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Publication Date

June 2002


Michael A. Stegman

With some innovative changes, public housing is making a comeback.

If new spending is a reasonable measure of the country’s priorities, then few areas of domestic national policy have experienced as dramatic a decline in favor over the past 25 years as low-income housing. That is especially true of programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which underwent profound change between the time Jimmy Carter entered the White House in 1977 and when Bill Clinton left in 2001.

Ironically, housing’s long-term fall from grace has set the stage for a remarkable comeback by the one low-income housing program that most fiscal conservatives love to hate: public housing.

After years of experience with newer housing programs that were successfully enacted on the simple fact that they were not traditional public housing, there has been a renewed appreciation for public housing and an accelerated pace of reform on the part of Congress and the presidency.

In short, because it is the ultimate social safety net for so many families who cannot find decent shelter in the private market, public housing has become too important to neglect and too critical to cities and towns across the country to be abandoned. As one reflects on the last 25 years of national low-income housing policy, a renewed recognition of public housing’s essentiality, and its embrace by Wall Street, is the great paradox.

Topics(s): Affordable Homeownership, Community Development Finance, Housing Policy