Six reasons people hate public housing
In Galveston, Hurricane Ike demolished 569 units of public housing just a year ago. Now residents of Galveston don’t want that public housing rebuilt.
And in Huntsville, the local housing authority is planning to buy some foreclosed homes and turn them into public housing. But not if the upper middle-class residents of South Huntsville have anything to say about it.
They even took out an ad in the local paper, stating “Public housing is coming to your neighborhood,” trying to get people to come out to a local meeting, where both sides engaged in a heated debate over whether public housing should be allowed there.
It’s not just Galveston and Huntsville – it’s everywhere.
People have a visceral reaction to the words “public housing” and it’s usually not good. These reactions often appear in the comments sections of articles like this or on this blog, at community meetings and in other public forums.
But why? Why do people hate it so much?
There are probably a hundred reasons. But here are the top six reasons I hear that people despise public housing:
1) Public housing residents are poor.
A 2002 study shows that, generally, Americans don’t like the poor.
And who you are has a lot to do with why you don’t like them. The more money you have, it seems, the more likely you are to blame poverty on an internal factor – a poor person being lazy, unmotivated or unintelligent – than you are to blame it on an external factor – such as prejudice, few employment options or lack of inherited wealth.
So, generally, we don’t like poor people. And if you live in public housing, you’re probably poor. Thus, large concentration of poor people = large concentration of hate.
2) Public housing residents are lazy.
This is the one I hear most often. It usually sounds something like this, “If they would just get off their butt and work for a living like the rest of us, they wouldn’t need public housing.”
It follows from the idea that the poor are lazy (and if they would just work for a living, they would be fine like the rest of us), but there’s an special loathing for the laziness of public housing residents. Lazy and living in decent housing? If you’re going to be lazy, you should at least suffer.
Just as a note, the Chicago Housing Authority’s statistics show a variety of income sources for residents. About 37 percent are employed, while 28 percent receive disability, and 17 percent get Social Security. Just 14 percent get welfare assistance.
3) Public housing brings crime.
Same in Huntsville and Galveston. There’s a strong feeling that public housing residents bring crime along with them, despite the fact that HUD guidelines screen for criminal convictions and drug activity.
Some say it’s not the residents themselves – but trouble-making family members and visitors that bring the crime in. I’ve also been told that many of the drug dealers that pray on public housing aren’t residents, but people who target the low-income with their business.
Regardless of what you believe, people associate crime with public housing, and they don’t want to invite crime into their neighborhood.
4) Public housing redistributes wealth.
I call this the “my tax dollars…” argument. Oh man, do people get pissed about their tax dollars. Sometimes I think we’re like little Pavlov’s dogs – the moment we hear the phrase “taxes,” we start foaming at the mouth and growling.
There is a huge (HUGE) debate in this country, decades old, about whether tax money should go to programs like welfare, WIC, medicaid and public housing. Some people think the answer is no (NO!) and some people are fine with it.
I think the majority are in between – they don’t mind helping people out, but they don’t want tax money spent on programs that suck – either because they don’t work well or because people take advantage of them.
Some days, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth over the comments I get on my blog posts. But it’s been helpful for me to realize this fact: some people do not believe government money should go to help the poor. It’s as simple as that.
Oh, Lord in heaven, I said it again. Some day, I’m gonna be burned at the stake.
When you say the words “public housing,” particularly in Chicago, no one has any doubt over the color of people who live there.
And our country’s history with racism, discrimination and racialized public policy, all of us have a negative mental association with people of color, particularly African-Americans. Like it or not, it’s in your brain.
Again, we’re like Pavlov’s dogs, only with higher cognitive association skills.
6) Declining property values
In college, we had to read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which coined the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.”
You might be more familiar with the idea of the “pursuit of happiness,” but many of our laws and principles relate to the idea of owning property. You used to have to own property to vote. And owning property is still the American dream.
So anything that disrupts our right to own property, and thus wealth, pisses us off. When rich people live nearby, our property values go up. The opposite can happen when poor people move in.
John Locke wouldn’t like that. Oh no, he wouldn’t.
So are these six main reasons that I think people screw up their face in disgust whenever the words “public housing” are mentioned.
Are they valid? Yes and no.
Some of them are based on truths or portions of the truth. Much of it is based on stereotype, which may contain a small grain of truth somewhere, but have been greatly exaggerated.
Whether they’re true or false, valid or invalid, this is the undercurrent we’re dealing with whenever we talk about public housing.
On Monday, I quizzed my twitter friends about why they think public housing is hated. I got several good responses, but the best one? The best was from the Poverty to Opportunity campaign’s Doug Scheckelberg.
Ain’t that the truth.