Transforming Public Housing Policy

The Future of Public

Housing: Promising or


by Natalie Wendt September 05, 2010 11:23 AM (PT)

public housingThe Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act, or PETRA (pdf), could be the biggest change to public housing policy in decades — and quite possibly the most divisive. Proponents cheer because it will streamline the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s whopping 13 rental assistance programs into just one. But critics worry that PETRA will privatize housing and might even increase homelessness.

In the past decade and a half, 150,000 public housing units have been shut down while family homelessness keeps rising (and rising, and rising). Obama’s proposed Transforming Rental Assistance (TRA) Initiative, the one that’s behind PETRA, focuses on solutions like streamlining programs and providing housing vouchers. Supporters argue that vouchers offer more choice and freedom than public housing units do. Instead of being limited to public housing units, and low-income neighborhoods, voucher holders could move without losing housing assistance.

More controversially, PETRA addresses financial issues by allowing public housing to use a mix of public and private funding. Critics fear that the plan has serious oversights that, rather than housing currently homeless people, could deprive those in public housing of homes.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) issued a statement objecting to the legislation that read, in part: “I am concerned about whether or not this proposal represents the privatization of public housing. I think there is value in public housing, particularly in the fact that it is ‘public’ in the sense that its owners — housing authorities — are not profit driven. Public housing is very effective at serving the ‘hard to house’ population — people who for one reason or another, can’t navigate the private rental market. Allowing the private sector to enter may provide housing authorities with more capital, but for-profit actors will be looking for a profit. Neither this Congress nor this Administration should allow anyone to profit at the expense of public housing residents.”

HUD released its own six-page statement responding to the common criticisms called “Myths vs. Facts: Setting the Record Straight About PETRA” (pdf). The debate is far from over, so now is the time to speak up. What do public housing reforms need to do to, you know, actually house people?

Photo credit: dandeluca


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