The American Spectator

September, 1994


LENGTH: 8320 words/ Sidebar: LENGTH: 974 words


HEADLINE: Surburban Guerrilla;

HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros thinks inner-city poverty and violence will
disappear if transplanted to outlying areas via such seedy programs as Section

BYLINE: James Bovard;
James Bovard is the author, most recently, of Lost Rights: The Destruction of
American Liberty (St. Martin's Press).

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that spawned
the most barbaric housing conditions in the nation, is now seeking vastly
greater power over private housing. Federal fair-housing efforts of the 1990s
have degenerated into a multi-billion-dollar crusade to give preferential
treatment to public housing clients. Fair housing programs have moved far from
their original goal of reconciling disparities between blacks and whites. They
now amount to a project to dictate where welfare recipients live in every
county, city, and cranny across the nation.

The charge is being led by HUD secretary Henry Cisneros and HUD assistant
secretary for fair housing Roberta Achtenberg. Cisneros is launching an
ambitious plan to use the $25-billion HUD budget, federal regulations, and
federal lawyers to greatly increase the power of bureaucrats and politicians
over private housing decisions. At a time when more and more minority families
are achieving middle-class housing standards on their own, the Clinton
administration is trying to concoct a fair housing emergency based on a
contrived epidemic of racial discrimination. The fair-housing crusade is good
politics, of course. At this writing, Congress is on the verge of approving the
administration's two-year $60 billion Housing Choice and Community Reinvestment
Act, which will not only tighten HUD's control over where Americans may live,
but enhance the prerogatives of the welfare lobby. It's not by accident that
Achtenberg calls the pending legislation "the largest investment in civil rights
that the federal government [has] made in the past fifteen years."

Federal Blockbusting Redux
Cisneros is seeking $149 million for the so-called Moving to Independence
program to relocate poor people away from "poverty communities" or "racially
concentrated neighborhoods." In January, fair housing czar Achtenberg told a
convention of 1,100 advocates in Washington that the program, "through rent
subsidies, enables minority public housing residents to move to conventional
housing in low-minority communities. . . . We view this primarily as an effort
at income integration but it has a disproportionate impact on racial
minorities." For the Clinton administration, it is now considered "unfair
housing" if poor people cannot live like rich people.

Cisneros declared on March 17: "Communities that thrive are communities that
are home to people of diverse incomes. It is no longer acceptable for the
poorest of the poor to be concentrated in developments located in the most
dangerous and decaying neighborhoods." HUD will provide $70 million for 1,300
rental vouchers to help people in public housing projects in Los Angeles,
Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and New York to move into surrounding middle-class
and affluent suburbs. HUD has indicated that it hopes to greatly expand this
program in the future. Few of the "working poor" that the Clinton administration
is so exercised over will get to take part in this exodus, for only residents of
public housing or other HUD handout recepients are eligible to move to "low
poverty areas"--i.e., affluent areas.

Last September, Cisneros warned, "All of the money that we might put into
public housing . . . will not be successful as long . . . as America is a
society divided spatially." Cisneros called economic integration an
"over-arching objective," and, as the Washington Post noted, "ordered his agency
to advance economic integration at every . . . opportunity." By defining
unfair housing as a lack of "income integration," Cisneros can now call almost
every neighborhood in America an unfair housing market, liable to intervention
from Washington. According to the Clinton administration, America is suffering a
great injustice because people who do not work cannot afford middle-class

Cisneros is moving aggressively to relocate black welfare recipients to
middle-class white areas in and around Omaha, Nebraska. Public housing residents
had sued in 1990 to end the alleged segregation of poor blacks in public
housing; the local public housing authority reached an agreement with the
plaintiffs to relocate some of the poor into Omaha's nicer suburbs.

At that time, the local public housing authority was already operating a
program to move selected tenants out of the projects into thirty-eight
single-family homes it had bought. To be eligible, recipients needed to have
held a job for at least a year and to pay at least $221 a month in rent. But in
1991, federal judge Lyle Strom ruled that such conditions violated the
constitutional rights of welfare recipients by effectively excluding a
"disproportionate number of otherwise eligible minority applicants" from the
single family homes. Strom ruled that the policy "wrongfully denied rights to
the valuable benefits promised by such housing, including integrated
neighborhoods, low crime and increased job opportunities." Cisneros is now
trying to use Omaha to set a precedent for compulsory relocation programs across
the nation.

Achtenberg declared last September: "Part of the problem has been HUD's lack
of resolve to essentially use its money programs in a way to further fair
housing goals." Last December, Cisneros got Ossie Langfelder, the mayor of
Springfield, Illinois, to reverse his stand and endorse HUD's scattered-site
housing program for the Springfield area. Cisneros apparently won Langfelder's
support by threatening to withhold a $20-million HUD grant to the Springfield
Housing Authority. Cisneros has promised to deny HUD grants--such as Community
Development Block Grants worth $3.4 billion a year--to communities that do not
adopt aggressive fair housing codes.

