Public Housing in the United States: Where It is Today

Public Housing in the United States: Where It is Today

Image for post
Image for post

Public Housing was introduced to provide safe and proper rental housing for low-income earners. It is mostly available for families, the elderly, and people with disabilities. There is an eligibility process to determine if an individual or a family is entitled to it. In particular, the Housing Authority (HA) is responsible for giving eligibility to people who apply for Public Housing. The process includes:

  • Checking of the annual gross income of the family or the individual
  • Doing a background check to qualify the applicant as an elderly, a person with disability, or as a family
  • Verifying US Citizenship and eligible immigration status
  • Observing to make sure the family, elderly, or person with disability will be good and decent tenants

Any references will be checked, including criminal records and law violations. HA will distribute a written notification to all approved admissions. Public Housing properties include houses and apartments. It is necessary to sign a lease with an HA representative to establish a tenant and landlord relationship.

Public Housing is an alternative for the usual housing market. Average earners have a hard time budgeting their monthly income due to the rising housing price rates. Figures recorded in 2014 showed that 1.49 million of people seek help from homeless shelters and that 578, 424 were sleeping on the streets, cars, parks, and any other space available. All of these people are in need of shelter immediately.

What is the current status of Public Housing in the United States and how many people benefit from it?

Public Housing Today

There are over two million people living in Public Housing, which is provided by the Federal Government. With that total, 16% are seniors and 36% are disabled people. 49% of residents are most likely to stay in Public Housing for more than five years. The average annual income of residents who live under this program ranges from $14, 511 to $15,000 per year. This is just over a quarter compared to the average annual income of the median household, which is $51, 939. The most affordable housing properties are located in Detroit, with an average cost of $64, 110.

Public Housing is a lot cheaper compared to this, and it is truly baffling how unstable the housing market in the US is. Public Housing Tenants are required to pay 30% of their income to housing costs. A special deal is made between the tenants and the landlord where the housing rates they need to pay is based on their income. This makes it easy for them to pay.

Determining the situation of Public Housing today can be tricky since most newspaper articles written about it focus on its negative factors. Ed Goetz, Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, said that American public housing is marked by simple successes overpowered by failures.

In a study that focuses on the achievements and failures of Public Housing, it is made clear that there are dedicated tenants or management teams who provide the best resources for their low-income tenants. It is also explained that a big problem in Public Housing these days is “mismanagement.” Public Housing doesn’t end if the lease is signed and the family or individual has already settled in the provided property.

The cost of living is another factor to consider. The average cost of food for an average American household is $550 per month. However, most households spend more than this because of the number of mouths they need to feed. Most people make the best out of that amount and even try to save more money by rationing their food and other necessities.

Benefits of Public Housing

Other than resolving the homelessness issue, families or individuals who live in Public Housing are given better opportunities when it comes to education and employment. Other than housing, a family should be able to allot money for medical emergencies, food, transportation, and education. For senior citizens, Public Housing is a much better and cheaper housing choice compared to nursing homes. It allows them to stay with their families and friends. Public Housing properties also receive cleaning and property maintenance from the Government. Funding for Public Housing is consistent and if ever tenants are asked to be relocated, they are given advanced notice to enable them to make preparations or in some cases, to appeal the decision through legal proceedings.

Section 8 Housing

An alternative program that helps low-income earners, the elderly, and people with disability is the Section 8 Housing. Section (Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority) 8 Housing Voucher Program allows tenants to choose their own unit as long as it is within the NRHA seven-county region. In Public Housing, NRHA or housing representatives are the owners or landlords of the property. For the Section 8 Housing Program, housing representatives establish a deal with landlords or owners for a special housing deal for the tenants. Reports have shown that the Section 8 Housing Program is better managed than Public Housing because the landlords are able to monitor their tenants daily and are able to enforce laws more effectively. However, the downside is that landlords tend to increase the housing rates with the increasing housing market. There isn’t any solid data to serve as proof to show that Public Housing is succeeding in helping the less privileged.

Public Housing Woes

Image for post
Image for post

Public Housing Expiration Dates

One of the biggest heartbreaks in America was the downfall of Public Housing in Chicago. Downfall here means the demolition of Public Housing to give way to new infrastructures that are more promising and that will generate more money. In the 1950s, several buildings were constructed in Chicago to serve as Public Housing areas. Through the years, the residential properties were completely abandoned by the land owners, and the structural materials started to deteriorate. Most of these residential areas are unlivable today due to structural issues, and some are no longer livable. This is the result of mismanagement and neglect.

Public Housing properties should be well-maintained in terms of cleanliness, safety, and structural fortification. It is unfortunate that no one is willing to provide money for the revision or reconstruction of these properties. The cost to rebuild or renovate these residential properties will run to millions of dollars. But experts are certain that the amount, if provided, will benefit the entire city of Chicago in battling poverty, homelessness, and even provide job opportunities for construction workers.

