During the past eight years, almost 100,000 units of public housing have been approved for demolition, and fewer than 40,000 units of public housing have been constructed, meaning that over 60% of public housing units demolished have not been replaced. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD ) approved a request from the San Diego Housing Commission “to get out of the public housing business” by vouchering out its entire stock of over 1,300 units. Vouchers allow residents to rent a unit in the private market. In 2008, the housing authorities in Las Vegas and Atlanta submitted applications to HUD to dispose of all their public housing units.
While most displaced residents receive Housing Choice Vouchers in which to move, the vouchers do not compensate for the loss of public housing to a community. Public housing is a commitment from the government that there will always be a housing resource for our most vulnerable populations—a commitment that the private sector cannot make. Even though vouchers are an important part of the nation’s affordable housing supply, they are not a permanent replacement for hard public housing units.
On June 15, 2009, the Chairman of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, Representative Barney Frank, and the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, Representative Maxine Waters, sent a letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan asking him to impose a one-year moratorium on the approval of applications for demolition or disposition of public housing units. The Committee noted that, “Until such time as housing authorities are required to replace demolished or disposed units on a one-for-one basis, we risk losing the crucial investment and significant asset these units represent.”
We applaud the decision of Representatives Frank and Waters in making this request and in working on legislation to require one-for-one replacement of demolished public housing units. In order that the nation not lose any more public housing units, it is imperative that HUD Secretary Donovan declare a one-year moratorium on public housing demolitions so that legislation can be enacted to preserve the nation’s supply of low-income public housing.