OSU Navigation Bar

The Ohio State University

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

Proposed Public Housing Solution Opens New Choices and Opportunity | Race-Talk | 296

Proposed Public Housing Solution Opens New Choices and Opportunity

Filed under: Featured,Housing,Politics |

As our nation focuses on how to climb out of a recession and how to overcome an unprecedented and unrelenting housing crisis, let’s not overlook another less visible crisis:  our public housing crisis. It is important to take to heart President Obama’s State of the Union advice not to ignore the most vulnerable. Public housing is expressly designed to fill this critical last-ditch need. It is time to examine this system.

Decades of disinvestment have contributed to the deterioration and neglect of our existing public housing stock, resulting in the loss of nearly 150,000 units in the past fifteen years. The backlog of current repairs could cost upwards of $30 billion, far more than Congress provides annually for upkeep and maintenance. At the same time, the number of families who are homeless or in need of housing assistance has grown in the face of current economic challenges.

Even if our public housing was in excellent condition, the location of many of these units is troubling. Much of our public housing remains in areas that are isolated both economically and racially, with limited access to opportunity. Five decades of social science research have shown the overwhelming importance of housing to individual life chances. Housing is a key point of access to economic and educational opportunities for children and families:  high-performing schools, safe places to play, employment, healthy food, financial services, health care providers, and supportive peer and civic networks, among others. Conversely, unstable, unsafe or racially and economically isolated housing has severely negative health and developmental impacts.

The Rental Housing Revitalization Act which was recently introduced by Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota has the potential to stem the loss of public housing units while simultaneously opening new choices in areas of opportunity for residents and reducing concentrated poverty. The bill would allow local public housing agencies to leverage public and private funds to repair and renovate public housing properties rather than relying on HUD’s annual contributions alone.  This would improve the quality and condition of existing public housing rather than let it fall into irreversible disrepair. The measure would also give public housing residents a choice to remain in their current housing unit or to use a voucher to move near family, a better job, or better schools. Any vacated public housing unit would then remain available to another household.

Despite these benefits, the proposed measure has come under attack for being a privatization scheme. These concerns are overstated. The proposed approach simply recognizes that the current system is unsustainable, and the piecemeal approach to repair and replacement is inadequate. The bill contains an unprecedented combination of measures designed to protect tenants and the public from the loss of public housing. While public housing agencies are able to access private financing under this bill, the housing remains under public control. In the unlikely event of a foreclosure, this bill requires HUD or another public entity to purchase the property.  This bill adds access to private financing while keeping the housing public.

Given the grim history of siting low-income housing in racially and economically isolated neighborhoods and demolishing public housing before securing adequate replacement stock, housing advocates are justified to have concerns. While I have been publicly critical of some of HUD’s past practices, I believe that this measure represents one of the most important reforms to housing policy in more than a generation. We are losing public housing stock at an alarming rate, and much of our public housing stock remains located in areas with poor access to opportunity.

The Rental Housing Revitalization Act is not a panacea, but it is a significant step forward. It would increase access to more housing options while preserving our current housing stock. It offers options for choice, and strong protections for tenants’ rights. Furthermore, it streamlines an inefficient jumble of separate housing policies that can be difficult to navigate for both housing advocates and tenants.

Transforming public housing would provide a chance to move people to opportunity – a move for which the time has come.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>