Terrible Idea of the Day: Evict Public Housing Tenants!

New Orleans     Almost everyone else in America knows that we have a national affordable housing crisis.  Maybe someone in Washington could take a minute out of their day pop by or send an email to Dr. Ben Carson, the head of Trump’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) operation responsible for housing and give him a clue about the housing dilemma facing lower income families that is his responsibility by law.

Not having a clue, Carson is now proposing to take several draconian steps to punish the poor in public housing.  On one hand he is trying to time-limit public housing so that it is a temporary benefit rather than long term based on income.  This proposal affects millions of low income families.  Work requirements would be part of the package.  On the other hand, Carson wants to triple the rents of the poorest of the families in public housing or benefiting from section 8 housing support vouchers in private housing by raising the minimum rent from $50 to $150 over a period of time.  This proposal over time would hurt 750,000 people according to HUD.

I have to wonder where Carson and HUD, along with their governmental pushers and enablers, think that people will go if they are priced or timed out of public housing? Perhaps the streets?  No, that wouldn’t work.  The rich and politicians don’t like vast and increasing numbers of homeless on the streets.  The only thing certain is that they will hope and pray that the poor are invisible to them, which seems the only policy that has their full commitment.  But, wait, I must be pretending that they care about the consequences of these policies rather than allowing them to be purely vindictive.  My bad!

The puppet master for this proposal now being mouthed by Carson seems to be budget director Mick Mulvaney.  Yes, Mick Mulvaney, the same public servant who is doing double duty trying to destroy the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.  He rivals President Trump these days in dominating the news cycle.  Today he was not only trying to destroy public housing supports, but he was also trying to block public access to the CFPB’s popular database of complaints from consumers.  Even better he was revealing his “pay to play” policy while he was a congressman by meeting with lobbyists first and foremost if they had donated to his campaign.  He offered this obvious insight to a group of bankers about why they needed to put more dollars into buying other congressmen if they wanted to gut the CFPB and Dodd-Frank.

There’s a lesson here of course.  After decades of dismantling public housing, millions stuck on waiting lists around the country for section 8 vouchers which are not an entitlement, the crash of the real estate construction market after the housing speculation bubble burst, the creation of the credit desert and slowdown of construction financing for affordable housing, rising rents and record eviction rates, the problem turns out to be that these damn poor people didn’t pool enough money and food stamps together to pay lobbyists and bribe politicians like Mulvaney with campaign contributions.

Darned, why didn’t we think of that!

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Integrating the Suburbs

Chicago.CBL.protest-aKiln, Mississippi    Peter Drier, comrade, housing expert, and professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, made an interesting point in a piece he wrote recently about segregation. Reflecting on Ferguson, Missouri, although it could have been hundreds of places he wrote:

Sociologists have invented a way to measure segregation called the “index of dissimilarity,” which shows the percentage of black (or Latino, or Asian) households that would have to move to achieve racial balance across the region. In the St. Louis area, at least 70 percent of all black families would have to move if every part of the metro area was to have a mix of black and white families that reflects their proportion in the entire region.

We’re talking Katrina-level displacement in one urban area after another. Little surprise that most community-based organizations concentrate on improving the communities where low-and-moderate income families, who are often also minorities, live, rather than making their major campaign integrating the suburbs.

Drier is clear that if that were our mission, we would be taking on a mission of Herculean proportions. Our people can’t handle the sticker shock of the suburbs, when means finding affordable apartments, but

…there simply aren’t enough apartment units in most suburbs, especially the more affluent ones. This is due to the widespread practice of suburban “exclusionary zoning”—not only in St. Louis, but in most metro areas. Rentals comprise half of all housing units in cities, but only one-quarter of those in suburbs, and many suburbs have almost no rental housing at all. The Section 8 program won’t help break down residential segregation if there aren’t enough suburban apartments to rent. It would be like giving people food stamps when the supermarket shelves are empty.

The last nationwide study of the Section 8 program’s success rate, conducted in 2000, found that 31 percent of families with Section 8 vouchers couldn’t find an apartment to rent, but the figure varied from city to city; in Los Angeles, 53 percent of families with vouchers had to return them unused; in New York City, 43 percent of the families with vouchers came back empty-handed. The scarcity of apartments was certainly the major cause of families’ inability to take advantage of their housing subsidy, but racism played a role, too; the 2000 study found that whites had a higher success rate than blacks of using their Section 8 subsidy to rent an apartment.

There are things that can be done, and Peter lists several of them.

We can “ban discrimination by landlords,” and recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court should technically make that easier to do so because we would only have to prove “disparate impact,” rather than deliberate intent. But, private landlords do not have to accept Section 8 vouchers, the program is voluntary for them, so it would only be possible to punish landlords who were willing to allow Section 8 in the first place. Secondly, we could mandate that suburbs have to build a certain number of apartments not simply that a small number of any that are built have to be reserved as affordable. Thirdly, we could greatly expand the number of Section 8 vouchers. Though Section 8 is one of the largest housing programs for low-income families, it is based on a lottery and is not an entitlement only benefiting about 25% of those eligible, and that’s if they can find a place to use their vouchers, which many cannot. This is a vicious cycle that returns us back to square one in many cases.

We can hold our breath, but few of these recommendations are likely to find enough love in Congress and its Republican majority that survives largely because of its firm commitment to racial gerrymandering constructed on a legacy of racial segregation in suburban and exurban metropolitan areas that is vital to their future as well. Absent a new civil rights movement focused on integrating the suburbs and based on a consensus about its need and desirability that does not exist today, count on the “dissimilarity index” and the putative Republican majority both coexisting happily for years to come, even if a sad situation for the rest of us.

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