The Public Interest

Toward a new federal housing policy

Irving H. Welfeld

Spring 1970

FOR some time now, it has been generally accepted that the federal government has a duty to ensure adequate housing for all its citizens. Accordingly, Congress has enacted a long series of housing subsidy programs, that include public-private partnership and many sophisticated financial devices. Yet despite all these efforts extending over several decades, the results have been meager. The Douglas Commission put the matter this way:


Over the years, accomplishments in subsidized housing are extremely inadequate. The Nation in 30 years of public housing built fewer units than Congress, back in 1949, said were needed in the immediate next 6 years .... One might suppose after years of talk and controversy . . . that by now the Nation would have managed to produce a sizable quantity of housing units for low-income families. The record is to the contrary.

Why have we done so badly? The fault lies with the basic approach we have taken. The key components of the present subsidy system— public housing, below market rate interest, rent supplement and the interest subsidy programs—all aim at solving the problem by providing new dwelling units for the poor. Because there is a shortage of standard units and many of the poor live in substandard units, the production of new units for the poor has the virtue of conceptual simplicity and goodness of intention. Unfortunately, the strategy does not work.

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