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Two Policy Changes Could Help Public Housing Families

Tens of thousands of children whose families can afford decent housing by living in public housing live in extremely poor neighborhoods, as I explained yesterday.  But policymakers can take steps to improve these kids’ access to safer neighborhoods with better schools.

Congress has underfunded maintenance and repair of public housing for decades, causing a substantial loss in the number of units available as projects deteriorate.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) aims to preserve — and, if necessary, rebuild — distressed rental units.  By shifting money from the public housing funding streams to long-term “Section 8” funding contracts, RAD makes it easier to leverage private investment to rehabilitate and preserve public housing developments.

By making two changes to RAD, policymakers could help give low-income children longer-term access to better neighborhoods, and at the same time improve the living conditions for families that choose to stay in their current homes.

  1. Capitalize on RAD’s potential by expanding and extending the demonstration.  When Congress established RAD in 2012, it limited conversions to 60,000 public housing units — about 5 percent of the nation’s public housing stock.  By the end of 2013, HUD had already received applications to convert 176,000 units.  The Senate’s 2015 funding bill would raise the limit on conversions to 185,000 units.  (The House bill made no change.)  When policymakers return in November, they should include the Senate provision in their final appropriations bill. 
  2. Prioritize preservation of affordable units in public housing properties located in high-opportunity or improving neighborhoods.  Public housing developments located in neighborhoods where less than 20 percent of the residents are poor — home to some 84,000 families with children — would be extremely difficult to replace if they were lost.  In selecting properties to participate in RAD, HUD should prioritize properties in these neighborhoods.