Stuck In The Projects

Mark Jacobson tours public housing in New York:

Of all the housing experts I spoke to, Howard Husock, vice-president of policy research at the rightist Manhattan Institute, was the only one to offer a comprehensive plan about what to do about the projects. "Public housing might have seemed like a good idea in the thirties, but it wasn’t then "and it certainly isn’t now," Husock said when I visited his office on Vanderbilt Avenue, next door to the Yale Club. [New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) head] John Rhea was doing his best, but he’d been dealt an "impossible hand," Husock said. As long as NYCHA depended on federal funds, it was doomed to failure.

Continued subsidies compounded the faulty logic built into the system by the 1969 passage of the Brooke Amendment, which fixed public-housing residents’ rent at 25 percent (now 30 percent) of their income, thereby assuring that the projects would never pay for themselves. Since then, Husock said, the projects had created a huge "frozen zone" that impeded the "normal turnover of properties," choking off the construction of other housing, both market rate and affordable.

"People weren’t supposed to live in public housing for 40 years. Where did La Guardia say that? Public housing was supposed to give you a leg up, a way to move on. Not stay forever," Husock maintained.

The above video is shoddily narrated but contains some really interesting views:

Historian Joel Schwartz takes us on a guided tour of New York City before the NYC Housing Authority razed large swaths of run-down neighborhoods to build public housing projects. These arresting photographs of a long-vanished New York City owe their astonishing detail to the 4×5 inch negatives captured by the NYCHA photographers. Photos are from the NYC Housing Authority collection housed at the La Guardia and Wagner Archives.