Sunday, May 15, 2011

The WaPo on HOME: good investigation but some cockeyed assumptions

Good investigation in lots of ways, this "Million-Dollar Wasteland" project in the Washington Post. Good discussion of waste caused by lack of followthrough in affordable housing projects that stall for money reasons. Good investigation (far as an outsider can tell) of alleged corruption in Anacostia.

However, I see two problems with the way the news articles describe the scope of the project:

- The series focuses on the HOME Investment Partnerships program alone but uses phrases like "the nation's housing fund" confusingly. This can obscure HOME's status as one of many sources of money to build new low-income or "affordable" (often middle-income) housing. Others include the McKinney-Vento Continuum of Care programs, 202/811 funding for elderly or disabled tenants, low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), both HUD and USDA rural housing grants, VA veterans' housing programs... heck, I'm not even thinking of the biggest ones off the top of my head. Easiest way to get an idea is to look at the National Low Income Housing Coalitions' Advocates' Guide here.

- The series doesn't quite explain clearly that HOME funding is often the icing that glues together a multilayered cake of public and private financing to make a project. LIHTC developments, for example, often use small dollops of HOME funds, when they can get them, to make up the difference between the actual demands of a new project and financing obtained from private investors in exchange for tax credits. This means projects making big use of HOME funds are especially likely to be hovering at the edge of possibility -- hence projects that are likely to get stalled.

Not to say the rest of HUD is amazingly wonderful or amazingly different -- just to explain that this investigation concerns just one part of a much bigger whole.

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