After reading the well-reported, June 27 Boston Globe article on the deteriorating affordable housing units in Barack Obama's former state senate district, Josh asked
how public/private affordable housing partnerships could be improved
and what alternative federal ...
After reading the well-reported, June 27 Boston Globe article on the deteriorating affordable housing units in Barack Obama's former state senate district, Josh asked how public/private affordable housing partnerships could be improved and what alternative federal housing models are being proposed. These are valuable questions worth discussing, but we should resist the impulse to dismiss these types of programs outright.
Indeed, Hilzoy offered some criticism of the Globe piece over at Obsidian Wings:
Chicago's efforts to do something about its public housing nightmare are a very, very big deal, involving 25,000 units of housing, huge numbers of public housing residents, enormous sums of money, and vast tracts of land, some of it quite desirable. Any project of this magnitude is going to have a whole lot of moving parts, and it will operate under a lot of constraints: political, financial, and so on. Especially in a city with a reputation for, um, interesting approaches to public management, I would be astonished to find that absolutely everything had gone swimmingly. What I would really like to know, therefore, is: how many of the projects went bad? Whose projects were they? Is the number better or worse than one would expect? And why, exactly, didn't they work out?
That's exactly right. Context matters. The CHA's Plan for Transformation is a vast undertaking affecting families in 25,000 high-rise units and one that has been improperly managed by various actors from the beginning. We noted a while back that it's already well behind schedule (only 64 percent of the proposed replacements were finished by the end of last year). And according to a front page Tribune article yesterday, the problems could be worse than anyone was ready to acknowledge.
A Tribune investigation found that almost nine years into what was billed as a 10-year program, the city has completed only 30 percent of the plan's most ambitious element—tearing down entire housing projects and replacing them with new neighborhoods where poor, working-class and wealthier families would live side by sideside.
In fact, of those public housing units that have been built, nearly half went up before the plan officially started in 2000.
To be clear, the article won't be the best piece you'll read this week. It's obvious the Tribune rushed it a bit, probably in response to the Globe. And like that article, this one extrapolates from Chicago's experience without providing proper support. (Hopefully, more Tribune reporting on this issue with follow.)
Despite those shortfalls, the article is valuable in that it provides more context about the affordable housing environment in Chicago. Taken with the Globe's earlier piece, the Tribune properly places the situation in Obama's old district amid a failed system that extends far beyond one state senator.
And as the Grove Parc Tenants Association reminded us earlier this week, progressives shouldn't be quick to discredit private/public partnerships more generally. While the Chicago scene is messy, these type of programs can and have worked nationwide. There's a reason that the vast majority of fair/affordable housing advocates are very excited about movement around the National Housing Trust Fund, and it's not because it's some massive slush fund for corrupt developers. It would be the first significant federal housing policy in well over a decade and it will follow a model that's proven effective at securing dedicated funding ($1.6 billion a year) for a variety of housing needs -- new construction, rehabilitation/preservation, acquisition, serving special populations, and permanently supportive housing. Much of this comes with proper oversight and care.
Obama's record on housing deserves some serious scrutiny. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.