116 Comment

  • I think public housing should be spread out more mixed-income style. The problem with congregating it into a whole building or area is that it perpetuates the public housing “lifestyle.” We’re better off having it so spread out, a few units here and there so that no one is even sure what units are public housing or not.

    I think people tend to act according to their perceived standards of their community (especially teens). Mixing everyone in together more may cause the middle and upper middle class to feel like the neighborhood is getting dragged down, but in the long run it lifts the most at-risk up and gives kids more inspiration to strive for something better in their lives.

  • I want to comment on this but I’m afraid of what the people who read this blog will say. Sorry, PoP

  • Housing projects were originally a very altruistic idea–prior to public housing, poor people lived in slums, built out of whatever scraps they could find. They were disease ridden and unsafe. The first public housing structures were some of the first buildings to feature air conditioning and modern refrigerators. Advocates of public housing felt bringing these people together would help them rely on each other–one out of work parent could care for a neighbor’s while the other went to work, etc. And meanwhile bringing the poor together meant it was easier to dispense with social services. The idea had two major failings. First, it assumed that everyone who was poor and in need of housing was honest and hard working. And second, it assumed that there would be sufficient access to public services for all the residents. The residents were never entirely honest, and over the years the social services have gradually been cut to almost nothing.

    Chicago began clearing out its public housing buildings a decade ago and the process is now almost entirely complete. I think less than a half dozen buildings remain occupied. The city has relocated the former tenants to less dense mixed-income housing and to private subsidized properties. At this point I think the jury is still out on the success of the mixed-income concept. There are plenty of complaints from the market-price residents about noise, loitering, littering, and violence. Only time will tell if this is a more successful model than public housing.

    I do think it is a misnomer to call public housing or any other poverty or housing resolution an ‘experiment’. Public housing began in the 1920s and 30s. It is like calling the nationwide interstate system an experiment. Furthermore it suggests that advocates of public housing view its occupants like modern-day Tuskegee Airmen. Sure there are some who just want to round up the indigents and get them out of the way, but for the most part, most advocates want to offer help to those who need it, not exploit them.

  • I think there is no question that currently some type of public housing assistance is needed in order to keep a certain amount of people from becoming homeless. That being said, I also think it’s clear that concentrating subsidized housing into large buildings and/or blocks of a high percentage of subsidized housing inherently produces bad outcomes in terms of crime, general quality of life, and segregates social classes in a detrimental way.

    I think the solution is to provide those who need subsidized housing assistance entirely through the Sec. 8 program. Those needing assistance would apply for rent reimbursement through the Sec. 8 system established now, and housing projects owned by the city itself or by private owners who are themselves subsidized by the city for entire buildings would be eliminated. All public housing assistance would be handled on a tenant by tenant basis, and the tenant would have to find a unit that the they can afford with the assistance the city would provide.

    Now, this alone would not really solve the problem, as one would imagine those needing public assistance would gravitate to lower income areas anyway, and you would still have large concentrations of residents receiving subsidized housing. What would be needed in complement is zoning mandates that only a certain percentage of units on a given residential block (a unit being a house or apartment) could be subsidized by the city. Once the percentage on that block is reached, the city would deny assistance to a tenant wishing to live on that block. Further, I think the percentage should be set fairly low, perhaps no more than 15%.

    I believe having a low percentage would ensure that the city didn’t get overcharged on rent for the subsidized units, since all the units would have to be set at market rate. In addition landlords would be prevented from letting their buildings fall in disrepair knowing their tenants had no leverage because they were dependent on public assistance, since a majority of their tenants would not be on public assistance, and presumably would have enough financial mobility and leverage to vote with their feet if building maintenance was neglected. Finally, over time it would serve to spread tenants in need of public assistance throughout a larger portion of the city, which I believe in the long run would be a net positive for the city’s culture.

    Admittedly, this is somewhat off the cuff thinking, and I have no formal training in city planning or urban sociology. If there are reasons that this policy would be fundamentally unworkable, I would like to hear them.

  • this is slightly off topic, but a personal reflection.
    as my job is in the social services field, i have to say that the whole system could improve. basically, in my opinion, here is the problem: the people that move into public housing do tend to be associated with the ‘public housing lifestyle’ , i.e. mental illnesses, substance abuse, etc. well, where does that come from? from their childhood, upbringing, surroundings, stressors, as well as getting used to this ‘norm’ and not seeing much more as an option to them. so the generations brought up in that, learn the same kind of life for themselves (with a few exceptions, of course). and mental illnesses and substance abuse are things that take A LOT OF WORK to help an individual overcome or even reduce harmful behaviors.
    now, who is working to do the work to help? underpaid and overworked social workers, who frequently burn out because the level of stress in their jobs does is not matched up by sufficient compensation. although studies have shown over and over, that the single most significant factor in improving one’s stability (both with mental illnesses & subst. abuse) is having stable and supportive relationships in their lives. if case workers r the only ppl who r not trying to use them, the only stable & supportive ppl in their lives, then these ppl sure don’t get much stability, because the system makes it nearly unbearable for individuals who have the energy and the passion they want to dedicate to becoming a professional in that field.
    it is impossible to live off the salaries in the social work field and rent and save money, or even consider buying a house. just like it is impossible to handle the workloads and stress of such a job and invest into something else, like say a family, or even a consistent hobby. therefore even the ppl who care a lot and have the energy and motivation, still cannot maintain their spot as a consistent support and really watch the benefits/improvements take place.
    and i don’t think everything will improve with more funding into social service programs, however; i certainly don’t think everything can improve without it.

  • You know who has no trouble finding cheap housing? Illegal aliens. Sure, they live 8 to a room, but they aren’t sponging off the government, and they’re not living in their own filth under a bridge (the unavoidable fate of any laid-off worker, if you believe the “homeless” advocates).

    Why can’t our home-grown poor be as resourceful?

  • It’s very hard to change lazy/stupid/crimial/mental illness/drug abuse, which is what vast majority of public housing tenants are.

    As Buck Turgidson points out, illegal – or legal – immigrants have no trouble finding housing or jobs. And their kids have no problems getting an education. Why? Because they’re not lazy, they don’t have a sense of entitlement or mental illness or substance abuse problems, and most importantly – they take initiative. When they are desperate for jobs, they loiter in front of Home Depot – which I’ve always sort of admired. In contrast, the public housing folks loiter in front of liquor stores and shady chinese takeouts.

    IMO, get rid off most public housing and create more time-limited homeless shelters. (With the possible exceptions for families with kids, and mental/substance abuse cases where these folks can be treated. )

  • The concept of mixed income housing assumes that people of higher incomes will live around people with lower incomes. In theory this is incorrect if you can control for the social problems of the poor. But what we have seen over the years is that people with MEANS move as they are highly mobile. As such, areas west of the park become areas with little to no mixed income housing, and areas east of the park become the guinea pigs in this failed experiment.

    The common refrain is that most of the people in the Columbia Road projects are law abiding. If so, that just proves my point that public housing isn’t the issue. It is the people that are not law abiding. Sadly, they are synonymous with lower income areas.

    I still have not seen any evidence demonstrating to me how poor living among the more affluent pulls the poor out of their predicament. I am a mentor to a young man. Thursday morning I went to his home to make sure he was going to school. He was in bed NAKED with his girlfriend at 9AM. No amount of mentoring can overcome this level of dysfunction in the home. No amount of mixed income housing is going to make a mother see that this type of behavior from a teenager is inappropriate.

    I mentioned this yesterday. I just rented a house to a lady with 5 kids. She was born in ’79. She will likely be a grandmother by the age of 35. Most of you have never spent much time in the homes of these people. The children are essentially raising themselves. At 30 y/o, a woman is still wanting to live her life. Think about how many of you get drunk/high or spend time with men/women you shouldn’t. Having a baby doesn’t change the behavior for everyone. The poor among us breed with no thought given to their finances. As such, you will see them having five kids with no meaningful way to support them emotionally or financially.

    I could go further and state how having 1M black men in prison is causing a terrible disruption in the black community. That is a large part of it as the women are left to pick from a diminished pool of men. I have female friends that can not find a man. They have reasonable standards. The numbers just are not in their favor. As such, even the most undesirable man can find a number of women to overlook his abandoned kids, criminal activity, and lack of employment. Maybe she will let him sell drugs from her apartment to maintain his companionship. This isn’t textbook. This is what I have seen up close and personal for the past 15 years. As an example, there was a man in the paper recently that had 21 kids by the age of 29. He had 4 kids in a year twice! This would not happen if the women had more viable options. All he had to do was stay out of prison.


  • If by “public housing” you mean “high-rise poverty storage and criminal training/breeding factories” then, yes, that model is a failure. What started as an altruistic program of slum removal, replacing them with a temporary residence for the poor, became permanent blight that many still live with.

    If you mean weeding out career indigents and narcotics traffikers, and placing those who want to work in mixed-income subsidized communities where crime can’t be concentrated and focused like a laser, then that model works.

  • The failure has been Home Rule. Hear me out. In far too many of our neighborhoods scofflaws and the Rule of the Mob reign supreme in Washington.

