The Public Interest

Housing programs and the forgotten taxpayer

Edgar O. Olsen

Winter 1982

AT onset of a new administration is an appropriate time to review the achievements of existing government programs, especially when this administration has been given a mandate to root out programs that are ineffeetive or no longer desired by taxpayers. This evaluation of housing programs is conducted from all unusual perspective, namely, the preferences of taxpayers who are neither recipients of housing subsidies nor involved in the provision of housing for these families. Most discussions of housing policy, especially among active participants in the policy-making process, ignore the interests of such taxpayers, even though they bear ahnost all of the costs of the programs. The traditional explanation is that members of special interest groups have a much larger stake in housing policy than other taxpayers do.  Although this is surely true, it seems clear that if any substantial proportion of the electorate understood existing federal housing programs, politicians would find it in their interest to change them radieally. As Irving Welfeld has remarked, the more these programs are understood, the less they are admired.  Despite their dominance in the policy-making process, I believe that the preferences of recipients and suppliers have little relevance to the formulation of good housing programs. This heresy requires an explanation.

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