FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Section 8 housing vouchers pay for luxury apartments
If I wasn’t footing the bill for this nonsense it would be funny. But I am, so it isn’t.
Verde Point is a self-described “luxury apartment” complex with a rooftop pool and “personal wine storage” that is currently accepting public housing assistance recipients who will live there practically for free, courtesy of the taxpayers — at least until they become gainfully employed and their incomes rise. That’s when the pool parties and wine tastings end and they will have to downgrade to a more middle-class abode.
The Gramercy is another luxury apartment, also in Arlington, Va., where holders of the federal vouchers formerly known as Section 8 can live, taking advantage of its “massage room and sauna” and “clubroom with bar.” Also included, according to its promotional materials, are a “first-class sports club,” “theater/screening room,” and computer room.
“Someone will actually come and do a manicure right in your home,” its promotional video says, adding that the units have “Berber carpet, GE stainless steel appliances, granite countertops.” There are 20 residences at the Gramercy set aside as “affordable,” and where Section 8 can be used.
Parc Rosslyn has a whopping 101 units set aside. It also has a rooftop pool and other amenities common in luxury buildings. In exchange for government subsidies, its operators rent the 101 units at lower-than-normal rates, which can still reach as high as $1,000 a month.Those units can also be filled, however, by the vouchers wherein the federal government picks up most of the tab. Recipients pay 30 percent of their income, and lose their vouchers if their income increases too much.
Housing vouchers—in New York and across urban America—originated 30 years ago, with “Section 8” of the Nixon-era National Housing Act. The program’s rationale was straightforward: instead of placing an aid recipient in a housing project—viewed as a failed experiment because of the projects’ expense and disorder—the federal government would provide a voucher that subsidized the rent in a privately owned apartment. Conservatives have supported the voucher plan over the years chiefly because of its seeming free-market component, and because it does not impose on the government the considerable cost of building and maintaining public housing. But whatever Republican hopes, the voucher initiative operated from its inception just like any other no-strings-attached welfare program—and it continues to do so today, eight years after the nation ended the federal welfare entitlement and lifted hundreds of thousands of formerly dependent welfare mothers into lives of work and greater personal responsibility.
How this program has mutated is incredible. Not only is the entitlement open-ended but it has a unique feature that guarantees it stays that way:
Once a voucher holder is ensconced in a Section 8 apartment, the program then mires her even further in dependency, because all its incentives tell her not to improve her situation. Because Section 8 rent is pegged at 30 percent of income, any increase in a recipient’s wages leads to a dishearteningly steep rent increase. If she gets a job that boosts her income from $10,000 to $15,000, her rent zooms from $250 to $375 a month. In effect, she’s taxed as if she were well-off, at a marginal rate of 30 percent. (Conversely, Section 8 rents go down—potentially to next to nothing—if someone loses or quits a job or her welfare runs out.) Nor does getting married to a job holder necessarily make much economic sense. By pushing the household’s income too high, it could cause her to lose the voucher benefit entirely.
I would hope we can all agree on a couple of things: a) that people should not be penalized for being in financial straits and b) the assistance given to people be focused on creating self-sufficiency and independence. There is no doubt that programs designed to help those in need should not provide windfalls unavailable to similarly situated people, punish people for working, or hold the government up to ridicule.
Housing policy is not by area of expertise but, to the extent it sticks its hands deeply into my pocket, it is an area of interest. The Section 8 housing program is a travesty and it needs to be ended.