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Synthesis Essay 1

Howard Husock argues that the Public Housing system needs to change because the Government enables the citizens instead of helping them; they provide a crutch. He offers some suggestions to reform this failing Public Housings system. I agree with Husock that Public housing is failing, but I disagree with his suggestions for reform. Husock neglects to inform us about the good things that public housing has contributed to society. In order for his suggestion to be successful he has to take each individual circumstance into consideration.

According to Husock public housing first came to the United States in 1937 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation that would bring large- scale public housing to the United States (89). Large scale public housing was originally built to help families in need of a clean, affordable and safe environment to live in. However, the government did not take into consideration the problems that public housing were suppose to get rid of such as crime and unsanitary living conditions to name a few. Before public housing families lived in slums and were faced with dangerous and unsanitary living conditions.  These conditions where describe by an author named Riis. He shows in his piece “The down Town Back- Alleys” the dangers faced by poor families. They “where families were exposed to all kinds of infectious disease such as small pox because of these conditions 61 out of 138 children born in this environment died in less than three years and they were all under the age of one” (299). This is so ironic because this house was built by a Quaker in Riis’s piece who was trying to help the poor by giving them a clean place to live in and it did just the opposite. The poor faced so many problems in Riis’s piece they did not have clean water, they were forced to live in small living spaces, and their basic safety was put at risk every day because of the position of the fire escapes and there were holes in the roof (302-06). It seemed like death was their friend. The landlords did not care once they got their rent what conditions these poor people were forced to live in because they could not afford to live anywhere else.  There was even a blind landlord by the name of “Old Dan” who said that the poor did not deserve a clean and nice place to live .It is definitely clear from Riis’s description that these conditions were in dire need of a change for the better. However, although I agree with Husock, that the public housing system needs to change. It is a vast improvement when I look at the conditions the poor were forced to live in. At least with public housing small pox was no longer a threat, clean water was available, fire escapes were easily accessible, there were no holes in the roof and space was certainly not an issue because I have seen apartments in public housing and they are very spacious. There were other people who felt these conditions needed to change such as Fuller. She writes in her piece “Our City Charities” about we should at least provide clean air for the poor to breath, more space and sunlight. Public housing has provided these few simple requests for the poor.

Unfortunately some of the conditions public housing was supposed to solve got worst over time for the poor people. Most of the buildings in the public housing sector became dilapidated because of the lack of maintenance. Crime and drugs increased because public housing became a breathing ground for drug dealers. It encouraged more single families and even created “frozen city”.

The lack of maintenance of the buildings leads to its dilapidated state. The government did not have enough revenue from these buildings to maintain them, so they let them fall through the cracks. It seems like the government became just as bad as the landlords in Riis’s piece who did not care about the conditions of the tenements. Maybe these conditions were not as horrendous, but public housing was supposed to solve these problems not add insult to injury.

As far as the problem of crime and drugs which plague the public housing sector as it became a breathing ground for drug dealers. These problems existed before public housing when Riis speaks of a group named the “Swamp Angles”. They were thieves who escaped from the police through the big vaulted sewer (299). In deed things have not change from then to now; in fact they may have even gotten worst because of technology it is easier to know the statistics of the crime and drug rate in the public housing sector.

When public housing created poor working families and the elderly was the targeted group the government intended to help. Indeed for a period of time families stayed, but when most two parent working families got the opportunity to buy their own homes. They moved out of public housing because of this most of the occupants of public housing are single parent families. Husock states “the problem in providing an affordable apartment for a single parent family is it leads to more single parent families. He gives an example of if an eighteen year old knew that they could have their own apartment, it may lead to more promiscuity and children who grow up in a single parent home tend to have more problems than those who grow up with two parents” (92).

Husock state s that because of the problems public housing has created, the surrounding areas were also affected. Public housing created a “frozen city”. The value of property in the vicinity of public housing is considerably lower because no one wants to put their families’ safety at risk. Husock gives an example of a real estate investor  who renovated a luxurious brown stone in East Harlem in order to rent it but could not get more than $800.00 rent a month for it because of the gunfights that started in the public housing and spread to the surrounding neighborhoods. The same property would rent for perhaps three times as much if it was located where there was not any public housing (95). When a piece of land which has a public housing complex on it does not adapt overtime because as technology and the surrounding areas change the needs of individuals change when gentrification occurs; the land was worth more to the government without the dilapidated buildings because they became an eyesore. These buildings also blocked the necessary recycling of property that cities needed to continue thriving.

Over the years there have been some misguided reform efforts such as Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere the HOPE program which did not succeed because its main objective was to have the residents of public housing purchase their apartments. These people could not afford to live anywhere else, so how were they going to pay for these apartments and even if they could the apartments were in such a bad state. They would have to invest money which they did not have to bring them up to suitable living standards (Husock 96). HOPE did not take into consideration that the majority of people in public housing were elderly and single parent families. Another plan was the HOPE VI program which would mix traditional public housing with public housing units, subsidized apartments and townhouses for those more financially independent( Husock 97).

