I last visited the subject of HUD and its new Secretary Ben Carson back in May ("The Blob Goes After Ben Carson"). In recent months the news has been so dominated by fake and ridiculous stories (e.g., Russia!; accusations of racism against anybody else who doesn't toe the progressive line in every respect) that the subject of Carson and HUD has largely been wiped off the front pages, and even the inside pages. But this week New York Magazine comes back with a long piece by Alec MacGillis titled "Is Anybody Home at Ben Carson's HUD?"
Needless to say, MacGillis doesn't have one good word to say about Carson or what he is doing at HUD. On the other hand, the Manhattan Contrarian and others have thoroughly documented why HUD -- and for that matter the whole subject of subsidized housing for the poor -- has been a disaster for the supposed beneficiaries, trapping millions of people perfectly capable of providing for themselves into a lifetime of government dependency. What is the progressive answer to those reasonable objections?
The New York Magazine article does not devote a single word to trying to respond to the many perfectly reasonable criticisms of HUD and its program of government dependency. Instead, it appears that the entire argument for maintaining the HUD mission and budget is that people once in dependency must always be maintained in dependency because they have been rendered helpless and any other alternative would therefore be cruel.
A few excerpts. First, MacGillis quotes Shaun Donovan, first HUD Secretary under President Obama:
[A]lmost 90 percent of our budget was to help people stay in their homes,” Shaun Donovan told me. “So when you have a 15 percent cut to that budget, by definition you’re going to be throwing people out of their homes. You’re literally taking vouchers away from families, you’re literally shutting down public housing, because it can’t be maintained anymore.”
You'll be "throwing people out of their homes!!!!!" Without HUD subsidies these people are supposedly helpless. Left unmentioned is that HUD subsidizes only about 3 million families in the U.S., which is something in the range of 2 to 3% of all families. How are the other 97/98% somehow getting by?
Then we get into the heart-rending stories of people seemingly incapable of tying their own shoelaces without some kind of HUD grant or handout:
In Glouster, Ohio, a tiny coal town that went for Trump by a single vote after going for Obama two to one in 2012, officials were counting on the grants to replace a bridge so weak that the school bus couldn’t cross it, forcing kids from one part of town to cluster along a busy road for pickup. “Without those funds, it would just cripple this area,” said Nathan Simons, who administers the grants for the surrounding region. . . . On my travels through the Midwest I’ve seen how many federally subsidized housing complexes there are on the edges of small towns and cities, places very far from the Bronx or the South Side of Chicago. People living in these places rely on a functioning, minimally competent HUD no less than do the Section 8 voucher recipients in Jared Kushner’s low-income complexes in Baltimore. In an age of ever-widening income inequality, the Great Society department actually plays an even more vital role than when it was conceived.
OK, Alec, but what do you say to the fact that a place like Houston, with a minimal amount of HUD-subsidized housing (0.4% of the population) has far lower cost of housing and far less homelessness per capita than a place like New York, where over 5% of the population lives in HUD-subsidized housing? What do you say to the fact that almost nobody ever moves out of HUD-subsidized housing and nearly all of the beneficiaries end up leading lives of government dependency? What do you say to the fact that HUD-subsidized housing can never be bought or sold or mortgaged and leaves the beneficiaries in poverty for life, even when they receive an annual subsidy that can be valued at $50,000 or more? What do you say to the fact that numerous HUD-subsidized projects need massive capital upgrades and there is no foreseeable source of the funds other than doubling or tripling taxpayer subsidies, as long as the projects remain in the HUD domain? MacGillis does not address any of these questions.
Instead, we read about the horror experienced by the "housing experts" when their turf gets taken over by the rubes.
[T]o many HUD employees, the selection of so ill-qualified a leader felt like an insult. “People feel disrespected. They see Carson and think, I’ve been in housing policy for 20 or 30 years, and if I walked away, I would never expect to get hired as a nurse,” said one staffer at a branch office, who, like most employees I spoke with, requested anonymity to guard against retribution.
Well, these so-called "housing experts" have spent 50 years at HUD, spending a couple of trillion dollars or so of taxpayer money, and have never raised a single person out of poverty, while trapping a few million in dependency for life. What kind of "expertise" is that? Seems to me we could use a new approach. Even something entirely random would be far better. Doing nothing whatsoever and letting the whole thing die? That would be great too.
UPDATE August 29: I thought readers might enjoy this picture of HUD headquarters in Washington. Doesn't it tell you all you need to know?