Resident Management and Other Approaches to Tenant Control of Public Housing
Upbeat television and newspaper reports, along with near-evangelical rhetoric emanating from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its secretary, Jack Kemp, give the impression that resident management is the cure for ailing public housing in the United States. The claim is that residents can manage their developments better than local housing authorities, and that if they are empowered through resident management, they can pull themselves out of poverty. Homeownership, it is said, is the natural end result of resident management, and thus it becomes a way for public housing tenants to obtain one piece of the American dream, a "home of their own."
But is all this true? What does the evidence, if any, actually show? Is resident management good public housing policy, and, if so, is it applicable in all situations? Should it be the only public housing policy or even a key policy? Is ownership a logical outcome of resident management, or are management and ownership distinct issues?
Critics of HUD's resident management program argue it is too much to expect it to correct all public housing problems, including physical decay and numerous social and economic ills. Good management, they argue, whether by residents or by housing professionals, can do little to change conditions without significant additional resources. But the administration's support of resident management does not seem to carry with it the promise of increased funding.
In the Housing Act of 1949, the federal government committed itself to a "decent home and suitable living environment for every American family." In this chapter I explore whether resident management offers a means of fulfilling this commitment.