Federal program won't begin to make up for the loss of affordable housing [Letter]

March 17, 2014

I found The Sun's blandly congratulatory tone in its recent editorial regarding the new federal housing Rental Assistance Demonstration program profoundly disturbing ("An opportunity for Baltimore's public housing residents," March 10).

The editorial, which applauded the Housing Authority's decision to sell more than a third of its 11,000 public housing units to private developers in order to finance $300 million in capital improvements, ignored some fundamental truths. The RAD is not only a last-resort expedient, given the magnitude of Baltimore's housing needs, but to the degree that the program represents a huge new step in the direction of privatizing public housing, it signals yet again the fact that as a society we are moving further and further away from honoring our nation's housing policy goal of a decent house and suitable living environment for every American family.

Unless we acknowledge this, it hardly matters whether the RAD represents a Faustian bargain with for-profit developers as some housing advocates fear, or an effort that might seem resourceful until you actually analyze the program as a method of preserving deteriorating public housing units. It is ludicrously Rube Goldbergian in its complexity, with not a single dollar permitted for construction of new public housing.

Just three days after The Sun's headline announced the launch of the RAD program, your newspaper published a sobering article that set out in detail the newest national data illustrating the yawning gap between the number of low-income renter households and affordable units in every jurisdiction in the country. It added that in 2012 there were 43 affordable units available in Baltimore City for every 100 extremely low-income households.

We have known for at least three decades about the steady decrease in federal funding for new construction, rehab and maintenance of existing public housing units and the growing crisis in housing the working poor and those on fixed entitlement. I couldn't help but think how much more useful The Sun's editorial would have been had it framed its praise for the RAD program within a serious discussion of these deeply troubling issues.

These are issues that make us confront whether or not as a society we are ready to jettison all pretense of housing as a fundamental human right. For that is surely the direction in which we are headed.

Jane Harrison

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