    It shouldn

  • Buck may have the answer. Find out how someone who came to this country penniless and who can’t speak, read, or write English and who expects and receives nothing from the government makes it work.

  • In theory, public housing could work if DCHA was relentless in enforcing their own rules. Units are supposed to be restricted to those on the lease (and immediate family). Nephews, cousins, boyfriends, and “associates” should not be living in the units. Furthermore, tenants can be evicted for any criminal infraction. If you enforced those rules (plus added a work requirement) you’d see public housing as it was originally intended to be. I’d like to see massive sweeps to ferret out interlopers on the properties – it should be a *hassle* to live in public housing, not a free ride.

  • Doubt the projects will ever go away, since most people who aren’t poor prefer to live far away from those who are. Better, they think, to keep all the poor in small, dense pockets in the inner cities so only yuppie liberal suckers have to deal with them. If such is our lot, let’s all strive to excel at being yuppie liberal suckers, since the rest of affluent society doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the poor and proves as much with where they decide to live.

  • Prediction: this thread is going to get ridiculous.

  • Monkeyrotica is correct (and not even a hint of sarcasm in the comment either).

    The design for much of the CH public housing is really bad. The public housing that is designed more like regular townhouses, faces the street, and integrates with non-public housing does quite well. That isn’t a coincidence.

    The “superblock” model of urban renewal is generally seen as a failure for non-public housing too. But the significance of the failure is amplified in large superblocks of public housing.

    Unfortunately, this is major infrastructure housing lots of good people. The practical realities of fixing large public housing projects are difficult (and expensive).

  • Why can’t we debate this in a public forum with city representatives present? I feel like we keep having this discussion, but I’m just not sure that decision-makers are hearing it.

  • I think Buck is spot on. Lots of people, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants and many others find ways to make life work. The community served by this housing model, and those that serve as their advocates, would lead us to believe that a) we are all indeed responsible for their quality of life, irrespective of the bad choices they make and b) that indeed, without government/public support they would end up homeless, penniless and starving under a bridge.

    I’m one of those religious wackos who believes that we are all indeed our brother’s keeper. I think we have an inherent responsibility to our fellow man, but I believe that responsibility necessarily must have some limitations. I think if folks want to live in public housing then they should be obligated to submit to random drug testing, their kids should be required to attend school regularly, they should be required to submit proof that they are working to improve their situation (vis a vis education, training or a job search) and any criminal conviction should be grounds for removal. I don’t see any reason why government/public support cannot and should not be tied to an individual upholding their end of the social contract. If a person doesn’t want to abide by the rules, then they are welcome to find housing elsewhere. In Latin America, specifically Mexico and Brazil, they have tied some of their support programs to school attendance. If the children in a family attend school, the family is eligible for support, otherwise, no. These programs have been successful.

    On my second point, I think people are a heck of a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. Are there people out there, mostly those with mental illnesses, who would allow themselves to starve? Certainly. That said, I think most people rise to the occasion when they are required to do so. If you’ve always lived in government housing and your folks never really worked, what incentive do you have to improve your condition. Sure, public housing is awful, but it is also free and permits people to go on living their lives, smoking crack, watching TV, etc., without interruption. Let’s interrupt that lifestyle, let’s cause a little “pain,” so to speak. Sure, for most of us we look at public housing and can’t begin to imagine how one could live there, but for many of the folks that do, it is just fine. Let’s shake things up a bit, let’s create an incentive for them to improve themselves. Let’s make the public housing lifestyle a little less comfortable, not by your or my standards, but by the standards of those who abuse the system.

  • Reformed Somali Pirate – I support this 100%. Our government has proven its inability to govern time and time and time again. I often feel like our council members are less qualified than the student leadership from my high school. They certainly waste about as much time on inane topics.

  • This debate has gone on for several decades, and “the decision-makers” have certainly heard it. While virtually everyone sees the macro problem, finding a solution that doesn’t do more harm than good is not as simple as many (including people posting on this board) want to believe.

    If we brought in the Army, rounded up all the people living in sub-standard and public-assistance housing, including Section 8 housing, sent them to Madagascar to fend for themselves, razed those sub-standard housing units to the ground and built new $500,000 rowhouses with picket fences and stainless steel/granite kitchens in their place, would crime drop in Columbia Heights/Petworth/ SE DC? absolutely. but a hell of a lot of people who had done nothing wrong, who had worked to eke out a living and raise a family on minimum wage, who had tried to take in a friend or relative’s child when that friend or relative abandoned the child to pursue their drug habits, who tried to make a better life for themselves and their families without selling drugs or stealing, would be in Madagascar too.

    the simple answers are also simplistic. they don’t address the real problems, they don’t discriminate between the law-abiding, working poor and the poor who are criminals or just too freaking lazy to get their ass off the couch and work (or at least look for work). it’s the equivalent of chopping off your arm to address a broken ulna. i’m sure that some will post on here that the “collateral damage” of mass destruction of subsidized housing is fine as long as it moves any problems out of their own neighborhoods but shuffling the poor geographically, whether it’s to PG County or Madagascar, and washing your hands is not a real solution.

  • Here come a bunch of comments from people who have probably never even had more than a ten second conversation with anyone who lives in public housing.

  • I actually have experience in development and yes, public housing is a failure and so is section 8. Section 8 just allows the private sector to get rich off govt subsidies (and if you understood how the rents are calculated you would be shocked that a landlord can get 1400/one bedroom in anacostia). the only public housing in upper NW is all for seniors. by design. no one wants low income kids. the key problem is that there are no time limits in public housing so no incentive to better your life to get out. We should have a five year limit on all residents. First and foremost, we need a massive birth control effort for people in this city. I know everyone will jump all over this as racist but BC should be given out for free and vasectomies too to every single resident in public housing. What we have now is just one poor generation after another giving birth to more. there is a reason that rich people have fewer kids.

  • Warehousing poor unemployed people is only a symptom of the problem we’ve dug ourselves into by sending lower-skill jobs overseas so that retailers can sell stuff cheaper and at a higher margin. You can redesign aid and housing for the poor all you want, but unless people have a job and purpose you’ll never “fix” these problems, you’ll just move them around.

    In 1955 nearly 35% of workers in the United States, like my grandparents, aunts and uncles (and many of your ancestors) were engaged in manufacturing jobs. These jobs required some skills, no doubt, but not skills that required one to be able to write, read all that well, or be a much of critical thinker. One’s criminal past, failure to graduate from High School, or general low character outside of the workplace (including number of babies spawned) didn’t really matter. As an example, my hometown of Akron, Ohio had somewhere around 800,000 rubber workers making tires as WWII came to an end. Today, less than three generations later, there isn’t a single one of those jobs left. Not one. I ended up in Texas as a lad because my low-skill worker parents (bricklayer and hairdresser) had to find work to escape a town that was literally killed by cheap foreign products and greedy companies.

    Today, only about 4% of the population is engaged in manufacturing jobs. But hey, things are sure cheap at Walmart! 30% of the lowest-end jobs have gone POOF! over to Asia and people wonder why we have such poverty, crime and aimlessness.

    The bottom line is that when people talk about “job training” and attempts to “lift” people out of the poverty cycle, it’s utter and complete bullshit as long as there exists no reasonable work alternatives for the least among us. Jobs at McDonalds are not careers. Those sort of jobs are what you do when you are saving up to buy a used car in high school. What jobs are we training people for? As the sad chasm between the entitled educated classes and the poor widens what America used to mean to middle class folks like my parents is completely dead.

    It’s sort of ironic too that the black population of DC came here from the rural south to enjoy that middle class opportunity only to find another kind of economic enslavement due to complicity of the US Government (tax breaks and NAFTA, anyone?), the moneyed classes, and bargain-hunting consumers.

    Happily, some economists think that the inevitable scarcity of oil will make transportation of foreign goods so expensive that the masters of production in the USA will be forced to open some factories here again. Maybe that’ll happen, because I don’t have faith in the American consumer doing the right thing.

  • Somali and Stubs:

    Was this city really that much better before home rule? You make it sound like DC was some sort of utopia back then. You also make it sound like the people of DC have complete control over the city today.

    Home rule went into effect in 1973. Before then we had legal segregation and little control over the day-to-day operations of the city itself. We also had large scale riots throughout the city after King’s assassination in 1968. How will disenfranchisement, political apathy and leadership without any stake in our city’s future lead to an improved city?

    Believe it or not, DC has improved over the last 30 or 40 years. The improvements to the city over the last 10 to 20 years have been even greater. Have we had problems? Of course. Do other city’s have problems? Yes. Does the Federal government have problems? No doubt. If I have to pick one or the other, I take local control of local concerns any day of the week.

  • re: whether congregating public housing in concentrated areas causes crime.

    It is indisputable that public housing leads to concentration of criminal activity. Just look at crime data. But what is the better alternative?

    There was a very interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly last year that examined the effect of the elimination of the public housing projects in Memphis, Tennessee in favor of the distribution of Section 8 housing vouchers to the displaced residents, who then dispersed to mixed income apartment complexes throughout the region.

    The result was troubling — the criminal activity continued, but spread out. This makes it more difficult for police to respond, and essentially creates a larger pool of victims for criminals to prey on. Here’s a link to the article:


    I don’t have a better suggestion for dealing with the issue. I wish I did.

