10.01.2008 0

Public Housing gets a Bad Review

  • On: 10/22/2008 15:26:17
  • In: Government Transparency
  • Earlier this month, hundreds of Virginia residents lined up to add their names to the waiting list for Section 8 housing in Culpeper, VA. Sue Hansohn, of the Culpeper Department of Social Services (DSS), praised the work done by Section 8 housing, which enables low-income people to receive federal assistance until they are able to fully afford housing on their own. “And then they don’t need us anymore,” she said. “We like those.”

    Unfortunately, such a rosy picture can obscure the true state of the government-run program. As officials in Greenville, South Carolina, are discovering, the program can be horribly abused. As many as 110 people currently living in low-income housing violated the conditions of the financing by not reporting increased income to the government.

    Additionally, many of them have continued receiving federal assistance without making up their just rental costs—some of them for years! An estimated $200,000 in money is owed by the renters, who were given a 10-day ultimatum to comply. Those who still refuse will face eviction.

    The situation was allowed to deteriorate as the local government neglected to verify program participants’ income. Additionally, some see fault in the program’s open-ended promise: “Our housing policy is now completely out of sync with our welfare policy,” says Howard Husock, of Harvard’s JFK School of Government. “If your rent is paid forever, then you don’t have an incentive to improve your living situation.”

    It’s not only renters abusing the program, as the liberal National Housing Institute was forced to admit in a 2003 article. The story is told of a Baltimore, Maryland, community which is fighting to stay afloat amid an influx of low-income housing. Seeing an opportunity, out-of-state investors purchased inexpensive property which they then turned around and used as Section 8 housing – using loopholes to increase their rental income.

    Once the cash began coming in, however, they neglected their properties, failing to perform the necessary maintenance, thus damaging the neighborhood where the housing was located.

    The end result is a situation where unethical landlords and tenants are abusing a system that, while well-intentioned, only serves to underline the failure of government-run social programs.

    For the hundreds of Virginians hoping to get in on government-assisted housing, a rude awakening awaits. As the limited number of Section 8 assistance slots are for life, their only chance to enter will be if someone dies or leaves the program.

    And based on the past history of the program, they might be waiting a very long time.

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