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Government Assistance Program for Housing, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The formation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was intended to execute government policy in regard to the housing problems that were facing Americans in the mid-1960’s (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). As part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program, the new cabinet department was a consolidation of a number of government programs that had been enacted in the years prior to the formation of the cabinet position and was in response to a variety of housing problems that were facing the nation. The underlying approach by the federal government in regard to housing has shifted over the years and the department is not without its detractors, both those who oppose the federal government’s involvement in housing and those favor it, but the department, and its policies, continues to play an important function.

Concerns over housing have been on the American political horizon since the Great Depression. Housing for the poor was a problem prior to the Great Depression but the Depression brought the problem to the forefront. Housing as a primary issue was never part of the programs that evolved during Roosevelt’s New Deal it became tangentially addressed due to the other reform measures that were initiated. Subsidized housing first became available in the United States in 1937 but fell out of favor as the economy improved and the United States entered the Second World War. In 1949, subsidized housing was again introduced but its purpose was not to produce housing per se but to create jobs and stimulate the constructive industry. Interestingly, the beneficiaries of the Government’s first venture into subsidized housing were not the nation’s poorest citizens, but rather, members of the middle class who were facing temporary housing needs (Marcuse).

It was not until the mid 60’s and President Johnson’s “Great Society “ programs that the needs of the urban poor began to be addressed. One of the areas that reformers felt needed addressed was the housing needs of low and moderate income level households (Grier). The approach taken at this time was the initiation of public housing programs that relied upon a partnership between public and private agencies to construct and operate housing. The flaw in the initial program was that profits were based on construction costs and, as a result, there was no incentive for the buildings that were erected to be solidly built and for the construction companies to adequately maintain the structures. Additionally, the program suffered from the fact that it resulted in the creation of vertical ghettoes where the poor became too heavily concentrated in one area which led to a broad range of social pathologies.

In the mid-70’s the Government’s approach to low income housing changed significantly. In an attempt to improve both the quality of the housing and to decrease the number of low income families living in the same area the section 8 program was created. The section 8 program provided families with an allowance that covered the difference between what they could afford based on each family providing 25 percent of its income and the fair market value of housing in their area. The second part of the section 8 program was to provide subsidies to contractors that encouraged them to build and maintain quality housing (Weinberg).

The success or failure of the section 8 is highly debatable and the discussions concerning its viability continue to this very day. With the election of Ronald Reagan, support for the federal Government’s involvement in providing housing for the poor has decreased substantially. Since its peak in 1978, the funding for federal housing support has decreased every year and there is no indication that this trend is going to be reversed any time soon (Cato Institute).

The political ramifications of the Government’s gradual withdrawal from its involvement in providing housing to the poor are considerable. Since the end of the Second World War the United States has experienced severe expansions of its metropolitan areas. This expansion, often identified as urban sprawl, has caused major sociological changes within American society. As the sprawl continues, those most affected are poor Blacks and Latinos, who have become increasingly more secluded from jobs and other opportunities that have become scattered among the suburbs that are distanced from the central city areas. The central city offers less expensive and more abundant housing for the poor but it also offers fewer job opportunities and other social amenities that contribute to the quality of life. What has occurred is a form of racial discrimination.

There is little argument that the early HUD programs that resulted in the construction of high rise apartments that concentrated the poor in specific inner city areas contributed to this discriminatory situation. The poor were forced to live in these government subsidized buildings that were most often built in inner city areas and that these closely spaced apartments resulted in the creation of heavily populated ghettoes. HUD succeeded in providing housing but it did so at a high price. Several reputable academic studies have been conducted which have examined the sociological effects of urban sprawl and the part that HUD programs have played in contributing to these effects. In one such study sociologists, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, argued that there is considerable evidence that HUD policies contributed significantly to the perpetuation of Black poverty in the United States (Massey). A number of housing experts and academics dedicated to its study have postulated that if the federal government had not divided public housing and the occupants of public housing into isolated areas some of the other social problems that have arisen regarding race and housing would not have occurred (Iceland).

