August 20, 2013


The Housing Revolution : African-American achievement tends to go hand-in-hand with disdain for failed social experiments like large public-housing projects. (JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN, 8/18/13, WSJ)

The dismantling of public housing projects across America has been one of the most astonishing federal initiatives of the past 20 years. After spending billions of dollars to build public housing in every major city, many small ones and some rural areas over a six-decade period, the U.S. government reversed course in the early 1990s and started financing demolition rather than construction. Some 260,000 units out of 1.3 million nationally have been demolished or removed from the public-housing inventory since that time. The government also rescinded long-standing restrictions, such as the requirement that demolished units be replaced one-for-one, and encouraged cities to decrease not only the density of buildings but the actual numbers of public-housing apartments. It has been nothing less than a revolution in the public understanding of how government can best house economically disadvantaged residents.

Save for a few contentious demolition battles, it was accomplished with relatively little political controversy, negative media coverage or academic analysis. In "Purging the Poorest," MIT scholar Lawrence Vale takes a critical look at this history. He focuses specifically on Atlanta and Chicago, two cities that were pioneers in creating public housing in the 1930s and, 70 years later, became leaders in its transformation and elimination. In 2009, Atlanta, with 14,000 units, became the first major city to eliminate all its large housing projects. Chicago, which had long hosted the nation's second-largest stock of public housing, some 43,000 units, had taken down over 80 towers by 2011, with only a few left standing. [...]

The offensive against public housing has been led by prominent African-Americans, such as Renée Glover, head of the Atlanta Housing Authority, who has argued that it created a "self-defeating system" that "institutionalized low expectations and virtually guaranteed chronic failure." Ms. Glover is unyielding in her critique of the old public housing that her agency has demolished. She calls her work in Atlanta "the Third Wave of the Civil Rights Movement." That's because, she said in a recent interview, "public housing was not a channel of upward mobility for African-Americans. The projects were places of horrible living environments, where predators set up shop."

The greater the dispersal of the black population the better for all Americans.

Posted by at August 20, 2013 3:06 PM

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