lowincomehousing

Caught between rising costs and falling rents city

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Unformatted text preview: s, public housing had begun to project an image of disaster. Caught between rising costs and falling rents, city officials began to cut maintenance and security budgets for the deteriorating projects. Then the Brooke Amendment to the 1968 Housing Act placed a ceiling on rents of 25 percent of the tenants’ income, further reducing the amount of funds available for operating expenses. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, public housing became the subject of fierce attacks. In his book, sociologist Lee Rainwater (1970) condemned Pruitt-Igoe and other giant projects as human disaster areas. Portraying a bleak world of crime and violence where the strong persecute the weak, the architect Oscar Newman (1972) disparaged the design of the high-rises for their lack of security. The demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe project in the early 1970s, after repeated efforts to rehabilitate it had failed, symbolized the despair that surrounded the program. When Richard Nixon placed a moratorium on federal funding for all housing programs in 1973, many felt that it seemed appropriate to end a bad program. Yet despite the well-publicized failures, the disrepute of public housing was not all justified. From the 1960s, many local housing agencies produced elderly housing that was accepted without controversy and that, along with the Social Security and Medicare programs, helped enhance quality of life among older Americans. Moreover, many thousands were and are content to live in the inexpensive apartments that public housing projects offered, as long as some semblance of personal security was included in the bargain. The failure of public housing, although few seemed to realize it, was simply that the program by itself could not solve social problems, integrate society, or usher in a new high-rise urbanism. High Ambitions: American Low-Income Housing Policy 437 From the 1960s, housing advocates and officials began to retreat from the concept of public housing as an appropriate response to the problems of the urban poor. Policy makers devised new programs that provided indirect and direct subsidies to private, not public, developers and landlords of new and rehabilitated low-income housing. For example, the Section 221(d)(3) program (as it was first passed in 1961) and the Section 236 program (enacted in 1968) allowed mortgage lenders to dispense lowincome housing mortgages at rates below the current market. Later Section 221(d)(3) was amended to provide direct subsidies to cover the difference between a calculated potential rent and 20 percent of the tenants’ income. Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 created a complicated set of subsidies and tax incentives for constructing, rehabilitating, and maintaining buildings with low-income rental units. (The privatized construction programs were also bedeviled by problems, especially financial scandals.) In the 1980s, the Reagan administration began to promote Section 8 rental vouchers for tenants as a housing program that would avoid spending public monies on...
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