  • Some of you would be amazed at the stories I hear. Did you know that there are programs that pay welfare mothers to go to work or school? I mean a stipend on top of the salary just for doing what most of us do every day. There are also programs that will pay for a welfare mothers transportation ANY and EVERYWHERE. That includes to the grocery store (you wouldn’t want the baby not eating would you?), to the doctor (you wouldn’t want to prevent a baby from medical treatment due to lack of transportation), to the emergency room (it’s cheaper than them calling an ambulance for their baby’s ear infection), to work (she’s trying to get off welfare and needs some incentive remember?).

    Many don’t even pay utilities. Especially the smart ones. I once had a tenant that had a baby receiving home dialysis. Home was filthy. But that is beside the point. Every time the gas/electricity man came to turn the utility off, she would use the baby as an excuse not to disconnect. It was as if the baby was a pawn to keep the utilities on. By the time the child is baby-making age, she will be having a hellraiser/leech on society of her own.

    Section 8 plays a vital role. Why? Well every landlord I know only rents to these people because of the outsized rents. Take that away and where would these people go?

  • I don’t think this is as simple as the question poses: it’s not demolish public housing or keep it as it is. The way public housing is constructed/thought about needs to be changed.

    I’m going to get called naive, but I think public housing can work if it’s not in the ridiculous complexes that are just dangerous for the residences of the public housing and the surrounding neighborhoods. That whole bock of Columbia Road is public housing, of course there are going to be problems. But it’s not the only reason Columbia Heights is dangerous, it’s a systemic problem that’s plagued the area for decades. Demolishing public housing isn’t a magic fix-all.

    I’m not advocating for mixed income housing in one apartment building but rather smaller complexes that are interdispersed with higher income housing, retail, etc on the same block.

    And for the record, I’ve spent a lot of time with people who live in public housing, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time within public housing complexes. Condemning everyone who lives there isn’t fair, as most of them want to have a safer, better place to live just like all of us.

  • Technically the apartments on Columbia Road btwn 13th and 14th are not public housing. They are privately owned, but are indeed subsidized through the Section 8 Project-Based assistance, which means that the residents pay what they would in a public housing project, but the complex is privately managed.

    To PoPs question:
    “If a building is currently 100% public housing and is torn down and rebuilt as mixed income with maybe 20% or 30% public housing then where do the rest of the residents go?”
    The complex in question, Columbia Heights Village is low density garden apartments — much less dense than the rest of the neighborhood. In order to create mixed income housing while minimizing displacement, it would have to be rebuilt much more densely. Suppose there are 500 units now. It could be demolished and rebuilt as a 2000 unit community — 500 of which would be subidized and 1500 of which would be market rate. This strategy has a lot of potential in DC where much of the public housing is low density and there is an increasing demand for market rate housing in the areas where public housing is currently located. The Capper-Carrollsburg HOPE VI redevelopment project near the nats stadium sought to replace public housing units on a one-for-one basis — meaning that in theory, all previous residents qould be able to return. That example may not be the best success story since it has had so many problems and delays, but it is worth mentioning. Also, DC’s New Communities Initiative is based on this same principle — redeveloping public housing into mixed income communities at a higher density with one-for-one replacement of public housing units. So far, the Initiative has targeted three public housing complexes including Park Morton which is located in the Parkview neighborhood.

  • Posted this on the other thread… so my contributions are based on 30 days of observation, of not just criminals, but victims, family, and friends.

    Served on the DC Grand Jury last summer

  • If you can’t afford to have kids, you shouldn’t have them. Why is that so hard for people to understand?

  • People’s opinions vary, of course, but there is a lot of ignorance about this topic. Public Housing consists in DC of only the properties operated by the DC Housing Authority. Section 8 properties are privately owned and managed, though the rent subsidies may or may not flow through the DC Housing Authority.

    There are a lot of different publicly subsidized housing programs, both federal and local and I think all agree that concentrating people in high rises or with exclusively poverty situations does not work. No one is proposing recreating it. It does make a convenient straw man, though.

    Of course, the biggest housing subsidy is the mortgage interest deduction which primarily benefits the middle class. And, of course, we just bought out Fannie and Freddie, and there is a $8,000 tax credit for buyers this year, and we have the highest foreclosure rate ever — speaking of failed housing policies…

  • The Atlantic article that Jake pointed to is a good read. It punches gaping holes in the commonly-held belief that the way to fix crime in public housing is to mix these folks in with folks that are higher on the socioeconomic ladder.

  • I can’t believe I’m reading this . . . Somali and Stubs: Your solution for bad government is less democracy?

  • Crime does not correlate with people receiving interest deductions for their mortgage payments. It is not an equal comparison.

    I own a home and deduct interest on my mortgage, but I also pay about $7,500 PER YEAR in property taxes. Where is THAT money going? I also put thousands of dollars into my house to make it and the neighborhood look better. I pick up the trash in front of my house and in the ally behind it. I am actively improving my neighborhood. I am vigilent and call 911 to report crime when I see it anywhere near my house.

  • Not sure I agree with the illegal alien comparisons. Many illegals get into the country through some network, whether it’s family already in destination country or a network sponsoring their emigration. These folks leave behind countries with indigent populations of their own, but those with the resources and/or resourcefulness to get here are often better positioned to get by than our severely handicaped populations (mental health, substance abuse, etc), even lacking legal status or English language skills.

  • Columbia Heights Village is a hell-hole and needs to be torn down. Yet, within the last year, there were lines around the block to apply to get in when vacancies came available. We cannot simply tear all of these hell-holes at once, that would simply force the recreation of alley slums which was, for a long time, the bane and shame of DC.

    The long-term answer clearly is a mix of Section 8 vouchers and mixed-income projects like City Vista or the various “new communities” that have been planned, but not quite yet built. With all due respect to Jim Graham, I do not think his championing of renewing affordable housing contracts in Columbia Heights on a massive scale is at all helpful as (I think) these projects are required to be “affordable” for 20-40 years, depending on the contract – – unless, of course, they fail. That said, even superblocks of large scale subsidized housing can be improved IF – – big IF — the management companies who run the housing are ruthless about keeping criminals out of the building and kicking out those who allow criminals entry. Without naming names, my understanding is that some of the well-known affordable housing management companies have been very lax in this regard.

  • I have heard that Lincoln-Westmoreland II, the garden apartments, is not going to have their affordability restrictions contract renewed. This is, at least in Shaw, a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the portions of Shaw I usually walk around in, near 1333 7th Street and Gibson Plaza are messes, as is the Washington Apartments. I read last year that the tenant takeover of 1333 7th Street has not worked out the way many had hoped, and that many of the problems and problem people they thought had gone away have returned. If the management and tenants of that building cannot get their act together, perhaps it is best if that the project simply fail, and have the building be sold and converted to a market rate project.

  • “Crime does not correlate with people receiving interest deductions for their mortgage payments. It is not an equal comparison” — home-owner

    It may not be an equal comparison with regard to crime, but it is an important point for those who are dogging public housing residents for taking “handouts” to consider. The annual subsidy to homeowners – via mortgage interest and capital gains deductions – is three times greater than the subsidy given to all low income housing programs… we are all on housing welfare.
    Also worth mentioning is that the more expensive your house is and the higher your income is, the greater your subsidy will be, since the amount is a function of the total dollars paid toward mortgage interest (greater on a more expensive house) and your tax rate (higher on higher incomes). If you own multiple homes, the subsidy applies to all of them. Imagine the outrage there would be if public housing residents were allowed to have a 2nd unit for them to use as a vacation home!

  • Expecting the landlords to keep out the criminals puts too much of the responsibility on the landlord. Most landlords in DC are small guys like me. How can I be expected to know the company my tenants keep? They will always say that this guy or that gal is a relative. How do you know if that person is technically staying there without barging in at all hours of the day and night? And that still wouldn’t prove the person is living there. It could just be coincidence that he is there every time you come.

    If I were looking to buy a condo in the 300K range, I would not buy in a building with subsidized/mixed use housing. I doubt that I am alone on this. That alone prevents it from working. People are free to live where they want. Not to mention, me living next door to a drug addicted, irresponsible mother, or welfare queen is not going to make her get up and improve her lot in life. It is a flawed concept likely thought up people that want to keep the poor out of their neighborhood.

    If it had a chance at working, you would have to spread these people out all over the city. I’m talking a handful in Tenleytown/Kalorama/Penn Quarter/G’town/Burleith/AU Park/Spring Valley as well as the usual suspect neighborhoods. We all know why this won’t happen…

  • This is truly a question, not meant to be sarcastic.

    What is the connection between public housing/subsidized housing, and unemployment? A lot of commentators here have assumed everyone living on Columbia Rd is not working.

    I thought we had welfare reform under President Clinton and welfare was now limited to a few years in which you had to be looking for or training for work.

    I do understand that public housing is funded separately from welfare. But if the residents of subsidized/public housing are getting their shelter partly or fully funded by the public, where is the rest of their money coming from? Are they [I]all[/I] committing crimes to buy food and clothing, or are at least some of them gainfully employed?

