NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

What Course For Public Housing?

December 28, 1998

Analysts confess that government-subsidized housing for the poor presents a paradox. Should the goal be to give preference to stable families whose members are employed, but whose income is low? Or should public housing be reserved for the unemployed and poorest of the poor, whose lives are full of drugs, violence and hopelessness?

Experts point out that encouraging the upwardly mobile poor -- who bring some stability to housing projects -- to find private housing and vacate as soon as possible is somewhat self- defeating. Stability goes with them, leaving the projects to the mercies of gangs and drug dealers.

  • According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, about 5 percent of the U.S. population pays more than half its income for housing or lives in housing of very poor quality.
  • That's 12.5 million people whom federal housing policy is meant to serve -- nearly three times as many as the 4.3 million who get housing assistance now.
  • Congress recently passed legislation to create 50,000 housing vouchers aimed at assisting welfare families' transition to work.

So, in effect, housing assistance becomes a lottery which some win -- and others don't.

Source: Timothy Noah, "The Paradox of Public Housing," Fortune, January 11, 1998.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues