By Brian Pape
We’ve seen the news reports about cut-backs in public housing budgets for many years, and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has $millions of debt and deferred maintenance problems. Large concentrations of public housing in “projects” had developed as part of the government’s “city slum clearance” after the Second World War, with the hope of reducing crime, and unhealthy and unsightly physical conditions that prevailed near many inner city neighborhoods. For most places, this didn’t really solve most problems, and the ‘experts’ agreed that some of the projects were better demolished than to continue to be the source of problems.
When the government decided to stop building new public housing about 5 decades ago, after the Vietnam War sapped our domestic programs, that did not mean it abandoned public housing entirely.
Among many ways the government directs taxpayer dollars into supporting housing assistance is a program called Section 8. This program was introduced to taxpayers to decentralize the concentration of subsidized housing, by giving welfare agencies a new option; enroll the people who apply for public assistance into a voucher program, where the applicants find landlords who accept the Section 8 program. The landlords have the government’s assurance that they will always get at least 70% of their rent from the government, and the rest from the tenant. It was sold as a “win-win” for all involved.
My personal experience was a little different. I had just started renovating small ‘starter’ homes in a suburban setting, doing most of the work myself, including finding tenants and collecting rent. It wasn’t an easy path, and I wasn’t always successful finding quality tenants. So when the Section 8 program was introduced to the market, I gave it a try, and worked with the program for about two years.
Lessons learned from experience drew upon the built-in limits of the housing authority lease. A smaller deposit was required, in proportion to the rent the tenant paid. When the tenant caused damage to the property, or if the tenant moved out and left a big mess to clean up, there were no reimbursements for the extra costs of repair; the landlord ate it. Tenants unable to pay their portions could virtually live free for an extended time until they moved out, and the government wouldn’t make up the loss difference. A lot of time was wasted learning what they wouldn’t do to help resolve problems, and with all the ‘red-tape’ of government paperwork and regulations.
And after a couple years of bad experiences like these, it just didn’t seem worth it. A program with good intentions, giving people choices to stay in their familiar neighborhood or move to a new area, of not having the stigma of living in the ‘projects’, of giving their kids a chance to go to better schools, or to avoid dangerous blocks of gangs, should be encouraged. It just doesn’t always work for everyone.
Section 8 Housing Vouchers, a Personal Experience
By Brian Pape