Federally Built Wastelands

Such hardball tactics are mystifying, given that Cisneros knows a good deal
about his agency's history. He admitted to Congress in June 1993 that "HUD has
icontinues to devastate neighborhoods, due to the bankruptcy and deterioration of
thousands of HUD-financed apartment buildings across the nation. But neither
Cisneros nor Achtenberg shows any concern about the track record of their own

In 1968, Congress passed the National Housing Act, which provided for
federally insured mortgages to poor people in inner cities, among others. The
act created the Section 235 program to provide heavily subsidized loans for
low-income families and individuals to allow them to buy homes, with special
assistance for mothers on welfare. The most serious problem with the program was
housing abandonment--since most families had almost no equity in their homes, it
was cheaper for them to abandon the house than to sell it. Tens of thousands of
homes emptied and were left to rot in previously stable neighborhoods.

Particularly hard-hit was Detroit, where Mayor Roman Gribbs declared that a
single abandoned house on a block "becomes a magnet for vandalism, crime, fire,
blight, drug addiction, and other kinds of socially pathological forces." The
Detroit News opined that the program was turning Detroit neighborhoods into
"'ghost towns' where a handful of families exist amid vandalized and fire-gutted
homes." Detroit City Council President Carl Levin called it "Hurricane HUD."
Between 1970 and 1976, HUD took over 13 percent of the housing stock in
Detroit--25,000 homes--after owners abandoned the houses or defaulted. June
Ridgway of the Detroit Board of Assessors declared in 1976, "HUD has cost every
citizen in Detroit 20 percent on his house."

HUD also devastated Chicago. The Chicago Tribune in 1975 denounced the
Section 235 program for causing "the decay of hundreds of good neighborhoods":

No natural disaster on record has caused destruction on the scale of the
government's housing programs. . . . It took only four years of the federally
insured mortgage program to reduce a neat, middle-class neighborhood into a
shattered, decaying slum. $

Southern Chicago Commission Chairman Julian H. Levi called HUD "the greatest
enemy of community stability within the city of Chicago." President Nixon,
surveying the effect of Section 235, complained in 1973: "All across America,
the federal government has become the biggest slumlord in history."

Section 8: HUD'S License to Sow Chaos

Though Section 235 was an unmitigated disaster, its driving principle--using tax
dollars to forcibly mix different economic classes--has re-emerged as the
cornerstone of federal housing policy. This time, HUD is using the Section 8
program, passed by Congress in 1974, to provide direct rent subsidies to
low-income families. Section 8 currently gives $7 billion a year in rental
subsidies to roughly 2 million families. Spending on the program is scheduled to
double to $14 billion a year by 1996, and Cisneros is planning to distribute an
additional 100,000 Section 8 certificates in the coming years.

Section 8 is the flagship of the Clinton administration's effort to impose
racial and economic housing quotas on American suburbs. Basically, it seeks to
end the stigma of welfare by granting welfare recipients the lifestyle of
self-reliant upper middle class. Vouchers entitle welfare families to live in
apartments with rents as high as $1,657 for a four-bedroom apartment in some
areas--a higher rent than the vast majority of American renters are now paying.
HUD establishes the Section 8 subsidy level (so-called "fair market rents") by
comparing rents in each geographical area. But HUD's methodology has an extreme
upward bias, partly because many HUD administrators want to bankroll low-income
families to live in upper-class neighborhoods.

In May, HUD raised Section 8 subsidy levels in Plano, Texas, to $750 for a
two-bedroom and $900 for a three-bedroom apartment. According to HUD, the
median rent in Plano is only $586 per month. Helen Macey, executive director of
the Plano Housing Authority, defended the disparity in these terms: "Our
residents will be given better choices of where they can live." Janice
Stanfield, a HUD housing management specialist, said: "Section 8 is not intended
to isolate people or limit them to certain parts of town."

HUD requires Section 8 recipients to pay between 10 and 30 percent of their
income for rent, and the government picks up the difference. But HUD makes
little or no effort to verify the income of Section 8 recipients or to insure
that they actually pay their small share. The resulting scandals have been
documented in dozens of General Accounting Office and HUD Inspector General
reports since 1975. (Investigators revealed in April that 390 of 400 Section 8
certificates distributed by the District of Columbia since 1990 were given to
people who had paid bribes to housing officials. Though many of the Section 8
recipients were blatantly ineligible for the benefits, the D.C. housing
department has made no effort to retrieve the certificates.

Not only do Section 8 recipients reap a financial windfall, but HUD also
forces landlords to treat Section 8 renters better than renters who pay their
own bills. HUD decreed that landlords can require only a $50 security deposit
from Section 8 renters, instead of the usual full month's rent. It would be
difficult to concoct a better rule to maximize the irresponsibility of a
privileged class of renters.

