Denied Housing Assistance

In the United States it is hard to build political consensus for any measure. Measures aiding the poor are especially difficult to build a strong coalition behind. As a result, many of the measures that our nation adopts in an attempt to help the poor or address issues for those in need have compromises that make them less effective. This means that sometimes our policies don’t actually end up helping the people who most need assistance.
Matthew Desmond writes about this in his book Evicted. Regarding housing assistance, Desmond writes, “often, evicted families also lose the opportunity to benefit from public housing because Housing Authorities count evictions and unpaid debt as strikes when reviewing applications. And so people who have the greatest need for housing assistance – the rent-burdened and evicted – are systematically denied it.”
It is hard to find political support to provide assistance to people we don’t find deserving of assistance. The things that make people deserving of assistance are things like personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, a good sense of moral and social expectations, and self discipline to bring all these qualities together. Unfortunately, for many people living in poverty, especially those who have suffered trauma, some or all of these characteristics may be missing. We judge these characteristics by people’s level of debt and missed payments, by their history of eviction, and whether or not they have been able to maintain a stable job. These proxies help us determine if someone has the characteristics that would make them deserving of aid, but they also completely miss the point.
People who are deserving of aid usually are not the ones in the most dire need of aid. Quite often people who possess all the qualities to be seen as deserving hit hard stretches and need aid, but quite often people fail, they lose support and struggle to maintain the characteristics that would make them deserving, and are left without aid, making it impossible for them to actually improve their lives and become deserving of aid.
Desmond’s book, and the work of others on housing issues, advocates for a housing first policy. We cannot make housing assistance an incentive, it must be the primary foundation. We cannot expect someone to get a job if they don’t have housing. We cannot expect someone to stay off drugs if they don’t have a safe place to live. We cannot expect someone to catch up on debt payments if they don’t have a house and can’t get a foothold in the labor market. Housing, and housing assistance, has to be a priority, not an incentive or reward that is only provided to those seen as the most deserving.

One thought on “Denied Housing Assistance

  1. Political consensus can never be reached when your political system is so heavily biased to only 2 parties, which is a result of the ‘first past the post’ voting method. In other major democracies where multiple parties are the norm, we use the preferential system, and the major parties are forced to compromise possibly/often with coalition government, to get the preferences of the minor parties and/or the vote of any minor party elected official. The preferential voting method has dual purposes, 1st that the most popular wins and 2nd that the most unpopular doesn’t get in – note that the ‘winner’ usually get less than 50% of the primary vote.
    In Oz, we treat voting as a civic responsibility, so voting is compulsory for all citizens, so we don’t have this nonsense of states passing laws to make it harder for minorities to vote. Further, for federal elections, we have a federal Electoral Commission with federal laws governing the election. States have their own electoral laws for state and local elections.
    It’s interesting that during Covid lock-downs, the Oz major banks are introducing mortgage and small business loan repayment relief and eviction moratoriums.
    It seems to me that so many in the Land of the FREE think it means the Land of the ME! Historically, the Land of the Free meant freedom from overseas rule (from the UK or Spain or France or the Roman Church), NOT anarchistic freedom from from basic civic and moral care for your fellow citizens.
    The Bill of Rights, should have a corresponding Bill of Civic Responsibilities. RIGHTS must be given, not taken.
    I’m enjoying your series of posts reviewing these books/


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