Monday, March 5, 2007
Why are so many local housing authorities inefficient? In Miami-Dade County, Florida, the housing agency “is a mess,” as reported by NPR this morning. Meanwhile, there is talk of having a federal HUD takeover of the authority, as discussed in the Miami Herald this winter. Among the complaints with the Miami-Dade Housing Agency is that a lot of money has been spent but few housing units have been built or supported, even as older public housing units have been demolished.
Last week, I wrote in favor of greater governmental efforts to support the construction of semi-permanent housing for the chronically homeless. This week I write to express concerns about entrusting matters as important as low-income housing to public authorities. Conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke has written that to call something “public” is to define it as inefficient. (Think of the current news about Walter Reed Army Medical Center.) This may be unfair, of course, to many dedicated pubic officials. But there is often reason for concern in the running of housing authorities. It is a thankless task to try to swim counter to market forces and foster low-cost housing while trying please various political constituents. It requires knowledge and skill in dealing with real estate, construction, and tenant relations, among other factors, beyond politics. Employees are often poorly paid, and the housing authorities often do not attract employees with the experience necessary to run such a complex operation.
What is the solution? One way to help is for the watchdogs of government -– the news media, housing residents, and other public-spirited groups –- to complain loudly when a housing authority is not doing its job. The spotlight trained on Miami-Dade at the moment is likely to help matters significantly, including providing better oversight by governmental leaders who otherwise might not pay much attention to their local housing authority.