    And do we not require proof of employment or attempts at employment for residents to receive housing vouchers? If not, why not?

  • The Capper-Carrollsburg mixed income community aka Capitol Quarter has not had trouble selling their market rate townhouses at $700,000 despite them being mixed in with public housing triplexes. The developer, EYA, makes a point of showing prospective buyers which units will be public housing so as to provide full disclosure. Nate and certainly others would not buy into a mixed income project, but apparently many people will, if it is in a desirable location. I don’t see why this wouldn’t work in Columbia Heights.

  • Hi All,

    First I wonder when people suddenly got the idea they have a right to live in a specific place? I know a lot of poor people have lived in certain neighborhoods or cities, but if you can’t afford to live in an extremely expensive place live DC then you should live somewhere else. I can’t afford to live in Potomac, or Dupont for that matter.

    One thing said during this discussion is to TIME LIMIT public housing – let’s say 1 or 2 years max. If you can’t get your shit together, in that time, you are on your own.

    That being said, I think we as a country need to do the following:

    1. End the drug war that is devistating poor families and Communities

    2. With the Savings $$$ spend it on drug rehab, employment training, education, etc.

    I guess I just don’ see PERMENANT housing as a right. If you are having a bad time – yeah we need shelters. If you’re homelessness is caused by mental illness, we need to have Mental health services. If you are unqualified for a job, you need training (and a good public education).

    If you just don’t want to make the serious compromises and comitments it takes to find and keep a job, then too bad for you! I for one don’t think you have a RIGHT to live in DC or anywhere else paid for by your peers if you won’t pay for it with wages like everyone else.

  • @disaffected in DC

    I do not agree that tearing down high rise subsidized low income apartment buildings will lead to the recreation of alley slums as you suggest. I think the more likely outcome is that the displaced residents would go to the remaining subsidized apartments in the region, mostly located in NE or SE DC or move into apartment buildings in PG County that accept Section 8 vouchers. Those that could not go there would move into the homes of relatives and friends, again most likely located in NE and SE DC, and PG County. Some would become homeless. Not saying that’s good or bad, just that it’s the more likely outcome in my opinion.

    Also, I don’t think it’s really fair to blame the management companies for the bad behavior of their tenants. Their hands are tied in so many ways, from rules reqarding how they screen their tenants, to the really ineffective response from law enforcement after a crime occurs that we’ve all seen in this city. No matter how diligent the managers are, its not going to change the fact that many of the people who live in this type of housing are going to commit crimes. Unless these people are caught and punished, there isn’t much a property manger can do.

    I don’t mean to pile on, as I’ve had a lot of the same thoughts you expressed in your comments over the years. I agree with your comment that it would be better to allow the 1333 takeover to fail and convert the building to market rate housing.

  • mphs: You make a good point about “public housing” being a good strawman. The “problems” associated with certain areas of town can’t be fixed by redesigning buildings, shuffling people around, or otherwise simply putting window dressing on economic flaws in our current system. Huge structural changes to take away big business’ tax and labor law incentives for offshore manufacturing (and even low-skill service jobs, like call centers) are the type of measures that need to be implemented. But good luck with defying the money interests on that – we can’t even get single-payer health care (proven in every other modern economy) because of greed.

    Fact is you can’t knock out 30% of the available low-rung jobs over a 40 year period and then act surprised when the shit hits the fan. Everything else discussed here is just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. If people don’t have reasonable jobs that allow them to have some purpose, reasonable income, and self-respect, everything else is just bullshit. Why do you think the great-grandparents came to DC in the first place? Just to hang out and have this future for their families? No, they came to work.

    People also always throw “job training” into these arguments without giving a thought to just what decent jobs they think exist for trainees. Perhaps the poor attitude towards looking for a job or training for a job is related to the NON-EXISTENCE of said job. I also love the “immigrant” argument that always raises it’s dopey head in this debate. Immigrant workers make up less than 6% of the total job market (and even when unemployment was at a mere 4% in 2000 they only made up 10% of the labor pool) and the jobs many immigrants typically do, like construction and agriculture, have evaporated recently since they are cyclical, transient non-career jobs with very low pay. For example, there are 1/8th as many construction jobs in the US today as there were in 2005 (now less than 1.2 million). That’s why the border is now relatively quiet. The missing 30% of low-end manufacturing jobs that could be here instead of China and India would equal tens of millions of jobs (considering the entire US workforce is over 150 million), and not something that could ever be compensated by a few million construction and agriculture jobs that are transient and lower pay. Continually talking about how “hard-working” immigrants are misses the point completely. The jobs they do are simply not a honest alternative for all the low skilled citizens we need to employ.

  • Concentrated public housing is an epic failure for all involved. I think people realize it, but no one has the political gumption to really do anything about it on a large and immediate scale. Deep down, many people LIKE to concentrate it so it stays out of “their” neighborhoods. But the best model would be to spread it out and go to voucher-only public housing…

    I do like the idea of a time limit as well. At least for able-bodied, sane people. We need the safety net, but it can’t become a comfortable hammock.

  • Nate – what are the Section 8 rules related to density? I have heard there is supposed to be only one voucher recpient per city block? Is that true? My block went from one to 6!

  • Chris D – clearly you don’t understand the tax code… People who get the benefits of home mortage interest deductions and real estate taxes actually pay income taxes to begin with. Those in subsidized housing don’t pay income taxes, they pay payroll taxes, but not income taxes. As for more house, more deductions – there is a limit on indebtedness that is deductible, $1.1M of debt, above that it is phased out. With current rates… we’re talking about $65-$70k of deductible interest annually. Then there is this little tax called AMT, which re-calculates your regular income tax and adds back deductions including mortgage interest and real estate taxes. For really wealthy taxpayers, AMT is a non-issue, but then again – they earned it and home indebtness isn’t essentially to home ownership, either way the deductibility is limited to $1.1M. As for the capital gains exclusion, yes free and clear first $250k of gain for single and $500k for joint, so this is a subsidy, but is it? You’ve been taxed on the income earned to pay for your home, which is essentially deferred savings, and now uncle sam is taking his 15%. On the flip side, rental housing subsidies received are tax-free. Eitherway, taxpayers are subsidizing non-taxpayers, if you get tax benefits, you typically pay taxes (with the exception of subsidized housing and now debt forgiveness of your mortgage)

    And for anon @ 11:26. there’s this segment of the population that gets Social Security and subsidized housing, not requiring employment… Some of those who get SS checks also deal drugs to make extra cash…

  • I’ve lived 22 years right next to the Columbia Heights “projects,” and do know people there, including 3rd generations. The level of shooting & violence is actually relatively new – and the reasons would need a whole other thread – but I agree that this sort of public housing is a failure.

    I understand the complexities of poverty while also frequently wanting to slap them upside the head. I admit to petty annoyance at seeing every car parked there is newer and nicer than my own, and great annoyance at seeing idle residents hanging out all day while Latino janitors and groundskeepers, who presumably earn enough to support themselves, clean up their garbage and cut their grass.

    I believe there is a basic human right to shelter, sustanance, education and health care, but why is it the responsibility of DC, or any city, to provide services to anyone who wants to live there?

    You can rent a nice 3 bedroom apt. in Omaha for $550.00 a month. $485.00 in Wichita Kansas. Green grass, better schools.

    Cities need to develop lots more workforce affordable housing, scattered site subsidized housing for the transitional poor, supported housing for the mentally ill and elderly, even SROs for the intransigent winos, but I think we should also accept that a great percentage of residents in our current public housing system are “lifers.” If you are living off the dole, you don’t get to pick where you live. Move them to Wichita, let their kids get a good education and not get shot, then the kids can move back here when they grow up, get a job and can pay rent.

  • Odentex: I agree with you that “job training” is not a cure all. Much better would be quality schools. But when you say that the immigrant case doesn’t fit, It makes me wonder how they are doing these construction jobs while English speaking Public Housing folks who are familiar with the country say they can’t find a job? Maybe the construction jobs have dried up recently, but they have been around for a long time before this recession.

    I dont want to just rag on PH folks. Sure the country needs more jobs, but we know there won’t be much low skilled job creation around here in the foreseeable future. IF that’s the case, then maybe those with few skills should look elsewhere? Ton’s of unemployed autoworkers have left the rustbelt over the last 30 years in search of work in the south & west. If DC is such a high skilled area, then maybe it’s futile to try to maintain PH to keep low(or no)-skilled people in the city?

    P.S. before anyone says it – obviously there are low-skilled jobs in the city that are needed to allow it to function (restaurants, cleaning staff, etc.) and we can’t do without them. But by building “workforce housing” or other Public Housing, we are actually subsiding low wages for these lowskilled jobs. When a restaurant is confrnted with low-skilled workers saying they can’t afford to live in the ciy or the commute, the employers will have to increase wages. Sure – this will make their partons pay more, but isn’t this just fair? Otherwise, we ask the old grandmother in NE to subsidize a swanK bar through her taxes instead of having the partons of said bar pay a higher tab!

