Reforming Housing Assistance

Getting better outcomes with less public spending is always desirable, and our current fiscal situation adds urgency to this task. Low-income housing assistance is fertile ground for such reforms. Most current recipients are served by programs whose cost is enormously excessive for the housing provided. Phasing out these programs in favor of the system’s most cost-effective program would ultimately free up resources to provide housing assistance to millions of additional people while reducing taxpayer cost. It would also reduce other deficiencies of the current system. The current system provides large—sometimes enormous—subsidies to some households while offering none to others that are equally poor, and it provides subsidies to many people who are not poor while offering none to many of the poorest. Finally, the current system is strongly biased against homeownership for low-income households. A modest modification of the system’s most cost-effective program would eliminate this bias.