The Road to PETRA

From the early days of the public housing program in the 1930s to the present, vociferous opposition has resulted in a host of problems. Understanding the history can help put President Obama's PETRA program in context.

Looking Forward

The criticisms of public housing notwithstanding, the program has managed to provide homes to tens of millions of families over the course of more than seven tumultuous decades. As an experiment in social housing, the U.S. public housing program has demonstrated the importance of creating well-designed buildings that are integrated with their surroundings, using high quality materials that promote long-term cost savings and efficiency, instituting competent management procedures, providing adequate funding for operations and capital replacements, and creating social programs for residents to enable them to attain economic security. Other federal housing programs have also taught us that if the private for-profit sector is involved, programs must be designed so that the needs of the low-income residents, particularly long-term affordability, are not compromised.

Although developing new public housing is no longer viewed as a public policy option in the United States, at the very least, securing the existing stock of public housing for future generations is essential. As we continue to work toward that goal, the lessons of the past are important to consider.


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