Flicking A Broken Switch to Turn Off US Public Housing? Doesn’t Work

The side of a classic American red brick public housing tower
NYCHA public housing photo by Stephen Rees is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
New York City Public Housing. Many years ago some damn fools thought this building might be useful. Now that it's almost to late too save it, maybe they were right after all.

Much of what affordablehousingaction.org publishes about social/public/council housing could in the US be considered palliative care for a dying industry and its long-suffering tenants. American public housing has been nationally diagnosed as a hopeless case, and all that would seem to remain is to treat it with a certain kind and reverent nostalgia for all those things about it that served its tenants well, in spite of all of the things that it didn’t do so well.

We are impressed, however with the stubborn way public housing clings to life in the face of endless tinkering anywhere and everywhere to invent a better way of housing for people with low and no income. With US public housing investment converted largely to rental assistance funding for the poorest, a Harvard University study in 2020 calculated that this rental assistance provided basic housing for only one of every four people who needed it.

Against such a woeful record, it’s not the wildest optimism to imagine the public housing might have been, and might still be, the best answer after all (subject of course to suitable recovery treatment).

What steps would need to be taken to unwind the sabotage and neglect of  the last half century? One way to begin is to review America’s history of public housing, searching for ways in which the good things might be preserved in future projects, as well as bad things that might be mitigated by adequate funding and better management.

For a readable history of the events which carried public housing from then till now, try the following article from Street Roots: The Death Of Public Housing