Social Housing “Asset Recycling”: Privatization In Thin Disguise

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Under new management: "It's all about you," promises your next, entirely selfless, housing manager.

There has been a hopeful inclusion of new kinds of “infrastructure” in Democratic proposals to shore up 21st century necessities. Beyond 19th and 20th century physical requirements for a healthy and vibrant society (clean water, electricity grids, highways, etc.), American federal lawmakers are considering the importance of social supports such as child care, and a broader range of physical necessities that have become a foundation of modern society.

Some are calling for designating public housing as infrastructure to provide essential support for low and no income citizens in a commodified housing market.

How to pay for the refurbishment of both centuries-old infrastructure needs, and as well a range of newly-recognized necessities for a healthy American society? It would seem to be an important American responsibility. After all, defining housing as an essential chunk of infrastructure is almost the creation of an American “right.” E.g. everyone has a right to live their lives with electricity, or sewage. Presumably, endorsement of public housing as infrastructure tacitly embraces it, too, as a national “right.”

A broadened vision of infrastructure new and old adds up to an enormous bill for refurbishment. Where does the money come from? One proposed method for finding the money has achieved a certain popular status. It’s known as “asset recycling,” first appearing with this particular label in Australia.

At first glance “asset recycling” suggests a new way of thinking about social housing-type supports for low and no income citizens. A second glance, however, reveals that some kinds of asset recycling are already alive and kicking in the public housing universe.

In particular, Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) has morphed gradually from a supposed test experiment (“D” for Demonstration) into a full blown sell-off of public housing responsibilities to private enterprise.

The government attitude is that “sell-off” is not at all what is happening, an analysis greeted with much eye-rolling and world-weary sighs from housing activists.

Currently, the U.S. Senate is undermining government “privatization denial” by actively endorsing “asset recycling” as a means of paying for the necessary revitalization of American infrastructure. Like the critics of RAD, critics of “asset recycling” are at pains to expose the real nature of a supposedly new money-raising racket. Read more in Mother Jones:  Senators Want to Pay for Infrastructure With “asset recycling.” That’s Just a Fancy Term for Privatization.

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