Opinion: Public Housing Won't Solve the Affordability Crisis

Seeking repeal of the Faircloth Amendment could be a needless distraction in the new administration's efforts to create more affordable housing, according to an article by Jenny Schuetz for the Brookings Intitution.

January 27, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

C.J. Peete Public Housing, New Orleans

Karen Apricot / Flickr

In a piece published by the Brookings Institute, Jenny Schuetz argues that recent efforts by housing activists to repeal the Faircloth Amendment—a rule that limits the construction of public housing—are a distraction from the "more tangible obstacles to low-cost housing." Schuetz lists four reasons why public housing isn't the cure-all answer to the current housing crisis and suggests some effective ways to promote affordable housing.

  • Local zoning that prohibits multi-family housing won't be affected by a repeal of the Faircloth Amendment. Without addressing zoning issues, public housing will remain segregated in areas with less political power and fewer resources.
  • Many public agencies don't have the expertise or resources to manage large construction projects. "Today, nearly all new subsidized housing is built and managed by specialized nonprofit or for-profit developers. So, despite those calls for 'the government' to build more housing, most housing authorities don’t have the capacity or the desire to undertake new construction projects."
  • Housing stock needs a long-term commitment to care and maintenance. Absent a long-range plan for funding maintenance and upgrades, public housing will fall into disrepair and place additional burdens on the low-income families who inhabit it.
  • Other housing subsidies work better than building new public housing. Because subsidized housing tends to cost more to build than market-rate housing due to the complexity of the process, "increasing funds for housing vouchers or for the acquisition and rehabilitation of existing apartments" and "shoring up the long-term physical and financial viability of existing subsidized properties" would be more cost effective.

Schuetz acknowledges that making housing more affordable should be a priority of the Biden administration, but asserts that advocates should focus on more effective avenues for change than public housing.

Thursday, January 14, 2021 in Brookings Institution

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