Public Housing

ED GLAESER: So if we take the regulatory
time period as being generally– with some exceptions– generally towards more regulations,
which make it harder to build, that’s going to be a
challenge to affordability, although it’s offset by
other benefits, perhaps. But New York then has
other sets of policies which try to make
things more affordable, most obviously both public
housing and rent control. But let’s start with
the public housing side. Of course, the key acronym is NYCHA– INGRID ELLEN: Yes. GLAESER: –New York City Housing
Authority, which begins in 1934. ELLEN: Yeah. That’s right. GLAESER: So can you
tell us about that? Why did that come about? What’s your– what’s the
broad outline of its history? ELLEN: I have to say, once
again, we’re sort of a first, and a pioneer in New York, having the
first housing authority in the country, and the first public housing
development, the first houses, which are now a historic landmark– GLAESER: Of course they are. ELLEN: –on the Lower East Side. And that was, I think, 1935, so
right after NYCHA was formed. And during– and then, after
NYCHA was formed– actually, NYCHA was formed before the
federal public housing program. And then it really was
sort of in the post-war– a few developments were built. It
really was during the post-war era. The bulk of public housing was built
in New York between 1945 and 1965. GLAESER: But someone north of 1 in
20 New Yorkers live in public housing. ELLEN: Yes, yes. It’s about 5% of all the
housing stock in New York. GLAESER: Right. So Robert Moses is, again,
the master builder on– ELLEN: Yes. Yeah, and once again– it was built, again– a lot of these developments were
built in the tower in the park model– GLAESER: Right ELLEN: –also. A lot of it is post-war. GLAESER: So very much of a
monoculture, not a mixed-use, sort of thriving– ELLEN: No. They look very homogeneous. There’s virtually no commercial. They’re sort of cut off
from the street grid. There’s a lot of things not
to like about public housing. And right now they’re– you
know, crippling deficits. The city housing authority has basically
a structural operating deficit of, like, 20 to 40 million, and probably
another $20 billion in capital repairs that it needs to make. So, we’ve got to do something. The public housing really is
sort of at a crisis point. But I– I wouldn’t– I don’t think that we should– I feel pretty strongly,
I don’t think we should be getting rid of our public housing. I don’t think we should
be selling it off. It would be– some of the
public housing developments are on enormously
valuable plots of land, so it is a large opportunity cost. But it’s providing, aside from,
obviously, the political challenge that that’s not happening,
but I also think it’s providing really valuable,
affordable housing for– GLAESER: It’s helping
to keep the city mixed. ELLEN: Exactly. And helping to actually
keep neighborhoods mixed. That’s the thing that I think
people don’t understand. When we think about public
housing around the country, we think of some isolated
developments that are in extremely poor neighborhoods– GLAESER: Cabrini-Green–
ELLEN: –far away from– right. GLAESER: –in Chicago in the old days. ELLEN: But in New York, now,
2/3 of public housing developments are surrounded by block groups with
incomes that are above the median, above the New York City median. So what’s happened is,
you’ve seen a lot of– basically, gentrification has come into
neighborhoods immediately surrounding public housing developments. And so, but for public housing, those
neighborhoods would not be integrated. And to the extent, we think
and we have new evidence that neighborhood integration,
economic integration, is beneficial, and that kids who grow up in
more integrated environments do better later in life, from the
Moving to Opportunity experiment. I feel like this is– maybe ironically– that
public housing actually is delivering that kind of integration.

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