Not surprisingly, Section 8 recipients enjoy far more comfortable housing than
many working Americans. At Manhattan Plaza in New York City, Section 8 pays for
apartments with parquet floors and on-premise swimming, racquet, and tennis
facilities. At Taino Towers in New York City, HUD paid for a gymnasium,
greenhouse, and even an indoor swimming pool for the subsidized residents. At
the Morningside apartments in Chicago, subsidized residents enjoy a billiard
room, library, and an arts and crafts room. The Elm Street Plaza project in
Chicago advertised that its Section 8 apartments included all the "luxury
amenities" one would expect. In 1993, Section 8 certificates were used to
entitle low-income/welfare families to move into an apartment complex in Silver
Spring, Maryland, that includes a heated pool with water jets, microwave ovens,
and "deluxe modern kitchens with convenient breakfast bars." Pamela Price told
the Los Angeles Times in March that "this is like Christmas" after she used her
new Section 8 certificate to move into a luxurious apartment complex with a
heated swimming pool, four spas, six tennis courts, and two air-conditioned
racquetball courts. GAO concluded in a 1980 report, "The high rents and quality
of [Section 8] housing invite resentment on the part of the taxpaying public who
see their subsidized neighbors living in better accommodations than they
themselves can afford." GAO also observed that Section 8's goal of mixing the
poor and the middle class is often not achieved because Section 8 housing "is
often so costly that moderate and even middle-income unassisted households
cannot afford to live in it."

Section 8 is hailed by many liberals for giving lower-income people "freedom
of choice" in housing, But in Chicago, where thousands of Section 8 certificates
have been distributed, public housing residents have flooded a handful of
communities on the city's southern edge, turning parts of some towns into a
"Section 8 corridor." Sixty-five percent of Cook County's Section 8 families,
the vast majority of them headed by unemployed females, are clustered in
fourteen south suburbs. Officials in Pacesetter, Illinois, claim that "a sudden
influx into the neighborhood of subsidized families about six years ago turned a
borderline neighborhood into a slum." Delores Irving of Chicago's Leadership
Council for Metropolitan Open Communities warned: "We are building ghettos in
the suburbs." Michael Roache, executive director of the Fair Housing Coalition
of the South Suburbs, observed: "The intent of the Section 8 program is not to
create Section 8 neighborhoods, but that's exactly what's happening."

When Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Housing Authority chairman Vince
Lane announced a new plan in April to export public housing residents beyond the
city limits, dozens of suburban mayors denounced the proposal. Calumet City
mayor Jerry Genova: "We need homeowners that are supporting the schools and the
government. Section 8 doesn't provide that. What it basically provides is a
system of welfare dependence." Nicholas Blase, mayor of Niles, said that
imposing subsidized housing on a town "is not the American way." His
constituents, he said in the Chicago Sun-Times, "have been able to pull
themselves up by the bootstraps to be here. People resent it when government
tries to make somebody their economic equivalent by subsidizing them." Both
Cisneros and Achtenberg consider Chicago's program to be a model for the
nation; Cisneros declared that he hoped eventually to start a similar effort in
every major city.

Section 8 recipients can also pull down a neighborhood because of the
paralyzing red tape that HUD imposes on private landlords who want to evict
trouble-makers, hooligans, or deadbeats. A Boston Globe editorial last year

Among the roughly 8,000 families receiving federally subsidized Section 8 rent
certificates in Boston, most are concentrated in Roxbury and Dorchester. The
majority occupy homes owned by absentee landlords who are reluctant to evict
tenants, even for the most egregious lease violations. For landlords, the
guaranteed subsidy payment proves a stronger incentive than the desire to
maintain a safe building.

In April 1993, the Globe noted the disruption caused by Section 8 renters living
across the street from Mayor Raymond Flynn:

The subsidized tenants living in the house across the street were nuisances,
allegedly using drugs and making loud and threatening noises, but little could
be done about it. The landlord had paid no attention. The housing organization
that provided the subsidy had thrown up its hands; federal rules forbade it
from removing the family from the program.

In Haledon, New Jersey, last fall, a public hearing on Section 8 exploded
into "meetings [that] were as rancorous as any ever held in the borough," the
Bergen Record reported. "Residents denounced their neighbors in
federally-subsidized housing, accusing them of ruining property values and
bringing a bad element to the borough. The two meetings held to protest the
'problem' were standing room only."

Section 8's links to crime and declining property values have become
political hot potatoes. When 441 new Section 8 vouchers were proposed for St.
Louis in late 1991, St. Louis alderman Jack Garvey complained, "I do want to get
funding but I don't want to put the neighborhoods in my ward at risk." After a
$35 million plan for St. Louis was approved in February 1992, alderman Marit
Clark promised to "go to war" if Section 8 landlords did not evict
trouble-making tenants. (Clark added, "I get as many complaints from my black
constituents as I do from whites.") Last January, alderman Paul Beckerle
protested that neighborhoods throughout his ward were being dragged down by a
crime wave generated by recent Section 8 arrivals. The St. Louis Post Dispatch
reported in March that crime had soared as a result of the subsidies, and "a
growing number of homeowners say Section 8 is undermining their neighborhoods."
Lieut. Joseph Richardson of the St. Louis Police Department declared of one
batch of Section 8 renters: "There is evidence of drugs being sold there, and
ample evidence of gang activity responsible for the drug activity. These are
terrible neighbors. No one would want to live next door to them." Area residents
protested loudly, but, as the Post Dispatch noted:

Both sides agree that the rules for the Section 8 subsidized housing program
make it difficult to get rid of troublesome tenants. Section 8 recipients can't
be punished--by losing their eligibility for rent subsidies, for example--for
bad behavior. And Section 8 landlords can't be dropped from the program for
picking tenants who misbehave.