  • Victoriam: “If you are living off the dole, you don

  • Well, the violence around CH is not new. The former Clifton Terrace Apartments was a hotbed of shootings and violence for decades. Since then, the building changed hands, renamed Wardman Court and was thorougly renovated, but it is still an affordable housing project but with mixed incomes, not just the lowest of the low incomes. It would be interesting to know whether any of the crime problems arise from that complex. (I think it’s from Columbia Heights Village and a couple of other projects, but people who live in CH for a while might know for sure).

  • odentex,

    You raise good points, but I don’t think the answer is to artificially prop up low skill manufacturing in this country. I think our moving away from low skill manufacturing and towards a higher skill service economy is ultimately a good thing. The down side, of course, is exactly the one you point out. Low skill people get left behind. But I think the answer is more education and better training to give folks the tools they need to compete in a srvice economy. Easier said than done, I know, but I don’t think the alternative is any better.

  • someone wrote: “The annual subsidy to homeowners – via mortgage interest and capital gains deductions – is three times greater than the subsidy given to all low income housing programs

  • “…and great annoyance at seeing idle residents hanging out all day while Latino janitors and groundskeepers, who presumably earn enough to support themselves, clean up their garbage and cut their grass.”

    I thought this image of Victoriam’s says a lot.

  • I get what you are saying Victoriam, but Wichita is not a good analogy to make. You may think I’m joking, but I’m not, when I say Wichita has a serious gang and crime problem. That, and the fact that there are almost no jobs, is why the rent is so cheap there.

  • As Buck Turgidson points out, illegal – or legal – immigrants have no trouble finding housing or jobs.

    This is what’s known as selection bias. Immigrants come here because they have a specific opportunity they found. If that opportunity isn’t available, they don’t come. Then if they lose a job and can’t find a new one, they return to their home countries. Non-immigrants don’t have those options. The immigrants you see have jobs because if they didn’t have jobs, they wouldn’t be around here for you to observe.

  • @ PoP: since this topic comes up pretty regularly, and regardless of perspective, people obviously have given it a great deal of thought, I have a suggestion. How about forward the poll results and text of the comments to Mayor Fenty, Councilmembers Graham, Bowser, and others, and whoever else you think might be interested?

  • Prince Of Petworth

    @Mr. T good idea. I’ll do so over the weekend.

  • We had a similar discussion a few weeks back and someone brought up “La Haine,” the French film about the problems with poverty and crime that plague the poor suburbs of Paris.

    I belive that our society is moving in the same direction, with the upper and upper middle classes moving to urban centers and the poorer moving out to outskirts of the city. I don’t think living in the city is a “trend” that will go away any time soon, especially with high gas prices and concern for green living (e.g., living in walkable areas and living close to work).

    Anyway, my real reason for commenting is to ask if anyone owns a copy of “La Haine.” I would love to borrow it. I live near 11th and Kenyon, so if you’re in the area, let me know. We could even have a movie night and then have a civil discussion about the topic afterwards.

    Who’s in???

  • JustMe – I would have to disagree with you. I dont’ think people make the trek from El Salvador because a speficic opportunity is here. They come here becuase many have family already here who tell them that they can find work or can help them find work and because, life in El Savlador hopelessly sucks. I don’t beleive for a second they just pick up a go home because the work dries up. Been to Home Depot lately? Think the guys out front with thier paint brushes and dry wall knives have gone home? No they are still hustling (in the best sense of the term) for work. I think Buck’s point was that the latin immigrants generally look for work, find opportunities for themselves. Our wonderful public housing folks don’t. There is little to no motivation that comes with a work ethic that is taught by parents and a welfare/housing system that still does not incentivise work.

  • La Haine is available on Netflix.

  • eric in ledroit Says:

    June 12th, 2009 at 12:32 pm


  • This website somewhat correlates with today’s discussion:


    There are maps for DC based on race, poverty, income, education, violence and theft. Be sure to read the excerpt on the left side of the screen. It provides a good overview of what the maps are telling us.

  • Odentex is the only person in this discussion making any sense. I suggest everyone read and re-read his or her comments.

  • @ Eric in Ledroit

    Yes its money that you earned, but its money that you agreed to pay the bank when you assumed the financing terms associated with the loan product you bought. When the government reimburses you for a substantial portion of your finance charge, which during the early years is the majority of your monthly payment, that is a subsidy.
    I am completely aware that this is not a typical subsidy since it is not a direct government outlay but rather foregone revenue. It, in effect, lowers the tax rate for homeowners, jeopordizing the progressive nature of the income tax (assuming that homeowners earn more than renters on average).

  • Steve, it is a well-known phenomenon that many immigrants return home, either because that was the plan all along– to work in the US for a while to save money — or because their big plans didn’t turn out as well as they had hoped.

    This has happened with many Mexicans immigrants in the USA. I presume it is happening with many Latin Americans. I’m just saying not to discount the fact that immigrants are here by choice. They had specific reasons for coming, and if things don’t work out for them, they can always leave and go back to whatever they had in their home countries. Americans don’t have that option. In fact, I’m sure there are plenty of unemployed and unemployable people in these immigrants’ home countries… they’re certainly not going to be the ones who make the effort to come to the US, and thus you’re not going to see them. You’re only going to see the relative success stories.

  • dcdude: So instead we “artificially prop up” cheap consumerism with tax dodges and slave labor in the third world? There are reasons why manufacturing has died in the USA and they have to do with profits over people at every turn. This canard of how the rising tide of the “service economy” will float all boats is as bankrupt as “trickle down” theory. We are becoming a hollow nation of the very wealthy and the very poor and it is a direct result of this shift away from employing the lower skilled in favor of warehousing them in public housing and prisons and then going “tsk, tsk” when they fail to convulse with glee when we offer them a McDonald’s job. We are even starting to become a food importing nation. It’s really quite amazing. When we can’t feed ourselves without the labor of slaves, clothe ourselves without the labor of slaves, and placate the masses of poor on our own doorstep without free bread and televised circuses, how much longer will the republic stand?

    The ironic thing is that this greed is so short-sighted. We are just starting to experience the beginning of some of the privileged classes getting tossed out on their ass. Surprisingly, when someone loses their job at Bank of America they don’t think getting a job at Mickey D’s in the wonderful new “service economy” reality is so wonderful.

    The reality is that manufacturing will probably not come back, and there certainly is no will in this capitol to force the wealthy interests to heal, but if “service” jobs are the answer you’re asking the wrong questions.

  • “Yes its money that you earned, but its money that you agreed to pay the bank when you assumed the financing terms associated with the loan product you bought. When the government reimburses you for a substantial portion of your finance charge, which during the early years is the majority of your monthly payment, that is a subsidy.”

    the government isn’t reimbursing me!!! they are simply taking less of my damned money? how hard is this to understand? the government doesn’t *make* money, it seizes money from productive people and redistributes it. to a limited degree i think this is good – for example, i think we need single payer healthcare available to all. but entitlements that create the cycles of dependence and criminality such as i witness in the public housing projects up the street from me is simply buying votes for a certain political party that has a 90+% majority in this city.

  • In terms of immigration, has anyone ever thought that the Mexicans would not be immigrating here if the current residents would work the jobs the Mexicans are coming here to do? I remember passing a construction site at 6th & H during the immigrant strike a couple years ago. The job was essentially shuttered due to the lack of immigrants. There is a whole side of town full of black people that should have been there ready to work that day. Whenever I am in SE or PG, I see mostly Latinos working the fast food and even the car washes. You have to blame the black people for creating an opening to allow themselves to be put out of work by people that don’t even speak the language.

    McD’s may not be the best job in the world. But I guarantee you won’t move to anything better if you don’t at least start somewhere.

  • “the government isn

  • chris d – please read what I already wrote and now let me give you some numbers because they matter, not what you theorize about.

    Single person $100k of agi pays $19,479 of tax assuming the standard deduction

    Single person $100k of agi pays $12,800 of tax assuming $25k of interest and $5k of RE taxes.

    Now I know your definition of substantial is going to vary with mine, but you are paying $30k for a 34% tax savings… paying $30k to save $6679 in tax.

    Also, the person taking the standard deduction pays nothing for it, so the savings are less when you factor that.

    Odentex – exporting jobs to China started in the early 70’s before “trickle down economics” was coined. If you want manufacturing jobs here, you need to get rid of the environmental nutjobs, parasite product liability attorney’s, reduce the costs of corporate tax compliance and get rid of unions. Toyota and Honda are building non-union cars here, while GM and Ford are building non-union cars in Asia. How many highly profitable union industries exist? Newspapers, autos, steel, nope…

  • A little perspective to squelch the flames:

    When this country was founded, over 90 percent of Americans worked in the agricultural sector. By the beginning of the 1900’s, that number was at 37 percent. Today, it’s less than 1.5 percent, and somehow, “the republic” has survived. Yes, it was a painful transition. People were displaced. They had to leave the farm and find new skills in the city. But that doesn’t mean we should all go back to scratching out a living in the dirt. The transition was ultimately good for America. A similar transition is happening again. I didn’t say that the service economy would “float all boats.” People are hurting. But the solution is to give them new skills to be able to compete in better, higher paid jobs. If we can do this (and we’ve done it before), then all of us will ultimately be better off. And for the record, I’m against abusive tax shelters and slave labor, but to say that they, alone, explain the transition from a manufaturing to a services economy is really an oversimplification.

