FULL TEXT of Wall Street Journal: “Raising Hell in Subsidized Housing”

The full text of last week’s article is now online here

Raising Hell in Subsidized Housing

Section 8 rental subsidies have long helped ruin neighborhoods. Obama administration policies are making things worse.

Section 8 rental subsidies have long been one of the most controversial federal social programs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Obama administration is making a troubled program worse.

In the 1990s, the feds were embarrassed by skyrocketing crime rates in public housing—up to 10 times the national average, according to HUD studies and many newspaper reports. The government’s response was to hand out vouchers to residents of the projects (authorized under Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974), dispersing them to safer and more upscale locales.

Section 8’s budget soared to $19 billion this year from $7 billion in 1994. HUD now picks up the rent for more than two million households nationwide; tenants pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities while the feds pay the rest. Section 8 recipients receive monthly rental subsidies of up to $2,851 in the Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., area, $2,764 in Honolulu and $2,582 in Columbia, Md.

But the dispersal of public housing residents to quieter neighborhoods has failed to weed out the criminal element that made life miserable for most residents of the projects. “Homicide was simply moved to a new location, not eliminated,” concluded University of Louisville criminologist Geetha Suresh in a 2009 article in Homicide Studies. In Louisville, Memphis, and other cities, violent crime skyrocketed in neighborhoods where Section 8 recipients resettled.

After a four-year investigation, the Indianapolis Housing Authority (IHA) in 2006 linked 80% of criminal homicides in Marion County, Ind., to individuals fraudulently obtaining federal assistance “in either the public housing program or the Section 8 program administered by the agency.” The IHA released an update last month citing recent crackdowns on a “nationwide criminal motorcycle gang operating out of a Section 8 home.” It also noted one “attorney who allegedly operated a law practice from a Section 8 home for eight years, providing shelter to unauthorized occupants who were linked to 10 homicides, 431 police calls and 394 criminal arrests during that time period.”

Dubuque, Iowa, is struggling with an influx of Section 8 recipients from Chicago housing projects. Section 8 concentrations account for 11 of 13 local violent crime hot spots, according to a study by the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies. Though Section 8 residents account for only 5% of the local population, a 2010 report released by the city government found that more than 20% of arrestees resided at Section 8 addresses.

Dubuque’s city government responded by trimming the size of the local Section 8 program. HUD retaliated by launching a “civil rights compliance review” of the program (final results pending).

HUD seems far more enthusiastic about cracking down on localities than on troublesome Section 8 recipients who make life miserable for the rest of the community. And because Section 8 recipients in some areas are mostly black or Latino, almost any enforcement effort can be denounced as discriminatory.

HUD launched an investigation of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority in 2009 after an Ohio attorney accused the authority of racially discriminatory Section 8 policies such as “eviction for offenses such as loud music.” In June of this year, the authority signed a conciliation agreement with HUD, pledging to cease penalizing Section 8 recipients for nuisance offenses. Policing tenant behavior was the job of police and landlords but “an ineffective use of resources” by the housing authority that “could lead to inappropriate program terminations,” HUD spokeswoman Laura Feldman told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

After the city of Antioch, Calif., formed a Community Action Team to assist the Contra Costa County Housing Authority in curbing violence and other problems in subsidized housing, the Bay Area Legal Aid sued the local police department in 2008, claiming it was guilty of racial discrimination because of an allegedly “concerted and unlawful campaign to seek evidence which could lead to the termination of participants’ Section 8 voucher benefits.” (The case is ongoing.)

Nevertheless, middle-class blacks are the program’s least inhibited critics. Sheldon Carter of Antelope Valley, Calif., testified at a recent public hearing on local Section 8 controversies: “This is not a racial issue. It is a color issue. The color is green and it’s my dollars.” Shirlee Bolds told Iowa’s Dubuque Telegraph Herald in 2009: “I moved away from the city to get away from all this crap. Dubuque’s getting rough. I think it’s turning into a little Chicago, like they’re bringing the street rep here.”

Remarkably, HUD seems bent on creating a new civil right—the right to raise hell in subsidized housing in nice neighborhoods. Earlier this year, the agency decreed that Section 8 tenants (as well as other renters) who are evicted because of domestic violence incidents may sue for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act because women are “the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims.” In essence, this gives troublesome tenants a federal trump card to play against landlords who seek to preserve the peace and protect other renters.

In June, HUD encouraged local housing agencies to permit ex-convicts (except for the most extreme sex offenders or individuals caught manufacturing methamphetamine “on the premises of federally assisted housing”) to move in with relatives in Section 8 or public housing after exiting prison. The Virginian-Pilot condemned the new policy last week, noting that “it’s unwise to allow people with a history of violence into public housing developments designed for the elderly and disabled residents.”

The Obama administration is now launching a pilot program giving local housing authorities wide discretion to pay higher rent subsidies to allow Section 8 beneficiaries to move into even more affluent zip codes. Hasn’t this program helped wreck enough neighborhoods?

Mr. Bovard, the author of “Attention Deficit Democracy” (Palgrave, 2006), is working on a memoir.