The contradiction between HUD's regulations and its rhetoric was made stark
earlier this year in Los Angeles. The January earthquake left thousands
homeless; HUD sent in officials bearing tens of thousands of Section 8
certificates for eighteen months of nearly-free housing for the favored poor.
Families that received Section 8 vouchers distributed after the earthquake are
entitled to up to $1,391 a month in rent subsidies for four-bedroom apartments.
(Some critics view HUD's effort as a $200-million public-relations extravaganza
for the Clinton administration; emergency victims have never before received
such long-term subsidies.)

But many private landlords balked at renting to Section 8 recipients. Much of
the resistance apparently stemmed from a HUD rule that required landlords to
give subsidized tenants 90 days before eviction; many tenants abuse the rule to
avoid paying any rent for their last three months. Cisneros admitted, "We do not
want to give people a three-month free ride on the backs of property owners."

Yet at the same time, Achtenberg was storming into southern California with a
"strike team" of twenty enforcers to force landlords to toe the line. Achtenberg
declared in early February, "We are aware of the existing patterns of
residential segregation that are so dramatic and pervasive in the L.A. area.
That tends to lead one to believe that we should be on the lookout for
additional acts of discrimination." She told the Los Angeles Times: "We will be
a significant presence now and into the foreseeable future."

The 90-day eviction ban for Section 8 recipients epitomizes how federal
welfare programs encourage the worst type of behavior in low-income citizens.
At the same time that Achtenberg is demanding that Section 8 recipients be
treated with respect and as equals, federal regulations encourage housing
welfare recipients to become deadbeats and moochers. The more blacks and
Hispanics rely on Section 8, the more landlords' resistance to Section 8
regulations could be portrayed by politicians as racial discrimination. Thus,
the more social deviancy encouraged by government housing handouts and
regulations, the more racism politicians claim to find.

Section 8 could be harming unsubsidized renters too, inflating rents for all
Americans, according to a 1991 HUD report. As the Washington Post said: "The
increases in fair market rent levels could . . . prove a bonanza for local
landlords who will be able to receive higher rents from low-income subsidized
renters than they would be able to get from moderate-income people." HUD analyst
Irving Welfeld notes that

the [Section 8] voucher program hurts those that it does not help. Most poor
rely on the low end of the rental market for their housing. This is the sector
that is in deep trouble because of the inability of unsubsidized poor tenants to
pay the rents. . . . The voucher by drawing people out of these units and into
the middle of the market is also pushing buildings off the market. The result of
a weak market is the abandonment of buildings rather than lower rents. For those
remaining it leaves the prospect of a smaller number of low rent units.

The Hartford Courant noted in 1992 that the provision of Section 8 subsidies
to Hartford residents, allowing them to leave the city, "has begun to cripple
city landlords, who are watching their buildings empty out and who are having
more and more trouble paying their taxes. A significant movement of the poor out
of the city would accelerate abandonment of residential buildings and threaten
to undo recent gains of the 1980s in housing rehabilitation." Between 1990 and
1993, Hartford lost over 5 percent of its population--the sharpest population
decline of any city in the nation.

A War on Advertising

The federal government's unfair housing campaign is increasingly degenerating
into a war on freedom of speech. In the late 1960s, the phrase "No Jews allowed"
in housing ads was considered illegal discrimination; in the 1990s, "Within
walking distance to synagogue" is an actionable offense. Newspapers, developers,
and realtors are increasingly being hammered by expansive interpretations of the
Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988.

HUD has an expansive interpretation of what constitutes an ad violation:
"References to a synagogue, congregation or parish may . . . indicate a
[illegal] religious preference. Names of facilities which cater to a particular
racial, national origin or religious group such as country club or private
school designations . . . may indicate a [illegal] preference." HUD even warns
of lawsuits against housing developers who do not patronize foreign-language
newspapers: "The use of English language media alone or the exclusive use of
media catering to the majority population in an area, when, in such area, there
are also available non-English language or other minority media, may have
discriminatory impact."

HUD is increasingly punishing companies that fail to impose racial quotas in
their use of models in real estate ads. It is illegal to use "photographs,
drawings, or other graphic techniques . . . to indicate exclusiveness because
of . . . handicap," among other factors. HUD requires that "models should be
clearly definable as reasonably representing majority and minority groups in the
metropolitan area, both sexes, and when appropriate, families with children,"
and that models "should portray persons in an equal social setting."

A federal jury in 1992 awarded $850,000 damages to a black Georgetown
professor and two housing groups in a lawsuit they filed against an Arlington,
Virginia, real estate developer who had used only white models in Washington
Post advertisements. The Post succumbed to lawsuit threats and imposed upon
advertisers a requirement that one in four models be a minority. In an August
1993 settlement, the New York Times announced that it would judge each real
estate ad on a case-by-case basis, and that ads with a "substantial number" of
people but fewer than 20 percent black people would be rejected.

