When The Atlantic dropped Hanna Rosin’s story linking Section 8 housing with increases in violent crime in Memphis neighborhoods, the ripple effect went well beyond what even Atlantic editors had in mind.
Or did it?
Incendiary reporting is often used to move magazines off the shelves, or, even in its most productive use, it is used to spark a discussion on important subject matter with the purpose of starting a useful dialogue.
But in the case of The Atlantic story, “American Murder Mystery,” which appeared in the magazine’s July/August 2008 edition, the response has only fueled existing negative opinions on affordable housing from the right wing, and has backed low-income housing proponents into a corner, forcing them, once again, to reassert the benefits of Section 8 and Hope VI.
A group of housing policy experts have weighed in on Shelterforce. The piece, by Occidental College’s Peter Dreier and MIT’s Xavier de Souza Briggs, first points to Rosin’s use of “misleading stereotypes” and her creating a piece that is “part investigative reporting, part misleading caricature,” but then builds off that, establishing a platform that asks fundamental questions related to the high poverty rate in the U.S., and continued segregation by way of race and income.
We also need to invest in education and job training, to raise the minimum wage at least to the poverty level, to expand the [Earned Income Tax Credit] so it reaches more families, and to provide low-income parents with the support they need to enter the job market, such as child care and health insurance. Redoubled efforts to fight crime in the most violent neighborhoods, and to protect those places, which tend to be poor racial ghettos, from an utterly disproportionate share of our society’s environmental hazards, are vital too.
Without using sensationalism, Briggs and Dreier offer solutions.
The Briggs and Dreier piece simply does not pay heed to the serious weaknesses of the Section 8 housing voucher program—such as its vertical and horizontal inequity, failure to serve as a reliable safety net for families in need, and its cumbersome and wasteful procedures. Please see comments #s 27 and 17 by readers of a New York Times op-ed at http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2008/07/25/opinion/25venkatesh.html?permid=27#comment27 and
for some voices from the field about problems that potential users of Section 8 housing vouchers face.
The significant weaknesses of the Section 8 housing voucher program make it an ineffective housing safety net, and overall a poor use of public money.