Friday, March 25, 2011

CBPP backing into support for privatization?

Compromise is a funny thing. So often it's necessary but wrong but seemingly necessary but still wrong.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where the take on housing is intelligently liberal, just posted a depressing report, with summarizing blog item, that kinda sorta gives in to the idea of privatizing public housing.

The report says maybe it makes sense to shift some public housing over to Section 8 contracts, if only to keep the roofs repaired now that Congress has cut so much out of maintenance budgets. It's giving carefully phrased and hedged support to an Obama Administration proposal for a "demonstration" proposal "that HUD estimates would convert 255,000 public housing units to Section 8 subsidies at a cost of $170 million."

We are, yes, talking about the famous "Transforming Rental Assistance" proposal, also known as PETRA and, more recently, RHRA. Among some advocates -- anti-homelessness organizers anyway -- it's cause for fear. The problem being that privatization can mean switching clientele, from actual poor people to modestly prosperous tenants who only just qualify as candidates for "affordable housing." It wouldn't happen all the time. It might happen some of the time. That might be bad enough for the households displaced.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a helpful page on the privatization idea.

A letter by the "Resident Engagement Group" of tenant representatives spells out some of the problems. As the group notes, Section 8 conversion doesn't necessarily mean privatization -- it could mean ownership by some other public entity -- but it's scary close. Their concerns, apart from the possible loss of public ownership, have to do partly with tenant rights, including the rights tenants have under public programs but not necessarily with private landlords. Also whether Section 8 conversions will actually keep the units subsidized for another generation -- twenty or thirty years. Yes, and "protections in the event of foreclosure." Because we know now that investments do go wrong.

Scary stuff. The CBPP report mentions many of the same worries, cites many of the same needs for protections. But it suggests Section 8 conversion can be done right. Can it?

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