HUD’s Exit Strategy?

“All of the truly needy will not get vouchers. I’ll say that in a minute,” the HUD secretary bluntly told editors of the Washington Post while also acknowledging that the administration would like to get completely out of the business of subsiding housing for the poor.

Of course, the secretary who said that was Samuel Pierce, and the administration was Ronald Reagan’s. Pierce made those statements in 1981, when the Section 8 voucher experiment was about to be launched. If the program was successful, HUD could exit housing production. In fact, Section 8 could get HUD out of housing altogether because one of the advantages of replacing project-based support with vouchers “is that they could be ended quickly,” Pierce said at the time.

Mel Martinez echoes similar sentiments when he expresses his belief that the private market, states and localities can take care of the housing crisis. Unfortunately, his boss’s plan to eliminate the tax on dividends would make the single largest funding source for multi-family housing for the poor – the low income housing tax credit – nearly worthless and significantly reduce state tax revenues. And Bush’s plan to eliminate the estate tax would seriously undermine the work of many nonprofits (see Shelterforce #125). In short, the redistribution of income from the working and middle class to the wealthy, the war economy and the growing national debt mean fewer dollars for housing.

The Fate of Section 8

Despite numerous efforts to ax HUD, it is still here and so is Section 8, albeit hanging on precariously. As we go to press, Congress is considering two very different appropriations for Section 8. In the House version, funding for 125,000 vouchers would not be authorized. The Senate version does not make these cuts, but limits the amount of funds “recaptured” when vouchers are not used during the year, reducing the number of vouchers in the future (see www.nlihc.org).

Local mismanagement and poor oversight from Washington (see the GAO’s January 30th report at www.gao.gov) have also put the program at risk, as Christopher Swope shows us in “Section 8 is Broken.” The program is not providing the housing choice it was intended to and may be contributing to re-segregation of the poor and encouraging slumlords whose presence poisons revitalization efforts. The truth is, the promising voucher experiment has never been fully funded or adequately managed. Will Sam finally get his wish?

Assets – Individual and Community

Some time ago, many of us stopped fighting poverty and began to help people and communities create wealth. By changing the conceptual framework, we’ve changed our goals from simple self-sufficiency to full participation in the economic mainstream and the creation of personal and community assets.

For example, over the last 10 years homeownership has driven public and private housing policy as the surest way to build wealth and beat a path into the middle class. Rental programs, land trusts and other alternatives were given short shrift. Winton Pitcoff takes a close look at our homeownership strategy and tries to separate the facts from fantasy and measurable outcomes from unintended consequences.

Beyond a home of your own, cash isn’t a bad asset. In his article “Building Wealth,” Robert Zdenek describes a range of asset building programs from Individual Development Accounts to the Earned Income Tax Credit, and encourages CDCs to become active partners in helping low-income people and communities take advantage of these opportunities

Welcome

Our newest staff member, Dana Natale, joins us as associate director for operations and development. Dana holds a BA in psychology and an MA in practical anthropology from Montclair State University. She has worked with a number of environmental justice organizations over the last six years and for two years was a research coordinator at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dana’s work has been published in High Plains Applied Anthropologist, the Journal of Palliative Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine. She is currently an adjunct professor in Montclair State University’s anthropology department.

Thank You

Since its launch, our website has become indispensable for those looking for information about programs, policies and the practice of community development. We designed the site to be simple to use and problem-free for those with any kind of computer. Our site is kept quick, clean and current thanks to a small army of volunteers. As we begin the new year, we’d like to thank all of them for their hard work: Karen Carter, Jenny D, Juanita Duncan, Tony Dyer, Tammy Hobbs, Praveena Madi, Nancy Morris, Blenda Perez, Jayesh Sahasi, Camille Schenkel, Todd Summers and Elaine Yoo.


We want to give a special thanks to our Volunteer of the Year 2002 Eleanor Taub. Eleanor used her eagle eye and curious mind to proofread 19 complete issues of Shelterforce Online! Congratulations.

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Harold Simon is the former executive director of the National Housing Institute and former publisher of Shelterforce.

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