In January 1990, Richard Jacobson placed a tiny classified ad in an
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin newspaper stating:

Fully Winterized Cottage, 2 bedrooms, ideal for couple. Not suitable for pets or
children. Available February 1 or 15. Security deposit required.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council saw the ad and filed a complaint
with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division, accusing Jacobson of illegally stating
"a preference or limitation based on marital status in violation of the
Wisconsin Open Housing Law." (Jacobson had rented the cottage to a single
individual shortly after the ad appeared.)

The Equal Rights Division found Jacobson guilty, but he appealed to the
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, which acquitted him, ruling that
"an ordinary reader would not have understood the advertisement to state or
indicate discrimination." The Fair Housing Council, utilizing generous federal
grants it receives to fuel its litigation, appealed the decision to Waukesha
County Circuit Court, which also found Jacobson innocent. The Council then
appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, which also found Jacobson innocent.
Appeals Judge Daniel Anderson observed: "Such trifling complaints may well
reduce available rental housing by having a chilling effect on potential
landlords who would rather hold property off the market than risk the expense of
defending against a complaint over innocuous and inoffensive advertisement."

A suit stemming from a Fair Housing advertisement complaint destroyed
twenty-two newspapers in California. The HUD-funded California Fair Housing
Council sued the Southern California Community Newspapers chain because one of
its papers printed an apartment rental classified ad that stated "adults
preferred." This phrase violated the 1988 Fair Housing Act Amendments, which
prohibit "discrimination" against renters with children. The publisher, Ric
Trent, offered the Fair Housing Council $50,000 in free advertising to promote
the need for fair housing, but the council refused. Fair Housing Council
attorney Christopher Brancart observed, "We refused to settle this case because
we felt the newspaper had an obligation to make things right in the community."
Trent estimated that trial expenses for the ad violation would have cost him
$500,000, so he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The January 1993
shutdown destroyed over a hundred jobs.

Fair housing czar Achtenberg is intent on further constricting allowable
language in housing advertisements. In February, two church-affiliated nursing
homes in Minnesota announced that they had been required to expunge Christian
crosses in their ads in the Yellow Pages as a result of HUD pressure on the
Yellow Pages publishers. Several other Yellow Pages publishers admitted that
they were being pressured by HUD to change their policy regarding religious
symbols in ads for nursing homes. HUD backed down from its latest advertising
crackdown after its efforts were exposed by the Washington Times.

Race, Crime, or Welfare?

Cisneros told a congressional committee last year, "The most destructive of
the behaviors that affects urban America is racism." Cisneros and Achtenberg are
already attempting to scapegoat suburban communities that resist incursions of
public housing and Section 8 welfare recipients, and such criticism will likely
greatly accelerate in the coming months. Cisneros has doubled spending for the
Fair Housing Initiatives Program, which bankrolls local fair housing councils.
The primary activity of many of the organizations is to send "testers"--one
black, one white--to apartments to see if landlords refuse to rent or show
apartments to blacks that are shown to whites.

HUD will also soon issue new regulations that could impose
multi-million-dollar penalties on cities, counties, and states that do not
aggressively enforce HUD's definitions of fair housing. Achtenberg intends to
revolutionize the enforcement of fair housing regulations by forcing local
governments to rely on an "effects test" of housing discrimination--basically
claiming that any locale with significant separation of racial and income groups
must be presumed to be in violation of fair housing laws. The Reagan and Bush
administrations generally relied on an "intents test"--requiring that a
conscious racially biased intent be proved before a fair housing violation could
be said to exist.

There has never been a shortage of racism among some whites across this
country--and it reared its contemptible head in a public-housing controversy
recently, when the Ku Klux Klan protested the relocation of blacks into a public
housing project in Vidor, Texas. But the fierce resistance in many locales to
federally subsidized housing goes far beyond racism. According to a HUD report,
Crime in Public Housing, "crime rates in public housing complexes are in some
cases . . . ten times higher than the national average." HUD noted that the
robbery rate at one Baltimore project was almost twenty times the national
average. In the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, the violent crime rate in 1993
was thirteen times the national average. The high crime rate in public housing
can decimate the value of nearby private housing.

Government officials first allow crime at public housing projects to get out
of control--and then denounce private citizens for their fear of it. Cisneros
talks of the problems of public housing as if his proposal to disperse public
housing residents will solve the crime problem. This assumes that public housing
residents will be less likely to rob and steal if they are surrounded by more
affluent neighbors.

When the administration has faced up to the problem of crime in public
housing, its solution has consisted largely of giving government officials
unlimited power to violate the rights of private citizens. The Chicago Housing
Authority (CHA) has conducted warrantless sweeps of residents' apartments,
searching for guns and drugs. In a tour of a Chicago housing project on June
17, President Clinton endorsed the searches as a way to secure the residents'
right to "freedom from fear." Yet he failed to address the most serious source
of fear among public housing residents: the absence of adequate police
protections. CHA officials have complained that they are forbidden by federal
regulations from even checking if applicants for public housing have a criminal

HUD's scheme to use Section 8 to hand welfare recipients upper-middle-class
housing will likely be a dismal failure. As Howard Husock, director of case
studies at the Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, wrote in the
Wall Street Journal:

Scattering subsidized housing breaks the unspoken rules of housing, and thus
inspires bitter opposition. Public housing built in affluent or blue-collar
neighborhoods allow families who have not followed the same route of upward
mobility to share the reward. What is undermined is a defining aspect of
middle-class life: accepting the discipline of work and family, as well as law
and order, to attain, after a time, comfortable and secure surroundings. New
public housing and the opposition it will appropriately inspire, is likely to
stigmatize minority families generally--and make their gradual movement into the
middle class more difficult.

