Housing and Urban Development Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Rod Solomon said in a speech at Dwight Hall that he thinks public housing is a helpful program, but there are problems with the system that hinder its effectiveness.
Solomon spoke to 25 people about public housing legislation and the interaction between HUD and local communities Thursday.
Solomon, who worked for HUD’s public housing and voucher policy divisions under the administrations of former presidents Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and George W. Bush ’68, gave a speech entitled “From Congress to the Projects: Where is Public Housing Headed?” Solomon’s daughter, Julia Solomon ’05, was present in the audience.
There are four major areas of concern in the field of public housing, Solomon said: public housing stock, management, tenants and the voucher program. He detailed the developments and drawbacks in each of the fields.
Solomon pointed out that public housing is not the largest government-subsidized housing program. He said there are three programs to provide government-subsidized housing and these programs typically serve families who earn below the median salary for a given area. But he said HUD’s vouchers budget is much lower than that for other government programs and operations — for example, the government recently budgeted $87 billion for military operations in Iraq.
Solomon said he thinks HUD’s programs are effective, but they do not reach enough people. He said only one-fourth of people who need help are served by HUD. In Los Angeles one recent year, Solomon said,150,000 people signed up to receive assistance but only 5,000 housing units were available. He also said the prevalence of gangs in HUD housing developments in Los Angeles causes problems.
After discussing the varied housing situations in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, Solomon contrasted the situation in Los Angeles with that in Atlanta when he was last there: cheap housing was plentiful because people were moving away from the area.
Solomon detailed public housing-related legislation, including the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998, which helped to deregulate and decentralize public housing. He also spoke at length on Congressional procedures and the general attitude of people on Capitol Hill regarding public housing.
Solomon discussed public housing choice vouchers, which allow some low-income families to lease or purchase privately-owned rental housing. Solomon said he thinks the program does not take into account changes in circumstances — for example, if people in the program are paying a certain percentage of the money they make in rent and find higher-paying jobs, they must pay more money in rent because the percentage does not change.
Students at the talk said they were satisfied with the level of detail Solomon gave, especially about newer policy modifications. Virginia Flores ’04 said she learned a lot about different housing regulations.
“I didn’t know about the reforms and the last act he was talking about. I didn’t know about some of the recent changes,” Flores said.
Kimberly Brown ’04 said she was surprised to learn about the separation of public health reform and the welfare system.
“I was interested to learn about the dangers of combining the two,” she said.
Aaron Goode ’04 said he thought Solomon did a “great job” describing the background of HUD’s ongoing problems. But he said he wished Solomon had said more about New Haven.
“I wish he had said more about management issues on the local level,” Goode said. “I think he glossed over the privatization issue.”
Solomon’s speech was an installment in Dwight Hall’s Intersections speaker series and was co-sponsored by the Urban Fellows program.