  • Nate: That’s the point. McD’s should be a starting point. But then where? What *exactly* do you think a kid with only a high school diploma can do to support himself in this economy? What about a kid without a high school diploma (like my dad was)?

    If McD’s was a starting point for something else then you might have a point, but since we’ve effectively pulled the rug out of the bottom 30% of worker’s of permanent, decent employment options the results we see are predictable.

    If your theories were correct then why is it that dysfunctional poor families (black and white) managed to keep their heads above water prior to the destruction of nearly all the low skilled jobs in the US? Why didn’t “the Mexicans” take all those jobs too back in the 1950’s-1970’s if poor people are so naturally inclined not to work?

    As my dearly departed, and very poorly educated, old dad used to say when I’d come home with my typical report card “well, we can’t all be rocket scientists.” We have to create the conditions were people can have reasonable careers doing reasonable work and make reasonable money doing it. McDonald’s ain’t it. Digging trenches on transient road projects you happen to see occasionally ain’t it. Don’t tell me that people won’t work factory jobs, make clothing, solder circuit boards, make tires, run milling machines, weld together cars and ships. Don’t tell me black people won’t do that, because they did. If they hadn’t you and I wouldn’t be where we are today.

    Bringing this country back to some equilibrium is going to be hard. Many of us are going to have to give up some of our luxuries to get there and, frankly, I think that the well-educated but blinkered rich in this country would rather ignore the problem or just continue to rail at the symptoms.

  • eric in ledroit

    clearly chris d can’t comprehend the concepts…

    chris d – learn the rules of the game… and then play the game.

  • @BH
    It is irrelevent that this hypothetical individual spent $30k on housing. That is his choice. If I choose to spend $30k on Air Jordans the government will not allow me to reduce my taxes by $6679, but if I spend it on housing they will. Why? Because a policy decision has been made to subsidize homeownership but not sneakers. I think that is wonderful. Housing should be subsidized. But if the 100k guy gets the $6679 subsidy, then low income renters are entitled to subsidized housing as well. Public Housing in its current state is a mess, but the idea behind it being part of society’s safety net is strong.

  • Ahoy !

    Felicitations are in order.

    With gratitude and appreciation, many thanks to the generous and wonderful advertisers that make this medium and forum possible for all of us. Continued success.

    And to you, too, Prince of Petworth, and congrats in assembling an audience of hundreds in just a matter of hours after this posting.


  • dcdude: What perspective? You’ve completely failed to mention that those people who came out the farm fields went into the factories where they made more money and had better lives. The subsequent change has NOT increased the lot of these workers, only those in the executive suite.

    That’s a TEENSY difference, don’t you think?

    Further, the “service economy”, or postindustrialism model, is a joke for several reasons, and if you want to get into the boring details I am happy to oblige, but you won’t be smiling at the end because it is nothing but grim.

    But some basic fallacies include the fact that such a model cannot adequately employ the same workforce. Service jobs are not a “new” thing that is replacing an old model, yet another reason the agriculture to industry model is NOT an decent analogy. Manufacturing assembly skills do not differ much from the skills needed in manual agriculture, the skills needed to be a Doctor or a social scientist (including years of specialized education) are not the same. You cannot “retrain” a significant percentage of lower skilled workers to be successful in any of the sustainable, decently-paid, white-collar service jobs, and low-skilled retail is not a reasonable substitute for manufacturing type careers either in pay or opportunity. We are leaving 30% of the working population behind and it has consequences. It’s a stepping-stone or supplemental job at best. To equate the two is foolish.

    Second, since this is an existing pool of jobs, not a new pool (as was the case at the dawn of the industrial revolution), competition is not just between those formerly employed in the first profession, but those who already have the been employed in “services” and therefore have a distinct advantage. Also, there is a scarcity of these types of jobs that did not exist at the time of the agriculture to industry migration.

    Bottom line, postindustrialism leads to an unbalanced mix of jobs – those at the top, those at the bottom, and nothing in-between. Without a healthy middle class our economy suffers, education suffers, quality of life suffers, political discourse suffers, we all suffer.

    I know that a lot of people like to believe that we can “grow” our way out of these problems with McJobs for the masses and cushy lives for the rest of us, but I have to call bullshit. It’s unsustainable. Pain now, or more pain later.

  • The Atlantic Monthly article is hardly the common belief and has been heavily criticized both

    (1) For its research methods: http://www.prrac.org/pdf/HUD(ToddRichardson)ReRosin-Atlantic.pdf

    (2) For its sensationalism: http://www.shelterforce.org/article/special/1043/

    While sensationalism may sell magazines, it probably shouldn’t be used to establish policy.

  • @chris d

    You are right when you say that the tax deduction for mortgage interest is done to encourage homeownership in your post above. You then go on to confuse encouraging homeownership with subsidizing housing. These are two very different things.
    One creates an incentive to invest in one’s community, the other is a handout.

  • chris d – as much as I enjoy a friday afternoon pissing match… had there not been $5k of re taxes (which might pay for your rent subsidy), the tax liability would have been 14,050, a difference of $5,429 which is actually less than the 5,450 std deduction. So on the interest only, which is what you use to by the house and are arguing about – your so called subsidy disappears.
    Your argument boils down to – if taxpayers are entitled to home mortgage interest deductions, then non-income taxpayers should be entitled to rent subsidies because it is a strong safety net that is plagued with problems. So on your walk home, please pick up some trash, buy a dude a 40, and wake up the latino fella passed out on the sidewalk.

  • [complete tangent warning]

    Chris D — you miss the point. Of course, it’s a subsidy in some sense, but the home mortgage interest deduction exists to incentivize certain behavior that, from a policy standpoint, has been deemed desirable. In this case, it’s home ownership — presumably because it essentially increases an individual’s savings rate by building equity in something (or did, when such things as negative equity were distant whispers), spurs homebuilding jobs, builds the local property tax base, and incentivizes a different standard of care for the property/community where the home is located than does the transience of renting. We certainly could give a deduction for the sales tax on Air Jordans if we really wanted to make His Airness richer and thought it would be better if all Americans could get an extra split second of hangtime, but that’s a BS analogy. Better to consider the even more direct subsidy of tax credits to spur economies of scale for the manufacture of hybrid vehicles, which has worked OK, judging from the number of Priuses on the roads. Whatever we incentivize through deductions and credits, however, that reflects the fact that, collectively, this has been deemed good policy, as with the deduction for charitable giving or contributions to 401(k)s or health savings accounts . (And we all live in DC and know lobbyists, so take the notion of “good policy” with a grain of salt.)

    Public housing, on the other hand, is a safety net. It arguably creates negative incentives for the subsidy-receivers (i.e., don’t exceed income limitations, have another kid to get a larger subsidy), not positive ones. That’s the difference between the housing subsidy via mortgage interest deduction and Section 8 vouchers or direct public housing. One is there as a last resort, the other is there to move us where societally we’ve decided we’d like to go. You can call both subsidies all you want, but the policy considerations underlying each are much different.

    And Odentex, read Thomas Friedman. The old-line manufacturing jobs are gone. Global economy and all that. Sure, a small % might migrate back when shipping costs exceed labor savings, but we need to redefine our economy rather than lament and blame what we lost that’s not coming back. The greened economy is one idea. Steel and rubber is not. Let’s start training these people for the next generation entry-level position, not the last generation one.

  • bleeder: I said that “service economy” BS is as empty and short-sighted as “trickle down” theory, not that they were somehow related to each other or that Reaganomics alone caused the flight of manufacturing jobs – though it facilitated it surely.

    Beating organized labor over the head for the sins of the cheapskate consumer, the feckless regulator, and the greedy investor is a very popular sport, sort of like calling for housing projects to be torn down when they are inconveniently located near valuable real estate, but it’s also pretty laughable. I love it when anti-labor sycophants bring up the non-union Honda and Toyota factories in the south as if they are some shining example of how to “compete”. How is it Honda and Toyota with their UNIONIZED workforce in Japan (their Japanese workers almost went on strike in February until they got higher wages) were able to compete before they opened in America? Seems to me it might have more to do with the cars that are being built and less about the pennies more paying a decent wage might add to the sticker price.

    As for the other typical talking points from the Fox News ticker that you trundle out. Must we? Really? Corporate taxes in the US are the same rate as Japan. The same.

    Can’t be bothered with the rest of the silly sound bites you repeat.

  • Pirate: There isn’t anything more germane than being honest about the real causes behind endemic poverty and crime. Discussion about “tearing it down” and “locking them up” are futile expressions of a pampered population that abjectly refuses to understand the problems. You can’t expect people to be self-sufficient if there are no reasonable options for self-sufficiency.

  • whoever shared the radicalcartography maps–thanks! they are fascinating. I’d love to see more modern ones (these are from 2000 so things like the demolition of Capper-Carrollsburg & the new stadium, or the development of CH aren’t on there).

    I agree that we as a country/city have to do better at job training (for living-wage jobs that actually exist, somehow) and think that the school system needs a major major overhaul. Because if you’re a kid in DC with mediocre (ie, not abusive or neglectful but not incredibly driven or wealthy or educated) parents, upon graduation from most DC schools (if you manage to graduate at all) you are pretty unlikely to be capable of much higher education or many jobs that pay a living wage.

