The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, August 17, 1994
Letters to the Editor: HUD Program Not Wrecking Suburbs

I am concerned by James Bovard's critique of the Department of
Housing and Urban Development's market-based housing assistance
program, "Clinton's Wrecking Ball for the Suburbs," (editorial page,
Aug. 4). The article contained serious factual errors and unfortunate
stereotyping of assisted-housing residents.

HUD's "Section 8" assisted-housing program does not subsidize poor
people to live in housing unaffordable to average taxpayers, as was
suggested in the article. It is a conservative, cost-effective program
that has enabled many low-income Americans to gain access to decent
housing on the open market.

The program was created by President Nixon, signed into law by
President Ford, and supported by presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush. It
relies principally on the private market, not government, to assist
low-income families with acute housing needs.

Through the "Section 8 certificate" program, families pay 30% of
their income to live in private-market housing. The federal government
pays the difference between the amount tenants pay -- which averages
about a third of the total bill -- and the market rent. The maximum
rent HUD will subsidize is set at 5% below the median rent for any
rental market.

Nationwide, the average Section 8 fair-market rent for a two-bedroom
unit is $561 a month, including utilities. The American taxpayer pays
about $375 of that amount. Furthermore, all rents subsidized with
Section 8 certificates must meet a local "reasonableness" test. Local
housing authorities may not subsidize -- and taxpayers are not asked to
support -- rents that are out of line with local market rates.

The high rents Mr. Bovard cited apply only to four-bedroom units in
the nation's most expensive housing markets; nationwide, only 4% of
program participants actually live in four-bedroom units.

Two specific projects -- Manhattan Plaza in New York City, and Elm
Street Plaza in Chicago -- were cited as further proof that HUD Section
8 assistance is paying for luxury apartments for poor people. These two
projects were built under a program which was discontinued in 1981 and
bears no relationship to the current Section 8 certificate program.

The Clinton administration strongly supports the Section 8
certificate program. Residents pay their fair share and 54% of the
families using certificates are not on welfare but working. Half the
families in the program today have been receiving Section 8 rental
assistance for less than four years.

The Clinton administration is determined to ensure that the Section 8
program rewards work and good citizenship. Our rules allow housing
authorities to give working families preference over nonworking
families. Under our new reauthorization bill, the "Housing Choice and
Community Investment Act" now before Congress, we have also proposed
rule changes that will make it easier for landlords to evict unruly and
destructive tenants.

The article's representation of the "Moving to Opportunity" program
as a threat to suburban communities was unfortunate. Moving to
Opportunity is modeled on a Chicago program which has successfully
enabled more than 5,000 families to move to private-rental housing in
low-poverty communities without adversely impacting those communities.
The Chicago families have been good neighbors, and have been accepted
by these communities. Moreover, their children have fared much better
than children who stayed behind in inner-city public housing. They have
completed high school, continued on to college and found jobs in
proportionately far greater numbers than their inner-city counterparts.

HUD's assisted-housing program has enjoyed the steady support of five
administrations and the Congress. The true message of 20 years'
experience under Section 8 is this: Decent, affordable housing gives
people hope, and when their lives are sustained by hope, they do
wonders to help themselves.

Henry G. Cisneros


Housing and Urban Development