Federal Public Housing: Separate and Unequal?

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a report to Congress, which highlighted that in 2007 13 million Americans paid more than half of their income toward rent. This has come after 15 years of disinvestment in federal housing programs and almost 8 years of an administration that emphasized affordable homeownership over affordable rental housing.

The Obama Administration, however, wants to begin to focus on preserving federal affordable rental housing, and HUD has thus submitted a new piece of legislation titled: Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act (PETRA).

Last week, Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of HUD, posted an article on the Huffington Post discussing general aspects of PETRA and how it can preserve housing and give families more choice. He outlined the legislations 3 main points:

1. “…This bill would change the funding structure to leverage public and private capital and open public housing to retail businesses like grocery stores, schools and other community anchors – changing not who owns this housing or who is served by it, but rather, how it is financed.” He was clear that this would not privatize public housing but allow it to remain affordable by giving it the ability to access more resources as other federal affordable housing programs already do.

2. “…The complexity of HUD’s programs is part of the problem. Today, families are required to fill out dozens of applications processed by scores of administrators simply to have a decent chance of receiving the assistance they need.” “…This legislation will ensure that our programs are fairer, easier for families to access, less costly to operate, and more efficiently administered.”

3.  Families would be given a housing voucher if they needed to move out of public housing to be closer to work or other necessary resources while also preserving the public housing unit for another family. “…This bill would allow us to provide portable vouchers to residents so they can move to another unit if needed, but also allow us to preserve the original unit for another vulnerable family.”

Interestingly, Secretary Donovan also compares the current housing system to the pre-Civil Rights era “Separate but Equal” philosophy, saying: “I believe a separate housing system for low-income families is also inherently unequal. The time has come to make public housing work for families – to complete this unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement and ensure that all families can live in sustainable, vibrant communities of opportunity and choice. That is what this legislation is about.”

To read the Huffington Post article click here.


One thought on “Federal Public Housing: Separate and Unequal?

  1. very interesting, but the part about having public housing have its own schools, stores etc. sounds a bit like N.Y. did years ago and their public housing such as in the Bronx, has become merely cities within cities and can end up creating nothing more than separate but unequal cities unto themselves. not a good idea.

    better if we just put the money into more mobile subsidies so that families can be freer to live where they want and thus afford. This would truly blend all incomes together far more than housing projects etc. In NYC the projects even have their own police stations. all subsidized housing options must come with time limits, supported services and clearly a ‘way out’


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