    And while clustering low-income folks by themselves in isolation concentrates crime, it does also have benefits–enabling provision of services (subsidized day care, drug treatment, mental health clinics, whatever) allowing people within the complex to informally provide services to each other (cooking, grocery shopping, childminding), and the ability to send more cops to a particular area rather than having to spread enforcement out like in the Atlantic article cited above. I think one good solution is the HOPE VI model (when done correctly–it often is not) where large numbers of low-income people still live in an area, for access to services, but people who can pay higher rents are enticed to come in through new and denser construction–which in itself brings more services to an area–things like restaurants that will deliver to a neighborhood, faster response times to city service requests, outdoor movie festivals, coffee shops, grocery stores, playgrounds…stuff that people denigrate as yuppie or hipster or gentrification, but that low-income people can enjoy too (and that provide jobs without a long commute). I think combining different income groups into a single development is ideal and can work if:
    a) the “market-rate” units are actually slightly cheaper than they are elsewhere
    b) the majority of the units are targeted towards middle-income or higher residents.

    I’m in a funny situation myself, because my income qualifies me to live/moderate income-targeted units while my education and family background make me look like someone who should be paying market rates. And whether you think of me as a “public housing person” or not, I think I’m still a good member of the community–I volunteer, I follow the law, I’m not noisy, etc. I think that’s the benefit of mixing incomes–that you stop thinking about whether I’m recieving a housing subsidy or not (and I agree, mortgage interest is itself a subsidy , just like zoning laws that require developers to include parking in new buildings are a subsidy for car owners) and start thinking about me as a person (or just don’t think about me at all; that’s fine too!)

    Finally, to everyone who says we should get tougher and kick people out of PH after a couple years, what do you suggest we do with the kids who are then made homeless or bounce around among friends, relatives, and short-term cheap rentals? Because I don’t exactly think that’s a great way to have the next generation better educated and with fewer mental health issues than the current one.

  • Anonymous: I see your chart topper Thomas Friedman and raise you a less Hollywood-happy-ending Eamonn Fingleton. I don’t doubt that the jobs aren’t coming back at all. The capacity for denial among the average American will consume this fact along with the long-past tipping point for systemic environmental change, peak oil, and nuclear proliferation. You can “redefine” all you want – good luck with that.

    The next step will be when we become net importers of food (which will happen if trends continue).

    On the bright side: there are no Visigoths left.

  • Odentex, you’re living in a fantasy world. An America where someone works in a factory making tires 8 hours a day and earns enough to have a comfortable middle-class family, home, car, and pension is long, long gone (not sure if it ever existed, really).

  • Housing policy should not be about trying to change people’s behavior… it needs to be about helping poor people afford to live in areas where their kids can attend high-quality schools. That could mean vouchering some PH residents out to Montgomery County, subsidizing others to stay in Columbia Heights as the schools improve, and incentivizing the development of mixed income communities in areas that have yet to be gentrified.

  • Anonymous: I’m living in a fantasy world? I’m not the one wondering where all these unemployed poor people came from while I drive (quickly) by the project in my foreign car wearing my foreign-made clothes. Once again, I have little doubt that these jobs will not return, and absolutely NO DOUBT that the average American will not suffer higher prices on goods nor be able to discern the comfortable lilt of false propaganda from moneyed interests from the unpleasant drone of the obvious.

  • quick question – what percent of DC kids get high school diplomas?

    i’m betting most of you are way off in your take on this.

    here’s the answer: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_baeo.htm

    that’s right – it’s SIXTY PERCENT. Yes you read that correctly – 40% of DC kids don’t graduate from high school.

    until that changes there is really no hope. we need to get serious about educating these kids. a good place to look is at the Harlem Children’s Zone model where poor kids are basically raised by the school, spending 12 hours a day there. no vacation, basically just lift them out of dysfunctional homes and train them to live in society. i can pretty much guarantee that the 10 year old kid that tried to break into my house with a brick around noon on a school day (I caught him) is going to end up in jail or dead. somehow, we need to figure out a way to make it impossible for those circumstances to happen (10 year old running around breaking into houses instead of being at school).

  • I just joined Netflix and ordered La Haine. I’ll be sure to report back in a few days (or next time we have a similar comment string).

  • Odentex, you’re missing the point. The poor people were there before, during, and now after your idealized (fantasy) world of the American factory.

  • I like the idea that eric in ledroit brings up for the kids that are already born. For the futhre though, we need to offer free birth control to these people so they stop having the kids in the first place.

  • Odentex – I missed the part about unionized industry thriving… perhaps gov’t unions. Could this be why?

    Where are the shining examples of unionized labor showing us how to compete? Product quality undoubtedly gives japanese vehicles a competitive advantage, but so does the sticker price. Why would you pay more for less? Is product quality a result of design or assembly? Is there less design quality because of higher costs of assembling for US automakers? Does japan have greater technological capabilities than we do? Has GM/Chevy made two models of the same car/truck w/ different names (Tahoe/Yukon) for three decades because it was competitive?

    I mean, its easy to dismiss my alleged “fox news talking points”, but you present no viable alternative. A few pennies difference is not a compelling argument for maintaining unionized labor. Do you want low cost producers or no producers?

    It was corporate tax compliance, not corporate tax rates, but nonetheless…

  • Anonymous: No doubt that the poor have been around forever – but it’s a bit unrealistic to suggest the solution is for them to “get a job” to pull themselves out of poverty when said jobs don’t exist. Firstly, most poor people do work (even those who live in section eight), but they are underemployed in these wonderful “service jobs” everybody seems to think are a solution. When you make minimum wage your not going to be able to pull yourself and your family out of public housing – that’s just a fact. People were calling for solutions and suggesting an impossibility is not a solution. Secondly, while the poverty rate in the USA has remained steady for years our population has not and consequently there are almost twice as many “poor” people in the USA then there were when Bobby Kennedy visited West Virginia and went “ewww”.

    Eric: You get high school graduation up to 80%. Then what? .25 cents more an hour serving you a burger? No doubt that education is important, but what future are we preparing these kids for. We need decent paying jobs for lower skilled people otherwise it’s just pissing in the wind.

  • Ahoy !

    and greetings, Odentex.

    I perceive history differently and in another context. I believe in the capacity of individuals and of Americans.


  • Bleedie: You seemed to miss the part about the Japanese being unionized. In fact, in an ironic twist, the average Japanese autoworker today makes MORE than the average unionized American autoworker (and a shitload more than a autoworker in a non-union shop), and yet they still seem to have been competitive for, oh, nearly 35 years. But you do bring up an interesting question as to how they do it.

    One way is because our brave government has never pressed the Japanese about their protectionist home market and the barriers they have created which have resulted in Japanese marques capturing 94% of all domestic car sales. This has allowed them to subsidize lower margins in competitive markets like the US with higher margins made on their captive market. For example, models like the Honda Fit are regularly priced 30% higher in Japan, right outside the factory where they are made. It’s a win-win for companies like Toyota and Honda who can reap the rewards of a captive market’s margins and undercut the dumb American brands with razor-thin margins here (for example, Toyota actually lost money on their full-size trucks for years).

    I have other things to do on a Friday night (and you should too) so all I can say about your baseless comments about unionized labor is that you ought to read a history book once and a while if you need an example of the strength of orgaized labor since the greatest economic expansion in the history of the world was performed from the sweat and the consumer purchasing power of unionized labor in the United States in the 20th century.

  • Pirate: I see, you prefer fantasy to reality. Fair enough. I can dig.

  • All of this axe-grinding is truly deafening. Suffice it to say, though, that people are better off now than they were during the industrial revolution. Even the bottom rung. The shift away from making widgets has played a substantial part in this. Not everyone can be doctors and lawyers, true, but even people very little formal education can be taught to find valuable, rewarding work outside of the factory. Speaking of dear old dads, my father too worked on an assembly line for many many years before it the factory closed its doors. He too didn’t have a high school diploma. We struggled, sure, but he took basic computer literacy classes and was able to find work in customer service for an airline, where he enjoyed a decent wage, full benefits, and a decent pension when he retired. I know one example does not prove anything, but I use it simply to illustrate that I strongly disagree with your contention that people cannot be taught new skills. I also disagree with the implication that the services sector is some static thing where there are only a fixed number of jobs to be doled out. Services have been an engine of growth in this country and will continue to be. There’s room for everyone.


  • Odentex – do you seriously believe that:

    ” those people who came out the farm fields went into the factories where they made more money and had better lives.”

    Have you read any history? 19th century factory work was hell (actually factory hell started much earlier in England – i.e. Dickensian) with 10 hour days, 7 year old children working 10 hour days? Everyone breathing toxic material; and oh yeah – being burned alive because they were locked in to insure maximum productivity? (Triangle Shirtwaist Fire?)

    And there was no need to ship jobs overseas because in 1884 San Francisco, shirt factories that had paid white women 50 cents to hand-sew 12 buttonholes, now could pay 7 cents to Chinese immigrant labor.

    Rapacious profiteering is sadly nothing new, but it diminishes the discussion for you to pretend it is.

