A Work and Time Time Test for Public Housing Tenants

Ideas and Issues

Frankfort   Hidden in plain sight in the Obama Administration budget proposal before the U.S. Congress now is a potentially huge and unsettling change in the way that public housing is administered.  The budget seems to envision an expanded requirement that living in public housing could require proof of a job and could be time limited.

             Of the more than 3000 public housing authorities, HUD has only approved experiments along these lines in less than 40 communities according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.  Nonetheless, the new budget proposes opening up such work requirements and time limits broadly.  Housing advocates, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition have correctly warned that such requirements could end up ejecting lower income families and exacerbating homelessness.

             Some local housing authority officials have somewhat disingenuously lobbied for this new eviction flexibility based on the scandalous size of the waiting list for public housing that numbers thousands and thousands in virtually all large cities and often means delays of a decade or more before a family on the list actually acquires an affordable unit in public housing.  The painful paradox is that even as the waiting lists have been growing over the last 30 years, the number of public housing units available has been drastically reduced as a curious matter of national housing policy in both Democratic and Republican Administrations.  Now rather than seize the bull by the horns and enable local housing authorities to increase the number of available units by adding capacity, the Obama Administration is planning to run from the problem by simply allowing more time stamped evictions and work tests even while everyone acknowledges the painfully slow pace of new employment being created as the country theoretically leaves the Great Recession.   How do they come up with this stuff?

             Why not accelerate job creation programs in public housing through public works that recycles families into private sector housing or increase section 8 vouchers and prioritize recruitment and allocation of an expanded voucher program with a preference for public housing tenants to allow them to exit?  I thought Republicans loved vouchers if they deteriorated support for public institutions?  There are probably a 100 better ideas that others could list as well.

             The one thing that seems clear though is that we can not solve the crisis of our affordable housing shortage by creating specious grounds for eviction from the few available units left.  We need to have a solution for these problems, not a willingness to trade bad problems now for even worse problems in the future.