In the 1960s, it was thought that a temporary burst of government aid would
lift the poor once and for all. Now, we are debating where to distribute a
permanent crime-ridden underclass that has been created by government programs.
Cisneros and others are pretending that the high crime rates in public housing
are the result of the number of stories in public housing complexes, rather than
the web of irresponsibility and viciousness created by paying generations of
people to become government dependents.

In Boston late last year, Cisneros warned: "We risk a societal collapse by
the first decade of the next century if we tolerate racism and the economic
isolation of millions of people." But the surest way to "economically isolate"
people is to remove them from the workforce--and there's no better way to do
that than to offer them an upper-middle-class lifestyle at bargain-basement


Letters to the Editor, The American Spectator, November 1994

Don't Bovard That Joint

People love to hate the welfare bums, and James Bovard sure knows how to
fan the flames ["Suburban Guerrilla," TAS, September 1994]. Predictably, though,
in publications like yours, analysis is so narrow. It's tougher to take a
broader perspective, and just so annoying to tell your readers that racism not
only remains strong, but that it is more entrenched and institutionalized than
when black people couldn't even walk into a bank, let alone borrow money from

If Bovard doesn't want an aggressive housing policy that is supposed to help
poor people, will he write in support of a policy that all new job growth has to
be inside our decaying cities, or at least directly accessible by mass transit?
That way, poor people could get to the employment office, and the affluent could
drive in from the 'burbs. Opportunity would be more egalitarian.

In most metropolitan regions, new investments in jobs are usually far from
Section 8 housing. How should the poor apply? They can commute by car--which

is difficult for poor people. Or they can live nearby. That's not easy either in
suburban areas where, unlike a city, there is rarely a mix of housing costs.

They should take a bus? Fat chance. Buses now are deliberately kept out of
certain areas. Many developers and local officials don't want bus lines--get
the code words?--coming anywhere near new office parks and shopping malls. After
all, you know who rides buses [please be polite . . . ]. What about an
investigative piece on that topic?

Please delineate a conservative social policy that will break the above
Gordian knot. People need to work, but Bovard knows that the time is long gone
when burgeoning factories and office towers combined with a city's "geographic
opportunity"--its accessible locale--provided almost everyone with a range of
skilled and unskilled jobs. Just as critically, the density of the urban economy
provided an economic spin-off that supported small shops and restaurants, shoe
shines, produce markets, a tremendous variety of fledgling economic enterprises
that at least gave a chance to scrape out a living, and maybe do better.

That urban economy was deliberately undercut, partly because of racism and
partly because of complete obeisance to the automobile. What about an
investigative piece on that topic? Now we have a planned economy of office parks
and malls and distant giant production centers. Those plans provide
The American Spectator, November, 1994 November, 1994

opportunity for a few, the rest can go to hell. Economic spin-off is grabbed by
restaurant chains, video chains, boutique chains, auto dealers, and similar
franchise operations.

It's easy to make fun of unpopular welfare/housing. Now do the hard part:
report the fact that in 1994, we still build segregated communities. Ask Mr.
Bovard to analyze the much larger, overwhelming question--Why do we not only
tolerate, but actively promote, deliberately exclusive economic and social
policies, and then take such high-handed joy in cluck-clucking when elected
officials try to deal with the tragic fallout from those policies? --Thomas F.
Ewing Cincinnati, Ohio
For whatever it's worth, I just wanted to say I agree with Mr. Bovard's
assessment of Henry Cisneros's feather-brained scheme completely. I once worked
for a landlord who accepted Section 8 tenants, and I can tell you from
experience that the incidents of abuse your article documented were not unlike
the situations I had to deal with. Despite such problems as drug abuse, public
drunkenness, fights, shootings, stabbings, boarding unauthorized individuals
within units, unreported income, failure to pay rents as little as $25 per
month, and vandalism to the landlord's own property, they refused to evict any
troublemakers, in order to maintain the government-paid funds. There were also
tenants who had been on the program for as long as ten years and no indication
they were making any attempt to achieve financial independence. Although the
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majority of the recipients were black, the people who suffered and complained
most from the abuses were also black.

One aspect that the article did not mention but is worth pointing out is that
any unpaid portions of the tenants' rents are guaranteed by the government, as
are the costs of damages to the property due to vandalism or other careless
behavior on the tenants' part. Technically, the tenants are required to
reimburse the government for the guarantees--good luck.

