NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 31, 1997

Some specialists say it is time to admit public housing's obvious failure and return to the tradition of strong, even if poor, neighborhoods based on private ownership.

Critics say Republicans and Democrats are only tinkering around the edges with plans to attract more working families to the projects, spend $1 billion on fixing up existing projects and building 4,000 new units. Putting low-income housing back into the marketplace, they contend, is the best way to improve conditions.

  • Before the advent of public housing some 60 years ago, poor neighborhoods were places where many small landlords owned modest homes and rented out apartments -- often living on the premises.
  • Ownership -- or the hope of it -- supplied the incentive to keep up one's property and the neighborhood.
  • It also allowed poor "slumlord" owners and their families essentially to pay off their mortgages from the rents, while saving pay from outside jobs to eventually buy a better house and move up the economic ladder.
  • Housing specialists point out that public housing carries none of these incentives -- being basically a dead-end for residents.

Moreover, public housing undermines ownership in poor neighborhoods by competing with private landlords for tenants.

Advocates of privatizing public housing say the units and land could be allowed to melt into the general housing supply over time. To help the transition to private ownership they recommend research into new, low-cost housing forms and ways in which local jurisdictions could dismantle regulations that prevent building inexpensive, but safe, housing.

Source: Howard Husock (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University), "Back to Private Housing," Wall Street Journal, July 31, 1997.


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