Wednesday, May 10, 2017

HUD, Carson and Choice

Slate's Henry Grabar has a great piece today about Ben Carson and his clueless already-disproven theories about low-income housing. The piece is worth a full read on its own, and it has nothing to do with education-- except that it is yet another lesson in how a market actually works, with huge implications for the kind of choice system that Betsy DeVos and Beloved Leader have in mind. So I'm going to give you the quick-and-dirty synopsis of the article, and then I'll make the education connection.

The compassionate thing would be NOT to feed the 5000. Go forth and let my people know they're on their own.

Carson has taken to saying that public housing should not be comfortable. Literally. As was reported in the New York Times:

Compassion, Mr. Carson explained in an interview, means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’ ” 

This, Grabar points out, is ironic because it was the philosophy behind "the nation’s mid-century public housing debacle." Poorly constructed, often segregated, badly managed, and rapidly deteriorating was made unappealing enough that only people who had no other conceivable choice would pick them.

But folks working in the government housing biz realized almost immediately that holding onto higher-income tenants added "to fiscal and social stability." Modern government housing is supposed to be comfortable, because that's how you get a mix of incomes and "socioeconomic integration." Planners now value stability, so getting the tenants to move out is not the goal, Steady churn, it turns out, is not very helpful. Not housing that chases people away, but housing that builds a stable community. And this evolution has involved not just government policy, but the subsidies and investments from non-government actors.

Meanwhile, the costs of living in private housing have climbed steadily for years. The idea of chasing government housing tenants out into public housing doesn't work because in some cities, there is no readily available affordable housing.

Government housing, in short, runs up against the same problem as health care and education-- you can open it to the market, but the market hates losers. The market does not want to provide choices to poor people because it's really hard to make money from poor people. To make money from poor people, you have to provide minimal services-- the bare uncomfortable minimum. The result is not satisfactory for anybody. So when we apply these ideas to health care or education, what we get are a bunch of non-wealthy folks who are blocked out of the market because they have access, but not the financial resources to exercise that access.

If only there were a way to have someone like, say, the government, provide the service to all citizens at a level of quality beyond what the poor could finance for themselves, in part by creating a system that didn't have to make sure that there was enough money left over to create profit. If only there were system that provided education, housing and health care by some principal other than, "If you're poor, you deserve bupkus. If you don't like it, then stop being poor."

If only.

1 comment:

  1. The only problem with poverty is that it's just not degrading enough. Yet. Don't worry, they're working on that, though.