The Section 8 program is virtually a financial underwriter for uncivil,
pathological behavior. Instead of being expanded into suburbia, it deserves to
be junked from top to bottom. At minimum there ought to be a two-year limit for
recipients, with no exceptions. --Christopher D. Marotta Gaithersburg, Maryland
James Bovard's attack on Henry Cisneros's forced migration strategy is
generally on target, but his critique of the Section 235 program is slightly off

The driving principle of Section 235, enacted in 1968, was not "using tax
dollars to forcibly mix different economic classes," as Bovard claims. It was to
enable qualified lower-income families to achieve home ownership, but there was
no intent to push inner-city families into high-priced suburbs.
The American Spectator, November, 1994 November, 1994

Sec. 235 was a Democratic transmogrification of the Percy-Widnall
home-ownership proposal, co-sponsored by all Republican senators and some 112
GOP House members. The intent of the Republicans was to provide a monthly
mortgage subsidy to buyers who were part of nonprofit neighborhood self-help
housing-rehab programs, instead of having the government pay the full up-front
cost of purchasing unmarketable FHA mortgages. Incidentally, the present
Section 8 described by Bovard was an outgrowth of Section 23, a program promoted
by House Republicans to replace the horrendous public housing high-rises favored
by the Democrats who ran most of the nation's cities.

The Democrats were not interested in the self-help programs, rehab, or
support for fledgling home buyers. They wanted new construction and union
jobs--six million new units in the coming ten years. That goal could be
attained only by eliminating the social support and offering extremely deep
subsidies to attract as many buyers as quickly as possible. These buyers served
as the excuse for transferring taxpayer funds to contractors and their mostly
white and [thanks to the Davis-Bacon Act] usually overpaid workers.

But even the Democrats, keenly aware of the racial tensions exacerbated by
the urban disorders of 1967-68, did not see Sec. 235 as a method for pushing
lower-income home-buyers into tony suburbs. That brilliant idea awaited the
coming of Clinton and Cisneros, as Bovard amply documents.
The American Spectator, November, 1994 November, 1994

For the record, as the chief draftsman of the Percy-Widnall home-ownership
bill, I urged Senator Percy to vote against the Democrats' wrong-headed version
of the idea, but he didn't. --
John McClaughry Institute for Liberty & Community
Concord, Vermont
James Bovard's excellent article reminded me of my own professional
experiences with the Section 8 housing program.

In the mid-1980s, I served as director of security for a large housing
complex in New York City's Washington Heights district. We had several Section
8 tenants and they were responsible for the bulk of the violence, crime,
vandalism, drug use, and noise. Whenever my officers responded to a domestic
dispute call, nine times out of ten the combatants [husbands and wives, children
and parents, or lovers and other strangers] were part of the Section 8 program.

One family contributed a son who robbed and sexually mauled women who were on
their way to work in the morning. He was dubbed "The Rush Hour Bandit" by
reporters covering the crack war in Washington Heights. This predator's
siblings, although not quite so violent, were nonetheless far from being pillars
of the community.

When we attempted to evict this one-family crime wave, we were blocked by the
Section 8 bureaucracy. This family, along with other Section 8ers, made life
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miserable for the rest of the residents, who blamed me and my officers for the
chaos perpetrated by these troublemakers. I discovered early on that it is
easier to convict than evict when it comes to Section 8 tenants. --James J.
Kouri, CPP Director of Security New York Hall of Science Flushing Meadows, New
As interest in the voucher system of subsidized housing has grown, conservatives
and liberals are drawing ideological battle lines to exploit the new political
capital created by this issue. Trying to gain the high ground for conservatives,
policy wonk James Bovard has penned an essay pointing out some truly
disturbing aspects of this growing niche in public housing. We should not,
however, condemn the entire concept because of the ineptness of the current
administration or undisciplined legislators who think more money always means a
more effective program.

Indeed we would be displaying extremely short memories, as the Reagan
administration wisely promoted this concept as an efficient means to provide
decent housing for the underprivileged. Implemented in 1983 as a part of
Reagan's attack on wasteful and destructive welfare programs, it was opposed at
that time by the left as it threatened the entrenched interests of the poverty
industry. The program gained only limited funding and by 1986 had barely 12,000
families enrolled nationwide. A logical alternative to the destructive system of
segregating the underclass into site-specific "projects," vouchers bypass the
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bureaucrats and provide purchasing power and, more importantly, choice directly
to those in need. Any capitalist worth his salt can see the benefits of this
more market-oriented approach.

Benefit number one is the quality of subsidized housing tends to rise as
property managers approach a more evenly distributed motivation for investment
and property maintenance. There is currently little motivation for bureaucrats
or slumlords with guaranteed tenants and incomes to keep site-specific public
housing in working order. In a voucher system, tenants have the option to take
their purchasing power to the site of their choice placing all operators in a
competitive posture.

Another benefit is the ability to provide public housing more efficiently.
As privately managed properties absorb the voucher holders, the need for budget
skimming public-payroll administrators, maintenance men, housing police, etc.
will decline rapidly.

On both of these points, Mr. Bovard correctly identifies two major flaws in
the program as currently administered. Excessive, above-market payments quickly
undo the potential gains in budgetary efficiency, and onerous restrictions
placed on landlords corrupt what would otherwise be a normal business
relationship between lessor and lessee. The result is the same negative
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effects, to a lesser extent, that we see in the site-specific subsidy program.

