As part of its endless quest to fundamentally transform the United States, the Obama administration is laying the intellectual groundwork for a massive new government program: moving crime-prone tenants of public housing into middle- and upper middle-class neighborhoods in the name of improving their health.
Last Thursday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a multi-year study conducted on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) researching the impact of “housing mobility” on the health of those in public housing. The project, which tracked 4,500 “very low-income” families, found that allowing the poor to move from the projects to “low-poverty neighborhoods” decreased the incidence of both disorders and improved the families’ overall health.
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Upon hearing the results, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan lamented, “Far too often we can predict a family’s overall health, even their life expectancy, by knowing their zip code.” Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chimed in, “where you live can be critical to your health.”
For an administration obsessed with Nanny State health initiatives, increased welfare spending, and waging war on the affluent, the next step is not hard to anticipate. President Obama has already requested $28.6 billion for Section 8 housing vouchers in Fiscal Year 2012, fully 60 percent of HUD’s budget. Rather than spend $400 million combating inner-city “food deserts” (areas in which the average resident must drive 4.5 minutes longer to get to a supermarket than the average American), why not just move the welfare-dependent Uptown? Such a policy would achieve the dual left-wing aims of redistributing wealth from the productive to the indolent (core Republican and Democratic constituencies, respectively) and forcefully integrating well-to-do neighborhoods.
It would also expand crime, bring gangland violence into peacefully under-policed suburbs, deteriorate public safety, and increase the resentment of those whose taxes make these destructive moves possible.
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Taxpayers are understandably outraged when they see welfare recipients living well on the public dime as stagnant wages trap them in underwater mortgages. As long ago as 1980, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote, “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.” The Palm Beach Post reports, “The monthly rent subsidy for local [Florida] homes is as high as $2,109 for a five-bedroom, three-bathroom home in a suburban Lake Worth gated community.” One such recipient on the opposite coast, a “Judy Doe,” confessed she rode her rental voucher out of Los Angeles into nearby Lancaster, California, because in that location “we could have a bigger and better home” at taxpayer expense.
Indeed, the housing price collapse has enabled Section 8 recipients to be picky about their new environs. Andy Pollack, who rents such properties, says today’s public charge is “looking for new kitchens, granite countertops, stainless steel.”
Meanwhile, the exodus further depresses home prices, creating a vicious circle for the middle class. Urban Affairs professor George Galster of Wayne State University found having more than four Section 8 vouchers within 1,000 feet of each other harms property values. The Atlantic reported that Galster theorized “every neighborhood has its tipping point — a threshold well below a 40 percent poverty rate — beyond which crime explodes and other severe social problems set in. Pushing a greater number of neighborhoods past that tipping point is likely to produce more total crime.”
This crime is sometimes caused by careless or thoughtless practices. In 1994, for instance, HUD gave a Section 8 voucher to a known pyromaniac.
However, Barack Obama has drawn up a systematic plan to sprinkle the mentally ill and drug-addicted throughout better neighborhoods. Last year, Obama proposed his “Opening Doors” agenda, which would “direct 4,000 Section 8 housing vouchers to homeless people who need treatment from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration along with health care, child care and employment services from Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.” (Emphasis added.)
Exploding crime rates are not restricted to the ill or infirm. Experts argue the number of Section 8 recipients is one of the best predictors of an impending crime wave. University of Memphis criminologist Richard Janikowski and his wife, housing expert Phyllis Bett, discovered the link almost by happenstance. The couple had been working on two separate maps for their work: he of crime patterns, she of housing vouchers. In early 2008, they decided to compare notes:
Janikowski merged his computer map of crime patterns with Betts’s map of Section8 [sic.] rentals…the match was near-perfect. On the merged map, dense violent-crime areas are shaded dark blue, and Section8 [sic.]addresses are represented by little red dots. All of the dark-blue areas are covered in little red dots, like bursts of gunfire. The rest of the city has almost no dots.
Dennis Rosenbaum, a criminologist at University of Illinois at Chicago, found similar patterns in the Windy City. University of Louisville criminologist Geetha Suresh, fresh to the United States from India, found the same pattern across the nation: As inhabitants of public housing are moving into new suburbs and cul-de-sacs, “Crime is going along with them.”
Public welfare officials have seized on these findings as proof public housing projects should be broken up and their inhabitants widely scattered throughout the populace, arguing the real problem is clustering the poor together — rather than the ghetto-dwellers themselves. However, sometimes criminals do not wish to live separately. Gang members seek close quarters to ply their trade. At other times the scattered settings actually aid the criminals, allowing them to work with relatives across town to expand their territory.
Occasionally, the crime rate decreases following such a dispersal. This occurs for one of two reasons. Cities may experience temporary relief after the transfer, as criminals take time to put down roots in a new area and learn the lay of the land. Overpriced housing markets may experience a permanent decrease. But the reduction is illusory; the criminals simply set up shop in nearby areas. “New York, where the rate of violent crime has plummeted, appears to have pushed many of its poor out to New Jersey, where violent crime has increased in nearby cities and suburbs,” Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic reported. “Washington, D.C., has exported some of its crime to surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia.”
Bonnie Dolezal of Cleveland Heights expressed the frustrations of many law-abiding homeowners when she wrote to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “As a working, taxpaying citizen, I should not have to live with the criminals, drugs and the fraud that this program has introduced into my neighborhood.”
Such complaints have fallen on deaf ears. The Urban Institute admitted housing agencies in Boston and Philadelphia “had not taken action to enforce existing rules of behavior for either tenants or landlords and were not meeting with community groups to hear their concerns.”
None of the 5,700 people on the Section 8 waiting list, nor the 4,400 currently receiving vouchers in Glendale, California, have ever had a criminal background check to assure they comply with the program’s rules. Violators are not kicked out until convicted of a (new) crime, when too often they make way for another offender.
In the meantime, voucher recipients descend like locusts into surrounding upscale communities, swelling their size, sprawl, public costs, pollution, and police blotter. The New York Times recounted the story of Lancaster, California:
The growth also fueled demographic changes: in 1980, when the population of Lancaster was roughly 48,000, the city was 86 percent white, with a black population of 3 percent. In 2010, with the population reaching 157,000, whites made up a third of the city, while 20 percent of the population was black and 38 percent Hispanic, according to census figures.
In 2004, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris fought back. He and Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford Jr. hired investigators to search Section 8 houses for drugs, illegal tenants (whether subletters or parolees), or health code violations. To little surprise, they found a host of violations, which they dutifully reported to the system, requesting the agency enforce its rules and revoke all benefits to those engaged in illicit behavior.
Parris has called the lawsuit “inflammatory bulls–t” dreamed up by “ultraliberal lawyers” and “idiots.”
Ledford agreed, “The effects of people not living within the rules has a devastating effect on our neighborhoods.”
“I am at war with Section 8,” Parris said. The program is “moving the urban poor into the suburbs, which is destroying hard-working family neighborhoods…It’s not a secret what’s happening to America. Lancaster is just one of the cities affected. We seem to be one of the only cities doing something about it.”
Lancaster is one of the only cities taking action so far. When Obama proposes his full-scale export of crime, poverty, and public health degradation, the Tea Party must see that the war is joined.