The importance of keeping public housing public

People across the nation are speaking out against the Obama administration’s intention to privatize 1.2 million public housing units, under a HUD proposal called Transforming Rental Assistance (TRA) initiative. On May 25, 2010, at a congressional hearing, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and many housing advocacy organizations from across the country spoke out against HUD’s proposal, and submitted written statements for the hearing record opposing TRA, including the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness and other Los Angeles housing and human rights organizations.

Here is a summary of Congressman Water’s main arguments against the administration’s proposal:

  • Public housing is affordable into perpetuity whereas long-term contracts are finite. Under HUD’s proposal, housing authorities would enter into 20 or 30 year contracts with HUD, and at the end of that term, the owner would either renew the contract or allow it to expire, giving the tenants vouchers. If the owners allow the contract to expire, affordable housing units will leave the HUD inventory.
  • The bill would allow developments in areas with an excess supply of affordable housing to replace 50 percent of public housing with vouchers. Instead of preserving public housing in those areas, TRA will eliminate it.
  • What will happen to public housing if the owner goes into foreclosure or bankruptcy? The foreclosure of a privately owned public housing development would have a devastating impact for dozens – and in some cases – hundreds of families.
  • The proposal appears to represent the intent to privatize public housing. I think there is value in public housing, particularly in the fact that it is “public” in the sense that its owners – housing authorities – are not profit driven. Public housing is very effective at serving the “hard to house” population – people who for one reason or another, can’t navigate the private rental market. Allowing the private sector to enter may provide housing authorities with more capital, but for-profit actors will be looking for a profit. Neither this Congress nor this Administration should allow anyone to profit at the expense of public housing residents.

George Lakoff, had this to say about the HUD proposal at Common

The banks and developers make a fortune, with the taxpayers paying for it. The public loses its public housing property. The impoverished tenants lose their apartments, or have their rents go way up if they are forced into the private market. Homelessness increases. Government gets smaller. The banks and developers win. It is a Bank Bonanza! The poor and the public lose.

And a precedent is set. The government can privatize any public property: Schools, libraries, national parks, federal buildings – just as has begun to happen in California, where the right-wing governor has started to auction off state property and has even suggested selling off the Supreme Court building.

The rich will get richer, the poor and public get poorer. And the very idea of the public good withers.