September 18, 2006

Section 8 and Segregation

In the 1970s, Section 8—the federal rental-assistance program—was started as an alternative to public housing. Government officials thought that massive housing projects were just clustering the poor into cramped and crime-ridden environments, and that a better solution would be to bulldoze all that public housing and give the families housing vouchers instead. Then poor families could be "scattered" across the country, placed in better neighborhoods with better schools for their kids. It would be a great success. Even some conservatives liked it.

Or at least that was the idea. In practice, it hasn't always worked that way. Fred Kelly had a fantastic article in the Charlotte Observer recently, examining the data on Section 8 recipients in Charlotte and finding that the vast majority of them "are clustered in 10 ZIP codes already burdened with crime and blight." Only a handful get placed in nicer neighborhoods. So much for the whole "scatter the poor" theory.

By law, cities aren't supposed to do this—Baltimore and Chicago have both been sued over this exact issue—but obviously it's happening. To some extent, blame lies with the Bush administration for creating a "funding crisis" in the Section 8 program. With less money, local housing authorities increasingly can't afford to place people in middle-class neighborhoods (and many people who need housing don't receive assistance at all). But the city of Charlotte, it seems, also hasn't made much effort to build affordable housing around the city. I wonder if they're exceptionally dysfunctional in this regard or not. I'm guessing not.
-- Brad Plumer 12:56 AM || ||