The failure of HUD to incorporate their housing efforts in areas where the mixing of income levels was possible, HUD has served to create communities that are identified by older housing resources, sluggish or declining growth, small tax resources, and employment opportunities that are extremely limited and low paying. Ironically, when public housing was first proposed it was believed that it would serve to have a positive effect on surrounding neighborhoods by replacing slums and introducing hard working poor into “good” neighborhoods. Oklahoma Congressman, A.S. Mike Monroney, expressed this generalized opinion when he stated, “One of the principal arguments, with which I go along, is that the establishment of a modern housing project in a city raises the assessed valuation for blocks around it and puts back onto the municipal tax rolls a great deal more money than is taken off (Nourse, 433).” Needless to say, Monroney’s statement proved to be less than prophetically accurate.

The HUD organization, beginning in the 1990’s, began to recognize its role in the continued segregation of the poor which had resulted from its housing policies. HUD introduced two new innovations that were aimed at dispersing or decentralizing public housing families. The first such program was the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program which provided section 8 vouchers to public housing residents that provided them with an opportunity to use said vouchers toward rentals in less poverty stricken areas. The second program was the HOPE IV program. The goal of the HOPE IV program was to rehabilitate the nation’s worst public housing developments and transform them into lower density, mixed income housing areas.

The MTO program was purely voluntary while those affected by the HOPE IV program were forced to relocate. Their homes were destroyed and they had no choice but to move but they were free to relocate to wherever they might like but those in the MTO program were required to move in the same general neighborhood. Theoretically, both of these programs may have positive long term effects but the fact remains that there are other political factors at work that make any large scale changes in public housing a difficult proposition.

Any movement of low income families into lower poverty areas is quite difficult. Low poverty neighborhoods are reluctant to receive large numbers of poor, public housing families and, historically, there has always been political backlash whenever there have been attempts to move such families into more affluent neighborhoods. Programs such as MTO and HOPE IV have been, therefore, hampered from being adopted large scale by HUD because in order to be accepted they must remain small scale. Once they attempt to become wide spread the political pressure from dissenting groups rise which, in turn, jeopardizes the viability of both programs. Collaterally, those who participate in programs such as MTO and HOPE IV also tend to be more motivated individuals and those left behind by such programs are therefore likely to be the more disadvantaged.

For the most part HUD’s attempt to disperse those utilizing public housing services has been largely unsuccessful but the present position of HUD remains that public housing should be geared toward developing mixed income neighborhoods and away from the segregation policies that characterized the agency for so many years. In doing so, the agency must still fight the forces that oppose the placing of public housing projects in certain neighborhoods of the politically powerful and influential. Toward this end, HUD funds are no longer dedicated totally toward low income minority communities. In the past two decades, the major emphasis continues to be on assisted housing for low income minorities but monies have also been extended to provide funding for projects that benefit non-poor, majority white communities. The purpose of this new approach is to promote racial and social integration in neighborhoods that might not otherwise have occurred (Freeman).

The role of HUD is not limited to providing housing for the poor and low income individuals but it is the area of its responsibilities that generates the most controversy. With the recent housing crisis in the conventional market, HUD’s involvement in this area has also generated some discussion but HUD’s role in public housing remains its most important function. As public housing has become a less popular social concern HUD has found it increasingly more important to fulfill its responsibilities while balancing political considerations. There is political pressure to limit HUD’s involvement in public housing and this political pressure has resulted in HUD adopting new approaches. These new approaches include attempts at promoting greater integration and decentralizing the location of public housing. Current theory is that the best form of public housing is one that provides mixed income living and the abandonment of the prior programs that tended to promote isolation and the creation of ghetto like conditions. The future of HUD, at least in the area of public housing, may depend on its ability to successfully administer these new programs.

 

Works Cited

Cato Institute. Downsizing the Federal Government. May 2010. 3 January 2011 <http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/hud/spending-cuts>.

Freeman, Lance. “Minority Proximity to Whites: A Test of Three Perspectives.” Journal of Urban Affairs (2000): 15-35.

Grier, Eunice. “Equality and beyond: Housing Segregation in the Great Society.” Daedalus (1966): 77-106.

Iceland, John. Poverty in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.

Marcuse, Peter. “The Liberal/Conservative Divide in the History of Housing Policy in the United States.” Housing Studies (2001): 717-736.

Massey, Douglas. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Nourse, Hugh O. “The Effect of Public Housing on Property Values in St. Louis.” Land Economics (1963): 433-441.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD.GOV. 3 January 2011 <http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD>.

Weinberg, Daniel H. “Housing Benefits from the Section 8 Housing Program.” Evaluation Review (1982): 5-24.

 

 

 

 

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