Housing program’s benefits hard to find

Bob Parker of NewBridge recommended this editorial in the Herald News.

Housing program’s benefits hard to find
Friday, July 6, 2007

Too often, distressed neighborhoods in America’s medium size and big cities serve as reservations for poor people. They are walled in by high crime, bad schools, erratic city services, sagging housing and sometimes the disdain of the more affluent.

Since 1974, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 program has sought to help poor people leave that reservation by supplementing their incomes, giving them the option of living in safer, cleaner and more stable communities.

But a Herald News examination shows that’s not the way it’s working in Paterson.

Instead of giving struggling families a chance to make a fresh start in better neighborhoods, most people holding Section 8 vouchers in Paterson live in some of the city’s most impoverished communities.

To be sure, some people would choose those communities because they have grown up in them. Others would seek to live in blighted communities because they are close to family, jobs and city services. Further, in some cases, Section 8 is making it possible for people to live in new homes in a region that is building very little affordable housing for the poor or working class.

And new single-family homes can help stabilize old and decaying communities, a particular focus of HUD under the current Bush administration.

Moreover, citing everything from government red tape to the potential for problems from the potential tenants, many neighborhoods and landlords don’t embrace Section 8 families; many people holding Section 8 vouchers are inexperienced and unsophisticated consumers in the housing marketplace.

Thus, Section 8 in Paterson has often proved to be just another occasion for poor people to pay more for less: They live in ramshackle apartments in crumbling communities, while more upscale neighborhoods in Paterson offer few opportunities for families holding the vouchers.

Further, although Paterson’s poor people are not benefiting from Section 8 as they should, selected developers who are more intent upon collecting rents than upon maintaining their properties are prospering.

That must change.

More than three decades ago, HUD began the Section 8 program to help poor people get better housing in better neighborhoods as a way of breaking out of the cycle of poverty more quickly than they otherwise might.

That’s been a grand and noble mission. If current trends and practices continue, that mission won’t be accomplished in Paterson.

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