  • Triangle Shirtwaist Fire? Are you serious? I hardly thing assembling circuit boards in 2009 can be compared to the 19th century condition of manufacturing. Talk about diminishing the discussion.

    I’m out.

    Have fun, fat consumers!

  • Odentex, I disagree with several of your economic solutions. US manufacturing prospered immediately after WWII, an era when the rest of the developed world was in ruins. US companies did not have to compete with foreign firms and labor was scarce. The circumstances were unique. High-pay, low-skill manufacturing jobs (as opposed to high-pay, high-skill manufacturing jobs, as in Germany) will never exist again, anywhere in the world. Do you really want the US economy to be modeled after Japan, as you hinted at several times? Japan’s economy has hardly grown over the last 15 years and is faring worse than the US’s even now. Low-skill manufacturing jobs will continue to be moved to low-cost countries (but instead they will be moved from China to the next generation of low-cost places, like Indonesia and Singapore). Trade restrictions would only make the US less competitive over the long-term. And, US corporate tax rates do hurt the American businesses, creating incentives to move activities abroad (just as Japan’s high corporate tax rates, which you cite, hurts its businesses). I’m all for progressivity, but a corporate tax rate is the wrong way to achieve it. Ireland’s growth over the last 20 years shows the benefits of low corporate taxes. On the other hand, education not only prepares people for jobs as you note, but creates jobs, including low-skill jobs. If I recall correctly, on average, each immigrant allowed into the US with an H1 visa creates 5 jobs. Think about the untapped potential among America’s poor with that in mind.

  • Odentex signs off with “Have fun, fat consumers!” and is chagrined that he is accused of lowering the level of discourse?

    PoP, can you ban this guy?

  • I’m sorry.

    Have fun, humourless, big-boned consumers(with nice personalities)!


  • It should be worth mentioning that I know MANY immigrants in DC who are mentally ill and whose attitude toward their children’s education would make you CRINGE.

    I once heard one mustachio’d Dad complain to another that school should be taught in Spanish if the parents wanted school taught in Spanish. This was said, of course, in Spanish.

    Think about that for a second.

  • Odentex,

    What community college econ program did you fail out of?

  • I agree with other posts that public housing is NOT the problem but can be blown up out of proportion, in addressing inadequete housing, only a new color nowadays, like examples in Chicago with the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green there, where public housing prototypes were blown up, note Carmelo Jose Vergara’s fine works in his books.
    Public Housing serves as an antidote to ongoing concerns of people working second and third jobs to pay for housing which is a wasteful example of peoples time, talent, and treasure.
    Other not in DC/ DC area examples of public housing exsit in Mount Union, Pennsylvania with Chestnut Ridge constructed in the 50s due to silica works being shuttered in that community and the workers shanties were overdue for replacement.
    Might want to also look at Decatur, Illinois with public housing there was constructed about World War II for similar reasons to address inadequate housing.

  • I agree with other posts that public housing is NOT the problem but can be blown up out of proportion, in addressing inadequete housing, only a new color nowadays, like examples in Chicago with the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green there, where public housing prototypes were blown up, note Carmelo Jose Vergara’s fine works in his books.
    Public Housing serves as an antidote to ongoing concerns of people working second and third jobs to pay for housing which is a wasteful example of peoples time, talent, and treasure.
    Other not in DC/ DC area examples of public housing exsit in Mount Union, Pennsylvania with Chestnut Ridge constructed in the 50s due to silica works being shuttered in that community and the workers shanties were overdue for replacement.
    Might want to also look at Decatur, Illinois with public housing there was constructed about World War II for similar reasons to address inadequate housing.

  • for my $.02, I do not like the wording of the question: Public Housing, per se, is not the problem – it’s some individuals in the Public Housing.

    Additionally, unless we agree on what an “alternative” solution is before tearing down Public Housing – we are making problems worse for many people. In the case of CHV – Several of the older parents (I have spoken to) want to move out. (EG: they want to find a better place to live, but do not really have the means to do so – at least at the time we are speaking. Several actually have moved out…)

  • These comments just reiterate what I have understood time and time again– PoP readers are just as guilty of being ignorant, mis-informed neanderthals who pontificate widely based on shallow experience as the lazy system-scammers from the “cesspools” they speak of.

  • In response to the 9:05 post claaed people lazy without first getting to another one before passing judgement, I take exception.

  • a little late to this thread, so responding to Odentex on 12 June around 230:

    Another factor contributing to job loss is currency manipulation. Currency manipulation should never be underestimated WRT job loss. Should China and other SEA countries remove artificial currency caps or dollar-indexed pegs, there would be a concomitant surge in demand for US exports. The problem is, however, that a world where the US is more competitive with China in the export world would also be a world where currency inflows to China is stymied, thereby reducing China’s ability to finance US public expenditures. Considering America’s long-term savings rates, I would worry about the ability of US citizens to make up the difference.

    Beacause of this, the bond rates for US debt would spike, which would crowd out investment in private industry and potentially hurt prospects for growth in blue collar manufacturing. I could imagine an environment where, essentially, people just consume less and there are more unemployed. Just keep in mind that the ‘giant sucking sound’ has a lot less to do with lobbyists, tax loopholes, and greed than most think. It has much more to do with the monetary policies of other countries and paltry savings rates in the US.

  • JTS: Certainly there isn’t one single reason why jobs have disappeared – another reason is that factories in the US are simply more efficient and need less manpower – but the encouragement of the government through tax policy/NAFTA/etc. and the consumer’s insatiable need for lower costs are the main reasons for a lot of the manufacturing job losses in the last 30 years.

    John: That’s a nice theory regarding WWII but you sort of missed the fact that the USA had the largest manufacturing output by volume and by dollar for a couple of decades before WWII and still held that position by a tremendous margin until the real sell-off began in the 1990’s. Even during the depression the % of workers employed in manufacturing dwarfed any other sector. And while certain sectors were troubled as far back as the 1960’s (like rubber), the real dismemberment came in the last 20 years with not only simple assembly jobs leaving for cheap overseas labor, but most of our tool and die works and other higher-skill (higher pay) manufacturing as well. So, despite your theory, the facts bear out that the USA’s manufacturing lead existed long before and long after war profits and the rise of the EC (EU) and post-war Japan. Also, I was only pointing out that the corporate tax rate in the USA is not as outrageous as some people here suggested. I personally have no problem with incentivising capital investment in the US by revising the tax code – but I do have a problem with the myriad of tax tricks (like sending headquarters offshore a-la-Haliburton) that currently reward both US and foreign companies for screwing the taxpayer and their employees. Finally, I never suggested we adopt Japanese policies. I suggested that we should have called bullshit on their protectionist home auto market years ago – when we had an auto industry. But I think comparisons are not appropriate since Japan faces obstacles regarding manufacturing that we don’t even in our current slump. First, our population is not rapidly aging and shrinking as theirs is – putting an unnatural pressure on wages. And second, Japan, as always, is natural resource poor. But while it is true that Japan should be doing much worse than the US in the future it is also true that many of those tool and die factories that used to dot the midwest landscape are now in Yokohama.

  • Head-Desk: Given the relative quality of some of the graduates that I’ve met from some very fancy schools – I’d take most community college kids any day. For one thing, they typically have enough sense to keep quiet rather than respond with pathetic broadsides when they’re ignorant of the facts. HTH.

  • After viewing public housing first-hand and not as I grew up knowing it, at an arm’s length, I no longer believe that the government should be in the business of housing the underclass.

    At best they should offer rental vouchers. At best. I do not believe that ANYTHING that keeps housing from being a monetary auction is a good thing. Housing should always and only be a fair auction based on money alone- not on race, not on “behavior,” not on anything but the amount one is willing to pay.

    The thing about call centers is this:
    I used to work on a government contract where we managed a call center among other things. Most of the people we hired for this $10 an hour job had “accent problems” where they could not be understood on the phone. I mean people who grew up in Washington, DC and could turn off their accent for the job interview, but not when they were under stress from an angry caller. Then the street accent came out.

    In the end we “outsourced” to St Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH where the underclass still had better work habits and values than the people in DC. Eventually we completed the software project that eliminated 90% of those jobs.

    In other words, the people wrapped up in street culture have to first completely abandon that culture to be even remotely successful in an entry-level job- it’s that poisonous

  • Chris D at 11:17- the mortgage interest deduction is nothing and for me amounts to little more than $3k per year. In my parents’ million dollar home their mortgage deduction in the final years of their mortgage was, if I remember correctly, about $600 per year. $600 per year! Perhaps 1/5 of their property taxes.

    The mortgage interest deduction is meant to encourage home purchases because it starts out big, but 10 years into a mortgage it starts to shrink as the interest shrinks. At the end of the 30 years the mortgage deduction is zero.

  • I’m super late commenting on this, but the shooting in CH today made me want to revisit this thread. I would be interested if anyone has any more information about two topics that Disaffected in DC raised — the conditions under which an affordable housing project is allowed to “fail” (“have it’s affordability restrictions lifted”? — I’m not sure the proper terminology) and any information on outcomes re: “workforce” housing in DC (what D in DC called “not the lowest of the low incomes”).

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