Really, what is it about "affordable housing"? I have previously called building "affordable housing" in Manhattan "the worst possible public policy." I have pointed out that "affordable housing" is "the most expensive possible way to help the smallest number of people" and that it just seems to be "one of those issues on which rational thought is impossible." Is anybody listening?
And now, to prove my points, along comes the Obama administration, via the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to double, triple and quadruple down on subsidized housing as the way to fix the perceived problem of inequality in our society. The Hill newspaper reports yesterday that HUD is moving forward this month to finalize its proposed rule with the Orwellian name of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Here is the Rule as initially proposed back in 2013.
As usual with stuff coming out of the bureaucracy, this Rule is endless and unreadable. I certainly would not recommend your trying to get through its 35 three-column pages of fine print. But the basic idea is to use the threat of withholding government grants to force localities to prepare things called "Assessments of Fair Housing," which would then lead to "Consolidated Plans," "PHA Plans," and "Capital Fund Plans" -- and ultimately to building subsidized housing in places that don't currently have enough of it to please the government overlords. Here are the key sentences of incomprehensible bureaucrat-speak from the Summary:
HUD proposes an improved structure and process whereby HUD would provide these program participants with guidance, data, and an assessment template from which they would complete an assessment of fair housing (the AFH). This assessment would then link to Consolidated Plans, PHA Plans, and Capital Fund Plans, meaningfully informing resulting investments and related policies to affirmatively further fair housing.
What then is the logic for going national with this huge expansion of the "worst possible public policy"? The Hill quotes an unnamed HUD spokesman giving the usual justification that if only the government can compel communities to be integrated by building subsidized housing, that will break down the barriers to opportunity and presumably help the poor rise from poverty.
“HUD is working with communities across the country to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity for all,” a HUD spokeswoman said. “The proposed policy seeks to break down barriers to access to opportunity in communities supported by HUD funds.”
Others quoted in the article in The Hill take that argument even farther. For example, here is Margery Turner of the Urban Institute, from the same article:
“In our country, decades of public policies and institutional practices have built deeply segregated and unequal neighborhoods,” Turner said. Children growing up in poor communities have less of a chance of succeeding in life, because they face greater exposure to violence and crime, and less access to quality education and health facilities, Turner suggested. “Segregation is clearly a problem that is blocking upward mobility for children growing up today,” she said.
Some of this might seem at least plausible, except for one small problem. This has been tried over and over and is a total demonstrated failure. Can anybody please come here to Manhattan and open your eyes and look around? Manhattan is not some obscure out-of-the-way place. Probably, it's the most easily accessible place in this country. All roads lead here, not to mention airline flights. And we have the highest density of subsidized housing in the country.
And when you come here, here's what you will see. You will see that Manhattan (New York County) is the wealthiest county in the country (measured by per capita income). You will see a tremendous business community, with millions of high-end jobs crammed into a few square miles. You will see some of the wealthiest and most expensive residential neighborhoods in the country. And literally a stone's throw from these high-end jobs and expensive homes, vast tracts of HUD subsidized housing. In just low-income housing alone, we have over 50,000 units in Manhattan, housing about 120,000 people, about 7% of the population. Other forms of subsidized housing bring the proportion of the population receiving housing subsidies of one form or another to well over 10%.
And instead of raising the residents out of poverty, the HUD-supported complexes are in fact concentrated islands of poverty right in the midst of the greatest wealth in the country. The New York City Housing Authority reports the poverty rate in its projects at 51%. How is that even possible in the wealthiest county in the country? Because a NYCHA project comes attached to poisonous incentives that virtually force the residents to remain in a lifetime of poverty in order to keep their specially-located apartment and ridiculously low rent.
If the HUD model of subsidized housing does not work in the wealthiest county with the highest concentration of the best jobs in the country, then it is not going to work anywhere. And in fact it doesn't just "not work." It actively traps the residents in poverty, even in the midst of plenty.
The fact is that the interest of the bureaucracy does not lie in raising the poor out of poverty. The interest of the bureaucracy lies in creating a permanent dependent class that can never shrink and can never get out of poverty, so that the functionaries can forever hold out the poor as a reason to expand their fiefdoms. Am I the only one who finds their efforts to keep the poor poor to be reprehensible?
New York, of course, is already committed to more and yet more of this "world's worst public policy." Rest of the country, do yourself a favor and don't take the money. Congress, how about just zeroing out the HUD budget -- now in the range of $50 billion per year?