Back in June the genius bureaucrats at the Department of Housing and Urban Development moved to finalize their rule going by the Orwellian name of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. I covered that development here.
As I reported, the idea behind HUD's AFFH Rule is that HUD itself cannot possibly be responsible for keeping the poor poor by imprisoning them in poverty traps known as "housing projects," because after all the bureaucrats at HUD are perfect and all-knowing government experts. Therefore it must be that rich communities are responsible for keeping the poor poor by putting in place exclusionary practices to prevent subsidized HUD housing from coming to their communities and thereby keeping the poor out. If only the poor had the opportunity to live in the same towns with the rich and successful, the "barriers to access" to good jobs and higher incomes would dissolve and the poor would rapidly rise up. Or something like that. So by the AFFH Rule we the expert genius bureaucrats are going to fix poverty by requiring every wealthy community in the country to accept a minimum amount of some form of public or subsidized housing! An article in The Hill on June 11 quoted an HUD spokeswoman on the AFFH Rule as follows:
“HUD is working with communities across the country to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity for all,” a HUD spokeswoman said. “The proposed policy seeks to break down barriers to access to opportunity in communities supported by HUD funds.”
Well, that was in June. Now it is October. Has all that been declared inoperative? You be the judge.
It seems that here in New York we have a situation that is much the opposite of rich communities excluding the poor. Here, in a rapidly moving process known as "gentrification," large numbers of prosperous young people have been settling in what were formerly very poor neighborhoods, often neighborhoods dominated by the HUD-subsidized low-income projects of the New York City Housing Authority. The Daily News reports on Monday October 12. A study has recently been released by a firm called Abt Associates, in association with the Furman Center for Real Estate at NYU. The trend:
The study found that in the past, NYCHA developments used to be mostly located in areas with persistent poverty. Due to real estate trends most now sit in either "increasing income” or “high income” neighborhoods. Those are neighborhoods where the average income is greater than the city's median income of $51,865.
The Abt/Furman study covers three NYCHA projects and their surrounding neighborhoods: Sedgwick Houses in Morris Heights (Bronx), Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City (Queens), and Elliott-Chelsea Houses in Chelsea (Manhattan). The News correctly describes these three neighborhoods today as "stubbornly poor" (Morris Heights), "rapidly gentrifying" (Long Island City), and "playground of the rich" (Chelsea). OK, that last one may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.
So lots of upscale people -- even "rich" people in the case of Chelsea -- have been moving in right next door to these huge warehouses for the poor. Shouldn't that mean that the barriers that have so far kept the poor poor have now been broken? Now the poor are so close to the rich that they can literally rub elbows. By HUD's theory, this has to be a great thing. Right???? Wrong!
Actually, according to this study, everything about living in proximity to the rich makes things worse for the poor. The article goes on and on, but I'll give you a good sampling:
"The study confirms what those in public housing have seen with their own eyes: gentrification offers a lavish living to a privileged few while leaving NYCHA residents behind with nothing more than a remnant of their former purchasing power," said Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), who chairs the public housing committee. . . .
The study noted there was also no guarantee that the upscale gentrifiers would send their kids to the often lousy public schools in the area NYCHA residents' children attend or even buy milk at the local bodega. Newcomers "may opt to send their children to private schools and support new grocery stores that may include only expensive fare, out of the financial reach of NYCHA residents," the report read.
The most extreme version of this unhappy dynamic emerged at Queensbridge Houses, where hundreds of new upscale condos have sprung up a few blocks south in the last decade, bringing in new amenities like improved streets and fresh produce. Residents there "felt that these improvements were meant to benefit new condo owners, often called the "runners and bikers" in the neighborhood, “rather than NYCHA residents." They noted "disparities" between the quality of housing and groceries nearest NYCHA versus the condos farther south. They "felt that condo residents — and not NYCHA residents — are the impetus for and primary beneficiaries of the changes." Queensbridge tenants and staff at job placement centers in the neighborhood "did not feel that the changes to the neighborhood's economic landscape, such as new hotels and corporate headquarters, have translated into increased local opportunities for NYCHA residents."
At the Chelsea Houses in Manhattan, tenants often felt that the gold rush caused by the influx of luxury condos and art galleries into the neighborhood starting some 20 years ago has passed them by entirely.
Let me know if you can think of any reason why all these same considerations would not apply in the case of HUD's grand AFFH plan to move large numbers of poor people into rich communities. However, there's no word so far that HUD is backing off its plan.
Might I gently suggest that the failure of subsidized public housing everywhere it is tried is not an issue of modest failures in proper execution of the mission, but rather arises from the fundamental flaw of the "to each according to his need" socialist model. HUD's business is creating poverty traps to keep the poor in poverty. HUD-subsidized apartments will still be poverty traps wherever they are located, not because of some mythical "barriers" that may or may not exist in some places but not others, but rather because of the poisonous incentives of the subsidized housing itself that cause people to stop striving in order to keep their housing subsidy.