Political Sun


The history of public housing provision

In recent decades, policy approaches to housing provision have focused on increasing the incomes of subsidy recipients and, due to declining federal investment, promoting tenant mobility both between subsidized housing units and out of the public housing system altogether. But the discourse on housing seems to be shifting. Rather than promoting ever increasing incomes, recent proposals aim instead to control housing costs—both through increasing public housing stock and pegging rent to inflation.

In a 2012 paper, Lawrence J. Vale and Yonah Freemark offer a history of public housing in the United States. Their narrative considers how changing approaches to housing provision reveal changes in the government’s definition of “deserving” welfare recipients.

From the paper:

“Public housing is too often conceptualized as a single failed program that tragically concentrated deeply impoverished single-parent minority households in ill-designed and publicly mismanaged slums. Such a viewpoint does little justice to the evolution and contingencies that motivated the growth and directions of the multiphased and multifaceted history of federally supported public housing and public-private housing. Taking a longer view, the concentrated poverty welfare phase of public housing may actually be seen as an aberration, a relatively brief interlude between about 1960 and 1990. This phase, we argue, was out of step with the larger pattern of policy preferences for housing the poor, both before and since.

Seen this way, American public housing consists of a 25-year series of efforts to accommodate the upwardly mobile working class between 1935 and 1960, a 30-year consolidation of the poorest into welfare housing between 1960 and the mid 1980s, coupled by efforts to introduce direct private-sector involvement in public housing and other programs; and a series of programs and policies since the mid 1980s to return more of public housing to a less-poor constituency, while furthering growth in other kinds of both deep and shallow subsidy programs through mixed-finance projects and tax-code intervention. After 75 years of experimentation, much of the rest of public housing operations has become completely privatized. In many cities, housing authorities are regularly turning over their conventional housing stock to private managers and often own nothing more than the land beneath their redevelopment endeavors. In this context, even the basic definitional reason for calling some housing ‘public housing’ now comes into question.”

Link to the article.

  • From November of last year, Jack Y. Favilukis, Pierre Mabille, and Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh find that “Housing affordability policies create large net welfare gains.” Link. See also J. W. Mason’s recent public testimony on rent control, which offers an overview of empirical findings and concludes that “there is no evidence that rent regulations reduce the overall supply of housing.” Link.
  • A report by Peter Gowan and Ryan Cooper at 3P compares housing policy in US metropolitan areas with those of Vienna, Helsinki, and Stockholm. Link. At the Urban Institute, Emily Peiffer discusses the history of housing policy in New York City. Link.
  • “Housing Affordability in the U.S.: Trends by Geography, Tenure, and Household Income.” By Andrew Dumont at the Federal Reserve. Link.
  • Data for Progress maps the diversity of America’s public housing communities, accounting for rates of unemployment, poverty, and population density. Link. Another map looks at flood risk, police stops, and segregation in NYCHA buildings. Link.

New Researchers

Identity and the labor market

Columbia PhD candidate SUANNA OH studies how cultural and behavioral patterns impact labor markets. Her job market paper considers how caste identity shapes labor supply in rural India, drawing on a field experiment in which workers from different castes decide between a number of real job offers.

The findings:

“Workers’ average take-up rate of offers is 23 percentage points lower if offers involve working on tasks that are associated with castes other than their own. This gap increases to 47 pp if the castes associated with the relevant offers rank lower than workers’ own in the caste hierarchy. Responses to job offers are invariant to whether or not workers’ choices are publicized, suggesting that the role of identity itself—rather than social image—is paramount. Using a supplementary experiment, I show that 43% of workers refuse to spend ten minutes working on tasks associated with other castes, even when offered ten times their daily wage. This paper’s findings indicate that identity may be an important constraint on labor supply, contributing to misallocation of talent in the economy.”

Link to the paper, link to Oh’s website. h/t reader Julis R.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org.

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  • New on the Phenomenal World: Alice Zhang on development-induced displacement. Link.
  • On December 6, Suresh Naidu will be in the JFI offices to lead a seminar on his recent research: “Terms of Service: Free and Unfree Labor From American Slavery to Amazon Mechanical Turk.” Sign up for the session here.
  • “Of the United States’ 90,106 governments, 99.9% are local governments. Political scientists have been slow to take advantage of variation in institutional features, descriptive representation, and policy-making power because comprehensive data on local politics is extremely difficult to obtain. We show that crowdsourced data is both highly accurate and easy to use, demonstrating that nonexperts can be used to collect, validate, or update local data.” By Jane Lawrence Sumner, Emily M. Farris, and Mirya R. Holman. Link.
  • Jeanna Smialek tests the impact of minimum wage laws on jobs by comparing the labor markets of New York and Pennsylvania: “Pay increases in NY did not consistently come alongside weaker hiring relative to Pennsylvania’s trend.” Link. At Vox, Dylan Matthews gives an overview of recent minimum wage scholarship. Link.
  • A special issue of Politics & Society on “Democratizing Finance.” Inside: public investment platforms, central bank independence, enterprise structures. Link.
  • In the Times, a logistics officer for the US Marine Corps writes on the lack of a right-to-repair in the military: “Although parts from the manufacturer aren’t available to repair the equipment, we aren’t allowed to make the parts ourselves ‘due to specifications’.” Link. A longer piece on the history of repair rights in the military. Link. See also: an edition of this newsletter from last year on these same themes.
  • Joseph Halevi on the postwar formation of the European Common Market. Link.
  • While climate policy tends to be politically polarizing, solar panels enjoy broad bi-partisan support, according to new research by Matto Mildenberger, Peter D. Howe and Chris Miljanich. Link.
  • In a new working paper, Gregor Semieniuk and Isabella Weber cast doubt on existing measures of global inequality in energy consumption: “At present, there is no way of objectively determining the distribution of energy consumption levels across countries. If mitigation policies are meant to correlate to current consumption levels, this means that we are lacking a reliable point of reference.” Link.
  • Timothy Taylor on “the patent thicket.” Link. (Tangentially related, JFI fellow Francis Tseng’s project matter.farm, “an open database that continually generates and publishes novel molecular structures that are potential drug candidates.”)
  • Florian R. Hertel and Olaf Groh-Samberg “study the relationship between inter-class inequality and intergenerational class mobility across 39 countries.” Link. For the New York Fed, Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz analyze regional wage inequality in the United States. Link.
  • “Incorporating climate policy that restricts oil use and has an unknown arrival time in an otherwise standard climate-economic model generates a run on oil; firms dynamically accelerate extraction as climate change increases and oil reserves decrease due to the risk of future climate policy actions stranding oil reserves.” By Michael Barnett. Link.
  • “Drawing on previously unused contemporary sources about management and supervisory board composition and stock returns, we find that one out of seven firms, and a large proportion of the biggest companies, had substantive links with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Our data reveal that many more large firms had ties with the Nazis than suggested by earlier scholarship—to the extent that weighted by capitalization in 1932, more than half of listed firms on the Berlin stock exchange enjoyed close links with the Nazi movement. Affiliated firms outperformed the stock market by 5% to 8% and account for a large part of the market’s rise. Investors recognized value where they saw it and rewarded firms with preestablished ties handsomely.” Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org.

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