Affordable Housing Programs Unnecessarily Complex

From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog comes a piece about how federal housing aid programs are too complicated in many metropolitan areas when they really don’t need to be:

So let’s say I’m living in a chronically disadvantaged neighborhood in D.C., paying rent with the assistance of Section 8, and I find a cheap place in a much better neighborhood in Virginia. The process of moving while keeping my place in the program is extremely complicated. “The process of moving to a different PHA jurisdiction is administratively burdensome for both PHAs and families,” Turner and Katz write. “The receiving PHA may apply different or more rigorous screening criteria or require the family to attend another orientation briefing, duplicating steps for both parties. At the same time, PHAs may use a different application form and calculate subsidy levels differently, all of which makes it more difficult for families to find a unit and negotiate a lease in the limited search time.”

And there are also problems for landlords and property managers. “PHAs sometimes find themselves in competition for area landlords rather than working together to recruit the largest possible pool of participating landlords,” Turner and Katz note. “Moreover, landlords are often confused by the multiplicity of local programs, and may hesitate to participate in the program at all because of uncertainties about who is administering it and how reliably it operates.”

So Turner and Katz want to consolidate things. Instead of having Section 8 run at the local level, they proposed setting up metro area-level housing authorities to run it. So instead of Alexandra, Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery, P.G., and D.C. all having their own housing authorities administering Section 8, there’d be a D.C. metro authority. Once you got your voucher there, you could move to wherever in the area is most affordable, safe, and has the best schools for you and your family, without regard to municipal or state boundaries.

The main effect would be to make the program better serve its main purpose. “The biggest effect of this is on program outcomes. Letting them make rational choices about how do you get closer to work, to quality schools,” Katz tells me. “I think more families would use them to go to neighborhoods that are safe and where things work already,” Turner says. “We’ve got a growing body of evidence that escaping from  distressed neighborhoods pays off for families in ways that pay off for all of us.”

It’s an interesting read and worth taking a look at the entire thing.