The culprit is not the public housing program. There is nothing inherent in the public housing program that deems it a failure. Look no further than the American political culture. It is a culture not hospitable to redistribution programs that target the poor or minorities.
But there is a way for public housing to continue serving its "public" function and be viewed in a more esteemed light. Public Housing was initially able to achieve political support in the 1930s because it was billed as a jobs program during a time when joblessness was one of America's most pressing problems. Why not use public housing to address some of the bigger challenges facing America today? Global warming and the fallout from the housing bust are two of the most pressing problems. We need to experiment with new types of green housing if we hope to curtail our energy consumption. Prototypes of housing that experiment with new technologies could be part of the Public Housing program.
The foreclosure crisis is another area where bold and experimental thinking is in order. Currently, the foreclosure crisis is proving intractable with millions of homes underwater and banks still reluctant to redo mortgages. Might not there be an opportunity for the federal government to step in, particularly in neighborhoods where demand is weak, and acquire foreclosed properties and convert them into affordable housing?
More important than any specific proposal that I may have, is the need to rethink the role of public housing in our society. Rather than being a program of last resort, public housing should be a model for how we might house ourselves including the most vulnerable among us.