In the 1990’s, many African households were kicked out of their Public homes after the housing strategy of Chicago was challenged. Over 5,000 kids were living in Government-funded properties in the state at the time. Some of these kids were among the people kicked out of their homes during a normal day. Others were given a choice to relocate according to the Section 8 Housing Voucher; otherwise, they could transfer to another Public Housing property. It would appear as if the options given to the tenants were good for them, but the experience they had from living in Public Housing inflicted a great deal of fear and uncertainty in them, knowing that anytime, they could be turned away.

Racial Segregation

Unfortunately, racism and discrimination can always be linked to housing and public housing. In the early years, African-Americans weren’t welcome in most cities in the US. These days, 48% of Public Housing is occupied by black families. To make things worse, segregation turned to isolation, with black people relocated to barely livable properties all over the country.

Location, Location, Location

Just like in real estate, location is considered for public housing. The Housing Authority promises decent and safe housing. This can be tricky, especially for Section 8. The available areas are limited. This not the case, though, with Public Housing. In some admissions, applicants decide to move to another state for better Public Housing conditions. According to analytical observations, there are Public Housing properties located at dangerous areas like Detroit, Minnesota, and Birmingham. This is another reason why the government doesn’t even consider providing budgets for renovation or reconstruction in particular places.

The Lack of Public Housing

The United States is already facing a massive problem with the lack of affordable housing. There is also a large number of people who are eligible to avail of Public Housing services but are unable to because they don’t have any resources, references, or financial support to even apply for it. If more Public Housing properties are provided for people in need, it would spark a huge decline in the number of homeless people.

Many experts believe that if the Government allotted more funding for Public Housing and implemented new laws to require states to build more Public Housing projects, then it will result in a surge in the country’s economic growth. A chain reaction is predicted, as more housing opportunities lead to more financially stable families and so on.

Natural Disasters

The aftermath of the biggest natural disasters in America has left millions of people homeless and their homes destroyed. In 2005, millions of people from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were left homeless after Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc in these areas. As if the aftermath of Katrina wasn’t devastating enough, some people who lived in Public Housing received more bad news when their government-provided homes were about to be demolished despite not having any damage in those areas. The reason behind this was that the government already had plans to demolish Public Housing areas to allow for the construction of commercial properties, mainly for business. In this regard, many poor people in Texas are counting on their government officials to stay away from what happened in New Orleans. Millions of people were left in the streets after Hurricane Harvey devastated most of the properties in the state of Texas.


Image for post
Image for post

Goetz’s statement about Public Housing being a success but trampled with negative reports is both true and false. Most reports truly target and highlight the failures of the Housing Authority and the US Government in providing better Public Housing settlements for the tenants. However, there is also a small number of people who are showing improvements in their lives while living in these Public Housing properties.

The problem with affordable housing is not the same as that with Public Housing. Affordable housing is easily influenced by the housing market while Public Housing rates are monitored to benefit low-income earners. Several solutions have been presented and proposed by Government officials and housing experts who have engaged in deep immersion and research on the situation of Public Housing tenants.

The US can adopt other nation’s policies for Public Housing. In Vienna, Public Housing areas are composed of mixed-class tenants. Low-income earners and average-income earners are eligible for low-rate housing despite their annual income. A mixed-class setting attracts more funding, not only from the government but from private companies and institutions as well. Another obvious solution is consistent funding from the Government. New York is one of the finest and dedicated cities that promote Public Housing opportunities for people in need. However, the city is struggling to manage its budget in the midst of federal budget cuts. More funding should be allotted to repairing building structures to ensure safe and decent living for the tenants. Right now, the United States of America can’t call their Public Housing Program a success, but the country has the resources and manpower to improve it immensely in only a few years.

A volunteer program for the improvement of Public Housing properties and livelihood will also go a long way. People can sign up to help with repair projects and sanitation initiatives. Demolitions should also be avoided at all cost. The construction of residential properties should always come first. The number of homeless people is rising everyday, and immediate action is needed to help change the lives of these people. 25% of the homeless are children who sleep in the streets, cars, park benches, and homeless shelters.

If the government won’t pursue better funding for Public Housing, then the public can take the first step. Are you interested to help? Visit to learn how.


Blumgart, J. (2014, August 26). 4 Public housing lessons the U.S. could learn from the rest of the world.

Next City. Retrieved from

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2017). Policy basics: public housing. Retrieved from

Fessler, P. (2015, August 17). After katrina, new orleans’ public housing is a mix of pastel and promises.

NPR. Retrieved from

Housing and Urban Development. (2017). HUD’s Public Housing Program. Retrieved from

National Center for Health in Public Housing. (2016, May 31). Demographic facts of residents living in public housing. Retrieved from–1.pdf

Northwestern Regional Housing Authority. (2017). What is the difference between section 8 and public housing? Retrieved from

Philanthropy reinvented with Blockchain and Smart Contract Technology. We aim to empower emerging individuals.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store