Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rent is the need, not construction

In HUD's latest Cityscape publication, Professor John M. Quigley points out an absurdity that's easy to overlook: For most people who have housing problems, the problem isn't a shortage of wholesome indoor space at any price. Instead it's the lack of enough money to open one of the doors with empty rooms behind them.

He's right. This isn't postwar Europe or the Depression-era United States. It's a country full of empty foreclosed houses and condos and evicted people living in their cars or worse.

U.S. housing programs tend to presume that poor people need housing specially constructed for them -- and thence flow both insulting assumptions about what poor people need, and profitable fictions about what professional managers, contractors, and investors need to build housing for poor people.

Quigley argues that housing subsidies should become part of the national welfare system. I can see counter-arguments that recipients of a housing benefit that was identified as welfare would be stigmatized. But how would the stigma be worse than it already is, for example, for Section 8 subsidy holders who face landlord discrimination in places like Lancaster, California?

Incidentally, Quigley uses an amazing phrase to slap down the argument that a new welfare program would encourage people to demand higher wages:
"Objections exist to the labor supply implications of adding another income-based entitlement program to the array of federal policies. Much of this concern seems misguided, or else simply rationalizes opposition to a more transparent and universal housing assistance program."
That first sentence is just an astonishingly bloodless formulation of the Less Eligibility Principle.

Anyhow, a pretty thoughtful article. Good on HUD for posting it.

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