4 Responses to FULL TEXT of Wall Street Journal: “Raising Hell in Subsidized Housing”

  1. m mcoy August 28, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    It is bias to say that section 8 tenants wreck nice neighborhoods when you have upscale nieghborhoods that are effected by burglars,murder suicide cases among married couples, children on drugs, people missing. These things are
    happening in neighborhoods where section 8 tenants don’t qualify to live due to income. Instead of blaming Obama blame the homeowners that are renting these houses to section 8 tentants because they are so desparate to get a payment. Now since the economy is deteriorating leading to corporate layoffs, what are the middle class going to do when they are laidoff and there homes are foreclosed and no where to go. They wiill apply for public assistance such as foodstamps,medicaid and section 8 to survive. We as a. Nation need to stop being so hateful toward the poor and develope programs that will educate individuals how to maintain a neighborhood and plans to decrease crimes. Where are section 8 tenants suppose to live , in the slums? They have the right to live where they want if their vouchers allow them to and people in nice nieghborhoods have the right to want it to be maintained and prevent crime. If the nieghbors in these so called neighborhoods feel like secttion 8 tenants are increasing crime activity, contact PHA because the section 8 tentants can loose their benifits if they are found guilty of crime. The nieghborhood can’t be that upscale if section 8 tenants are quualified to live in them. Now everyone is suffering because they chose to be bias and hateful and looks like Obama is teaching everyone a lesson. His antedote is working , if it wasn’t then there wouldn’t be complaints and I didn’t even vote for Obama. Sometimes God will allow a dictator to teach the land a lesson to so that hatred and bias actions can cease.

  2. Ed Lord September 4, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    Having been involved in the real estate and property management business for over 25 years, I have had direct experience in dealing with HUD as well as various local Housing Authorities that administer the Section 8 program in Nevada for over 50 properties that we managed for owners, that were on the program. The “Emphansis” here is contained in the word “were”… because I can personally testify to the fact that the HUD Section 8 Program… is a BAD PROGRAM for OWNERS… particularly after HUD relinquished themselves to no longer be responsible for DAMAGES incurred by tenant, thus making all repairs the responsibility of the OWNER. For the unenlightened, Section 8 tenants are the most destructive people in the industry, who are also “Street Wise” who will go so far as to intentionally damage a property, and then complain to their Housing Authority, demanding an “Inspection”, who then refuse to cooperate by not allowing access causing the Housing Authority to issue a “Failure to Comply” complaint to the Owner / Property Manager, who then will refuse to pay the rent for that unit… We had the opportunity of such an “Inspection” experience, when the HUD Inspector, and Property Manager showed up, the Section 8 Tenant refused to open the door pretending not to be home, and when we tried to gain access to the unit, the tenant had changed the locks so our key did not work. Since we had previously posted a statutory “Notice of inspection” on the property, we had the right to gain access, so I called a “Locksmith” to pick the lock. When the locksmith showed up, he picked the lock and when he began to turn the “Torque Bar” (like turning the key) to open the door, the torque bar began to turn in the “Opposite” direction… due to the Section 8 “Tenant” turning the dead bolt from the inside in the opposite direction arm wrestling with the locksmith…! Obviously since the tenant had more leverage, the “Tenant “won” that war… and we all had a good laugh… UNTIL HUD refused to pay the rent for that month… due to failure of the Owner to remedy the complaint…? Well, that’s when the Owner stopped laughing, so you get the picture… and so did the Owner and the property manager… who then decided to ween all 50 properties OFF of the HUD Section 8 Program… which took the better part of over a year to accomplish… and after 6 years, we have NOT regretted our decision one bit… and we have had the highest occupancy rates, highest rental returns and best tenants one could hope for… who do not cause excessive damages, or who violate the law, !
    Owners in today’s market DO NOT NEED Section 8 housing… because with the huge numbers of foreclosures over the past 3 years, which will not bottom out for at least another 3 years, assuming that interest rates do NO RISE, because if interest rates do begin to rise, either “Voluntarily” or worse yet… “Involuntarily”… we will certainly enter a real Depression… and EVERYBODY… will be a renter…! In other words, the rental market is in extreme short of supply, and rents are actually steadily increasing…! Furthermore, the quality of Section 8 Tenants leaves a lot to be desired, because they do in fact have the highest concentration of substance abusers, criminals, and “professional” street smart social dependents of any cross section in our population. When government intervention insists on just “giving the store away” without demanding some form of equal social economic restitution from tenants, in return for giving subsidized housing funds, such as working in agriculture, manufacturing, or some other entry level occupation… the obvious unintentional “Moral Hazard” consequences is that this lethargic sector of the population will then create their “Own” micro economy”… by engaging in illegal activities, such as drug dealing, prostitution, burglary, and general economic mayhem… a vicious cycle that only can be broken if government is willing to allow the human element to “re-learn” to ferment and develop their own self-esteem and respect and reintegrate into society and become a “contributing” producing member of society who then can survive on their own… Until that time arrives… best you get a concealed weapons permit and “Lock & Load”…!

  3. Margaret kuever October 22, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    I filled out a alpcation, with housing, in columbia md, and it has been already going on 4 year, I am on disabilty my icom is only 700 a month with child,I dont understand why thy dont want to help those who need the voger more that those realy dont need and will do bad stafe with. I neeed afordable renting


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