Judge Forces HUD to Allow 200,000 Section 8 Holders to Get their Move On

Gulfport   Another day, another dollar, and again a judge, this time a federal one, pulls the rope up to ground again to take another small step in preventing the country from going to hell in a hand basket.

The judge, Beryl Howell, of the prestigious U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, overturned a HUD attempt to subvert a late stage Obama rule allowing Section 8 voucher recipients increased mobility in finding rental accommodations and improving equity prospects for their families. Secretary Ben Carson and HUD under pressure from Home Builders and other lobbyists had delayed the rule change for two years, ostensibly for more study and claiming that it might allow local housing authorities more time to get their acts together.

The immediate impact is huge because it allows 200,000 section 8 voucher holders in twenty-three different metropolitan areas to take advantage of the ruling and access a wider range of neighborhoods and higher rental allowances. The metro areas are a good cross section of the country: Atlanta, Bergen-Passaic, N.J, Charlotte, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Worth, Gary (Ind), Hartford, Jackson, Ms, Jacksonville, FL, Monmouth, NJ, Sarasota, FL, Melbourne, Fla, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, Tampa, Honolulu, Washington, and West Palm Beach.

Here’s why this decision and the rule itself is so important.

As the provision of public housing has plummeted the fig leaf standing for US social housing policy has been the provision of Section 8 vouchers to subsidize the rent for low income families in privately offered apartments. This is not an entitlement program. Vouchers are not unlimited, pushing hundreds of thousands across the country on to waiting lists, seemingly forever. Vouchers are also time-limited making it virtually impossible in some tight housing markets (see the list above) for holders to find decent, affordable units and landlords, who have huge power in this equation, to agree to rent to them.

The previous way of calculating the rental subsidy was to figure the average for the entire metropolitan area. In tight markets with highly divergent rental levels, the rule effectively meant that the only available units were in lower income neighborhoods, boxing families out of opportunities for better schools, job networks, and other social and economic advantages. The new rule, now reinstated, calculates the average rents and the subsidy level by zip codes, essentially opening up the entire metropolitan area for potential occupancy by section 8 voucher holders, because the levels of subsidy will rise with the relative amenities of the neighborhood.

Sure, it will obviously cost the government more, but it will open up increased opportunities for lower income families, allow us to make some desperately needed progress on racial and equity issues, and generally diversify our neighborhoods. The next step will be to expand this rule nationally, past these twenty-three metropolitan areas, but for now, this is good news, allowing families to get their move on!


Not the Doctor to Fix America’s Housing and Urban Issues

558New Orleans  It is hard to escape the feeling that the only reason that President-elect Trump is preparing to recommend Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is because he is an African-American, and that somehow aligns with Trump’s view of those parts of urban America where he doesn’t have any financial interests in golf courses, hotels, or casinos and are too far to be seen from any of his towers. I can almost see his gears grinding as he comes to the conclusion that urban means crime means black, so let’s tweet!

Carson might argue, as undoubtedly he will, that he’s “good to go” in this job because he lived in public housing in Detroit. If that’s a qualification for running the immensely important HUD operation, then there are several million residents of public or subsidized housing that would arguably be more able to make that case for their own candidacy than than the rich, right neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Paul Newman was probably Trump’s first choice to run HUD, because after all he starred in a movie called “Hud,” so that probably would have been perfect in Trump-tweet-world, and he probably was disappointed when someone told him that Newman was now dead.

Carson is wrongheaded, but that is not to say that he’s not a smart man, which is why he dillydallied around for weeks after his name first surfaced, probably hoping that he would be offered something different where he wouldn’t have had to buy a clue. Bromides about bootstraps are not really a plan for fair housing or urban development. Retooling Community Development Block Grant money, specifically designed for lower income communities into some kind of pretzel-shaped monstrosity that funds real estate developments and hotels and other stuff that the boss in the White House might embrace, is hardly a fix for anything other than some developer’s profit-and-loss statement.

The only thing that emerged clearly from Carson’s campaign was his interest in increasing his book sales. Even if he cajoles every housing authority in the country into buying a copy, someone needs to tell him that most housing project residents are not going to be running over to make sure one of his volumes is in their libraries. The campaign was recent enough that most of us can recall that in the debates, Dr. Carson was pretty much lost at sea on both domestic and international issues, none of which will make anyone who cares about the desperate needs of urban America sleep better knowing that he is running the show.

The fact that Carson has no experience in running anything doesn’t matter to Trump and almost seems like nitpicking for us to point out since almost none of Trump’s other appointees have much of any experience with the content of their coming portfolios either. I would hate to pick on Carson for that, because it would seem like I was discriminating. Nonetheless, former Philadelphia Mayor Nutter may have said it best in talking to a Times reporter about the likely incoming HUD Secretary:

“I’m proud that I had seven years with President Barack Obama, who actually knew about community development because he was a community organizer,” Mr. Nutter said. “To the Philadelphia city government: Good luck dealing with the Trump administration.”

And, good luck to the rest of us and the country!