Mr. Bovard provides some anecdotal examples of these problems and uses them
to take issue with the third and most important aspect of a voucher system: a
real and more natural integration of the haves and the have-nots. He takes a
weak one-sentence attempt at explaining why this is inherently illogical by
writing, "Trouble-making public housing residents will not be transformed into
angels simply by moving them into different neighborhoods."

An accurate statement. It ignores, however, the pathology of why they are
trouble-makers to begin with. After generations of dependence on ill-conceived
welfare and public housing programs, there are few positive influences left in
the systematically segregated environment in which they grow up. While our new
voucher toting neighbors won't be transformed overnight, they will gain exposure
to uplifting spiritual, social, and economic forces in their new surroundings.
It is this exposure which provides the values and opportunities that we as
conservatives constantly espouse.

A secondary efficiency is also produced as mainstream Americans become de
facto social workers and further reduce the need for budget bloating welfare
industrialists. Embracing and promoting this synergy of social healing and
governmental efficiency could in fact give new life to that noble cause we
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once called "A Thousand Points of Light." On the other hand, if we follow
Bovard's thinking on this important point, we condemn our would-be neighbors to
the culture of myth, ignorance, and crime that pervades the projects; leaving a
festering excuse for continued spending on the federal dependence industry.

The Reagan-Bush era left many positive legacies in its wake. [Ask any
plaintiff's lawyer.] Housing vouchers may be one legacy that is yet to come into
full bloom. Mr. Bovard's informative essay should serve as a wake up call to
save this innovative opportunity for budgetary discipline, not to rip out one of
Ronald Reagan's most progressive alterations to the social safety net. --Dale
Booth Tyler, Texas
I should have got blood-pressure clearance before I subscribed. It went through
the roof when I read James Bovard's story about Henry Cisneros and Roberta
Achtenberg in the first issue I received.

The threats of prosecution that HUD makes to private citizens who speak out
against its plan to move the "working poor" into middle class neighborhoods
reminded me of The Ominous Parallels [with fascism] that Leonard Peikoff wrote
over a decade ago. Cisneros and Achtenberg are from a long line of zealots who
believe that altruism is something to be extracted from those who actually work.
Never mind that free citizens have the right to not give a damn about the poor,
the homeless, the whatever. Never mind that altruism is not a constitutional
The American Spectator, November, 1994 Nove

I submit that "granted" should be replaced by "secured" or "protected."
--David V. Walden Des Plaines, Illinois

James Bovard replies: David Walden's point is an excellent one, and the
editors have already corrected the fine print in the contents-page box.

I'm grateful for the many supportive letters, and also for those less
supportive. As for these critics: Thomas Ewing apparently believes he has
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explained away the perennial failures of HUD by labeling any critic of federal
social engineering a racist. If it's that simple, why are middle-class blacks in
St. Louis fiercely opposed to having Section 8 recipients placed in their
neighborhood? Ewing is correct that exclusionary zoning policies have sometimes
had a racist impact. Many suburbs have imposed unjustified one-acre or
five-acres per house zoning requirements that price the vast majority of
Americans out of their locale. But the fact that local governments often
intentionally screw up their real estate markets is no reason to give federal
bureaucrats unlimited power to inject welfare recipients into the neighborhoods
of HUD's choice. Besides, HUD has a long history of exhorting and subsidizing
local governments to impose stringent zoning codes--thereby creating many of the
same problems that Section 8 is supposed to counteract. The solution is to
decrease the power of government officials at all levels over housing.

I appreciate John McClaughry's correction on the intent of Section 235. I
did not read the 1968 legislative history of the bill; most of my research
focused on the program activities and effects in the early 1970s, when it was
widely perceived as a "free homes for welfare mothers" monstrosity. It taught
Congress an important lesson: giving people perpetual rent subsidies was less
politically offensive than giving them free homes outright. Thus the birth of
Section 8 in 1974. It's too bad that McClaughry, with his well-recognized
understanding of liberty and responsibility, did not have a greater impact on
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the formulation of federal housing policy.

Dale Booth writes that my article tries "to gain the high ground for
conservatives." But Section 8 is not a question of "conservative" vs.
"liberal." Rather, it is a question of individual responsibility vs. social
chaos. Reagan and Bush officials lavished far more praise on the ideal of
Section 8 than was justified. Booth claims that the most important aspect of the
Section 8 vouchers is "a real and more natural integration of the haves and the
have-nots." Again, this misses the point: the issue is not haves and the
have-nots but workers and nonworkers/welfare recipients. Besides, HUD has
created myriad rules that bring out the worst behavior of many Section 8
recipients--and leave landlords and neighbors practically defenseless against
the problems.

Booth favors using Section 8 to move welfare recipients into affluent housing
so that "mainstream Americans" can "become de facto social workers." If Booth is
so inclined, he is welcome to spend his time urging Section 8 neighbors to stop
beating their kids and throwing trash on the front lawn. But such a decision
should be voluntary, not dictated by bureaucrats and political hacks.

Lest anyone still think my article too extreme, consider the Massachusetts
supreme court's ruling last July 22 that a pyromaniac has a "constitutionally
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protected property interest" in his eligibility for subsidized housing. I rest
my case.