Both Sen. Cory Booker and the Journal overlook the most direct public response to the affordable-housing crisis—the government building more rental units.
Regarding your editorial “Cory Booker Wants to Pay Your Rent” (June 13): Both Sen. Cory Booker and the Journal overlook the most direct public response to the affordable-housing crisis—have the government build more rental units. Dramatic failures like Pruitt-Igoe have given public housing a bad reputation in the U.S., yet overseas successes including Sweden and Singapore’s housing programs show what can be accomplished by the direct construction of new housing by the public sector to alleviate a housing crisis.
A key difference between the U.S. and public-housing efforts in Sweden and Singapore is that public housing there has been open to all residents, leading to mixed-income neighborhoods instead of impoverished ghettos. In both countries renters have long had the option of buying their flats, becoming homeowners. These residential projects also included various on-site services from retail to day care.
Many will cry “socialism,” but both Sweden and Singapore have thriving market-economies that rank high in the Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom: Sweden is No. 19, while Singapore is No. 2, just behind Hong Kong at No. 1, a city-state that also has an impressive public-housing program.
These overseas public-housing case studies are not without issues—but just as Hong Kong’s MTR runs trains much better than New York’s MTA—these examples show how mass affordable housing can be built and run well by the public sector.
Sen. Booker’s affordable-housing plan is a good start. I would go further. I would provide either a tax break or preferably a housing allowance to everyone who cannot afford market rent with 20%-25% of their income. That was the standard for federal housing programs until David Stockman’s Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.
How can our wealthy country do nothing when over half a million were homeless on a given night in 2018? Why should we provide housing assistance by lottery allocation? We don’t do that for health care or food assistance. How can we do nothing when middle-income families cannot find a place to live within a reasonable commute to work?
In Scotland, affordable housing is a human right. The city of Vienna provides decent housing for every resident. In Singapore, 82% of the population lives in high-quality public housing with amenities.
A few amendments to President Nixon’s Section 8 program could make housing available to everyone who needs assistance, while stimulating the economy, saving on the costs of homeless shelters and more. Safeguards could limit rents, and good regulations would set standards. The Section 8 program was most effective when Carla Hills was HUD Secretary in the Ford Administration.