The Public Interest

“Problem Families” and Public Housing

Richard S. Scobie

Spring 1973

IN the two years since the publication of Roger Starrs “Which of / the Poor Shall Live in Public Housing” in The Public Interest, No. 23, Spring 1971, the article has been widely quoted, and its central thesis-the incompatibility of “working poor” and “dependent poor”-made the subject of both praise and scorn. Observing the general deterioration of public housing nationally (and in New York City in particular), Starr accepted the traditional explanation of housing professionals, namely, that it is the presence of “problem families” that is causing the difficulty. He identified these problem families as the “dependent poor”-usually black, femaleheaded families, receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)-and stated his fear that unless such families are excluded from public housing, the conflict betwen them and the less problematic “working poor” will drive the latter out.

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