All too often, debates on zoning and land-use regulation become muddled by questions about what role public and low-income housing should play in addressing the housing affordability crisis. Solutions that include constructing more public housing can turn into a sticking point that divides progressives and liberals concerned about affordability and inequality with conservatives and libertarians skeptical of government intervention.
Tarring all public housing as an abject failure is a bridge too far (and a way to needlessly alienate more left-leaning housing affordability advocates), but Charles Lane’s opinion piece in The Washington Post on New York’s “socialism” in housing policy should give those who demand public housing pause.
The system’s ills include rats, mold, broken water heaters, leaks, faulty elevators, cracked sidewalks — you name it.
The average age of the system’s buildings is over 60, yet deferred maintenance is so bad that, barring “dramatic change,” some 90 percent of the system’s units will be “no longer cost-effective to repair” by 2027, according to a statement from Carol Kellermann of the Citizens Budget Commission, a private watchdog group.
Some 820 children who live in New York’s public housing have tested positive for elevated lead levels, and city officials falsified lead-paint inspection reports — a scandal that deserves as much attention as the Flint water crisis but hasn’t gotten it.
You can read the rest for more details on some of the appalling conditions, but Lane proposes a market-friendly solution.
If New York does come up with $31.8 billion [needed to repair its public housing], it should split the money into $79,500 checks and give one to each public-housing resident, then send them to find private apartments. Let developers tear down the existing buildings and put up something nicer.
If a “grand bargain” to dramatically liberalizing zoning and land-use regulations includes public housing were on the table, it would be a mistake for those on the right to reject it. But at the same time, folks on the left should be more skeptical of government-run housing.
(For further reading, check out Sam Hammond’s piece exploring the politics of public housing and immigrants in Denmark.)