed in 1996 during the Clinton Administration because of concerns that this requirement did not appeal to investors
This program has been widely criticized, because while it has been successful in eliminating blight, it displaces residents: redevelopment takes up to ten years. Development wasn’t done in a way that respected communities. And when people are displaced, there is no evidence that people do better, and in many cases people do worse: for example, income outcomes and educational outcomes are worse for displaced residents than they are for those who get to stay in public housing.
2. George W Bush and Katrina
The GWB Admininistration did not particularly like Hope VI, because it was spending $ on public housing period, but it continued during his tenure, and was used to a greater extent as a way to land grab, especially the “Big 4” housing developments in New Orleans post-Katrina.
While a Senator, Barack Obama wrote a letter calling on then-President George W Bush not to destroy the public housing in New Orleans. The letter said “No public housing should be demolished until HUD can point to an equivalent number of replacement units in the near vicinity”
This is truly sad & hypocritical given what Obama would do once he took the Presidency…
3. Choice Neighborhoods
When the Obama Administration had a Democratic Majority, he stated he wants to address the problems with Hope VI. He reformed the program into something called “Choice Neighborhoods,” changing the criteria for what developments could be razed. Instead of looking at which properties were in the greatest disrepair, or needed it most, they began looking for neighborhoods that will reach a tipping point in 10 years.
Under “Choice Neighborhoods,” if the neighborhood can demonstrate that they are up-and-coming, they are more eligible for a grant. But because the public housing demolished isn’t replaced 1-for-1 with new units, and is replaced by mixed-income housing, what this turns into is just a gentrification machine.
image via Julia Kumari Drapkin, Nola.com
Despite the fact that Obama condemned tearing down public housing when Bush did it in New Orleans, Obama’s Choice Neighborhoods program has led to the demolition of the Iberville public housing project in New Orleans.
The AP acknowledged that the strategy is based on gentrification in a 2012 article called ‘New Orleans’ post-Katrina gentrification is touchy’:
“The demolition is part of a $31 million HUD “choice neighborhoods” project, a concept pushed by the Obama administration across the nation. HUD hopes that by starting the process of gentrification, private investment will follow and the communities will become desirable places for all races and classes to live in.”
Obama didn’t stop at “Choice Neighborhoods”; When the Democrats were in the majority, Obama, through HUD, tried to move public housing towards privatization in a program called PETRA.
The program would allow public housing agencies to MORTGAGE their public housing to banks, essentially privatizing the housing. They would then use the money given to them by HUD to pay down the mortgage. Banks could seize the housing should the housing authority go into foreclosure;
A bill was submitted to the House, and was eventually killed by Barney Frank and Maxine Waters. But then the Obama administration snuck language into a funding bill in the Senate that allowed a more pared back version, with fewer units eligible.
You should know that the Obama Administration’s policy is that public housing is not a public good that deserves to be funded through the Federal Government
5. More Restrictions
And now this year, the Obama administration is back at it AGAIN. President Obama supports raising the minimum rent that can be charged by public housing authorities—to a level higher than even the Republicans asked for;
This is a move that has been criticized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who state that “minimum rent generally affects only the most impoverished recipients, including many who would be at high risk of homelessness in the absence of rental assistance.”
If that were not enough, President Obama is trying, through his 2014 budget, to expand housing authorities’ ability to set restrictions on residents—like adding work requirements, or limiting the number of years they can live in public housing. They cite as justification the long waits for those who need public housing to get into the programs. As of 2012, 160,000 families were on the waiting list in NYC, for example. But: why isn’t their solution is to provide more public housing?
As reported by the WSJ, “The National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group, said the change would force people off housing assistance before they are ready. ‘You are just cycling these families back to the end of these waiting lists,” says Linda Couch of the coalition. “The answer is more affordable housing; it’s not moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.’”
There is a great group called the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who have a proposal that says for $30 billion a year for 10 years, we could end homelessness in America. You can read their report on their website, http://nlihc.org/unitedforhomes, and you should definitely follow them on twitter @NLIHC
Also, you should Tell your congressperson that it’s time we repair our public housing, and lift the Faircloth limit to allow new units to be built!
There was a bill in 2010 to repeal the Faircloth Limit that freezes the number of public housing units—co-sponsored by Rep Barney Frank and Rep Maxine Waters called “Public Housing One-for-One Replacement and Tenant Protection Act.” It’s an idea worth bringing back.
If you would like to tweet at your member of Congress, click to tweet this sample tweet to @SenatorReid and @NancyPelosi (please change to your Reps!):
Congress must ACT on the $21BN+ in needed repairs to public housing. & we must repeal the