Huscok offers some suggestions for reform one suggestion is to create time limits. He suggest “selling some of the buildings and the income from the sale would be used to create a fund that would pay rent of the current tenants during transition period- after which the apartment would simply be rented on the open market. Alternatively, existing tenants could be allowed to pay the same rent for a fixed period, with the amount supplemented by a limited-time federal housing voucher. A time limit is crucial. Tenants should be given a limited period of time in which they can prepare for change- either to move elsewhere or to arrange to pay market rent on their own “(98).

Husock speaks about tearing down dilapidated buildings as one of his reform methods. Yes! It may be more cost effective if the dilapidated buildings were to be destroyed, than to try to fix them, but Husock does take into account what would happen to all of the families who lived there not because they want to, but because some of them have no other choice. Would they now be homeless? He needs to look at the whole situation and remember that some of these people cannot afford to live anywhere else.

 His worst idea of reform for public housing is selling these buildings to private owners. This might look like a good solution because a private company should want to make their property very attractive to gain maximum profits from their rent income. Huscok needs to learn from past experiences because in both Riis’s and Fuller’s piece the buildings were owned by private owners, yet the conditions the tenants of the “Down Town Back-Alleys” and the residents of the “Farm House, Asylum, Penitentiary and the Alms House” experienced were not much better in fact  they could even be worst.  In Husock piece Higgins a former New York State housing official, now a property manager consultant, observes that “management of public housing and low income private housing are the same field. You have to deal with multi-problem families, drugs socio-economic problems. But because private owners, says Higgins, are more likely to exercise control over the selection of tenants, the private housing market can make for better living conditions” (99). The reason the government started public housing was because of these conditions in these privately owned facilities were so bad that it put the lives of the poor at risk. There is no guarantee that the problem of drugs and crime would disintegrate if these buildings were to be privatized. Compared to the conditions in which people lived in the private tenements of Riis’s piece public housing is a step up. In fact Fuller called for the Government to do more to help the poor and not to forget about them in her piece. She wanted them to realize that they needed to treat the poor as individuals, and not as a group of people who were charity cases. Fuller placed herself in these people position by visiting these organizations she wrote about, so therefore privatization could not be such a good method of reform because it was not in the past.

Out of all of his suggestions I think this is the best one. Only problem is he does not take each individual circumstance into consideration. In order for the time limits to be successful I can offer some advice.  Husock would need to take into consideration what Fuller states in her piece Our City Charities about how we should treat people as individuals. For example a single mother of two toddlers who is trying to go back to school to get a degree, may need more time especially if she has no help and this all she can afford.  Comparing to a family who does not really need the help of the Government, but take advantage in order to save money, and I know this happens because I am speaking from experience.

Huscok’s argument that public housing needs a dramatic change is very right. The government needs to implement a better screening system on who gets to live in public housing and not leave it up to private owners because as I said before the private buildings were just as bad as public housing maybe even worse in some circumstances. Yes! The elderly should stay put and Huscok toke them into consideration throughout his piece, but young single women should have some sort of restrictions or regulations placed on them in order to prevent the cycle from happening again.  Husock fails to offer appropriate solutions to fix the problems in the public housing has sector.

In order for Husock argument to be convincing, he needed to offer some alternatives to privatizing which we know did not work in the past, or what measurement could be taken to avoid a frozen city. Husock does not really look at the people who live in the public housing if he were to look why they were there and what could be done to get them the help they needed to get out. His argument would be more convincing. Another thing Husock does not do is to visit these public housing establishments in order to have a realistic view of the situations he speaks about. He should have done what Fuller that would have definitely made his argument more convincing.

I think Huscok is right the government’s public housing system has failed the people they intended to help. The poor and minority groups that really need the help the most in fact we do need to reform the public housing system. Maybe a way to reform the public housing system is to give the residents more responsibility for their surroundings. Because the government should not want to fall in the same category as the landlords in Riis’s piece. Remember “Old Dan” who said that these people did not deserve to live in a clean and nice place. We should all therefore learn from our past mistakes and provide a clean and safe environment for those who are less fortunate. After all we are all people no matter our status.











Works Cited


Fuller, Margaret. “Our City Charities.” Writing New York. Expanded ed. Ed. Philip                     

Lopate. NewYork: Library of America, 2008. 111-118. Print

Husock, Howard. “Moving Out of Public Housing.” The Public Interest (Winter 2003):89-100.

EBSCOhost. Web.31 July 2009.

Riis, Jacob. “Down Town Back- Alleys.” Writing New York. Expanded ed. Ed. Philip Lopate.

New York: Library of America, 2008. 294-307. Print

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.