Academic journal article Cityscape

Market-Driven Public Housing Reforms: Inadequacy for Poverty Alleviation

Academic journal article Cityscape

Market-Driven Public Housing Reforms: Inadequacy for Poverty Alleviation

Article excerpt

The three preceding articles in this symposium raise the similar question of how very low-income households (some of whom move with the assistance of the Housing Choice Voucher Program [HCVP]) fare across a range of potential outcomes, including employment, residential stability, housing satisfaction, school quality, and neighborhood economic conditions. In this commentary, I first briefly frame the historical and political context that led to public housing policy reforms, before summarizing the findings from the three articles in this section. Coinciding with the implications suggested by the authors, I make strategic recommendations for programmatic and structural changes that aim to create greater access to affordable rental apartments and to supportive housing interventions. My central argument throughout this commentary is that market-based housing strategies aimed at mobility alone will not significantly shift economic and social outcomes for extremely low-income households. As these articles suggest, poverty alleviation requires more than access to private-market rental housing. In closing, I offer policy recommendations that aim to reallocate federal housing assistance by increasing the supply of affordable housing units, providing universal tax incentives for renters, expanding the use of vouchers to unsaturated neighborhoods, and creating supportive housing interventions to address deep and persistent poverty.

Public Housing Transformation and Market-Driven Policy Reforms

The underlying rationale of the HCVP, particularly as it relates to public housing reforms, prioritizes the private-market provision of affordable rental housing. The historical and political context is relevant in order to assess the findings and implications of these three studies, as well as the others in this symposium on mixed-income housing strategies.

Since the late 1960s, the federal governments' role for the provision of affordable rental housing has steadily embraced strategies that subsidize private owners of rental properties. As opposed to publically owned properties, most new affordable housing units have been built through federal initiatives-such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (1986) and HOME funds from the National Affordable Housing Act (1990)-that use public funding to leverage private financing (Erikson, 2009; Fraser, Oakley, and Bazuin, 2012; McCarty, 2012; Schwartz, 2010). Subsidizing private development has been argued by political opponents of large government bureaucracy as a more efficient and timely method for producing affordable rental housing. Advocates of privatization claim the U.S. government has historically failed to adequately deliver necessary quality services, in part because of the inefficient state bureaucracies that are poorly managed and not properly incentivized. The reduction of government services encourages private-sector entities to enter new markets that were previously untapped. Private-sector actors, seeking to maximize their economic interests, will deliver better quality services, at lower costs. Individual citizens benefit by having an expanded market with more attractive alternatives than were previously available when the public service was the only option (Ellickson, 2010; Glaeser and Gyourko, 2008; Husock, 2003; Marcuse and Keating, 2006).

The underlying rationale for reforms suggests that market investment into the built environment of places long associated with concentrated poverty is necessary because the public-sector interventions have failed. If urban neighborhoods are to be radically reshaped, then a significant portion of the subsidized public housing rental units (and the renters living in them) will need to be replaced with housing and other related amenities that increase the potential for economic development.

These housing policy reforms reflect a broader movement of the U.S. welfare state that increasingly shifts responsibility from the public sector to the private sector for the provision of necessary goods and services, such as affordable rental housing. …

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