10 May America’s Failed Experiment in Public Housing
It leaves families living in squalid conditions, trapped in segregated neighborhoods. Rather than spending billions on socialized shelter, we need to put money in their pockets to give them choices.
President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion infrastructure package calls for doubling down on public housing. Projects are in “disrepair,” the plan rightly observes, with “critical life-safety concerns” and “imminent hazards to residents.” Biden proposes investing $40 billion to clean and green them. This is roughly 14 times the federal government’s current capital spending on public housing agencies, and it’s likely just the beginning.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is now demanding at least $80 billion in federal public housing funds. But why stop there: Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have joined other progressive activists calling for a Green New Deal for Public Housing costing as much as $172 billion — or $230,000 per unit — to retrofit public housing for energy efficiency and greenlight new projects.
Is the public housing we have really the affordable housing we want? This question matters to the 2.2 million residents of more than 1.1 million units of public housing managed by more than 3,000 public housing agencies across the country. The Biden administration’s housing agenda represents an opportunity — not to redo public housing, but to rethink whether it was a good idea in the first place and to consider policies that give lower-income families the kinds of choices that better-off Americans have long enjoyed.
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