February 25, 2015
John Infranca has posted Housing Resource Bundles:Distributive Justice and Federal Low-Income Housing Policy to SSRN. The abstract reads,
Only one in four eligible households receives some form of rental assistance from the federal government. Nonetheless, there is no time limit for the receipt of this assistance; individuals can continue to receive benefits as long as they satisfy eligibility requirements. In addition, individuals who do obtain assistance frequently have higher incomes than those denied it. Beyond simply providing housing, federal rental assistance is enlisted to serve a myriad of additional policy goals — including furthering economic integration and providing access to better neighborhoods — that can exacerbate inequities between those who receive benefits and those denied assistance. These broader objectives often increase the cost of housing assistance and reduce the number of households served.
Given increasingly limited resources and the growing demand for rental assistance, difficult decisions must be made regarding how to satisfy a range of conflicting programmatic goals. Although for at least four decades legal scholars, economists, public policy experts, and politicians have denounced the inequities in existing housing policy, no one has provided a detailed analysis of the specific ways in which this policy departs from norms of distributive justice and of how it might be made more equitable. This Article moves the conversation beyond simply decrying existing inequities and instead carefully analyzes federal housing policy in light of specific theories of distributive justice. Drawing on the philosophical literature, it evaluates the specifics of existing policies, and their distributional impacts, in light of five theories of distributive justice. It then proposes a new structure for federal rental assistance, which would allow recipients to choose among a set of “housing resource bundles.” This approach will not only satisfy the most salient understandings of distributive justice, but will also advance the concerns that underpin other distributive justice theories and allow federal housing policy to more effectively embrace a plurality of programmatic goals.
I was particularly intrigued by one (modest?) proposal:
A commitment to distributing all federal housing assistance to provide for equality of resources would demand that the housing resource bundle approach be put in place for all citizens. Each individual would be limited in the total amount of housing assistance they could receive during their lifetime. All citizens would receive an equal sum of housing resources, either through direct rental assistance or a deduction of mortgage interest (or some combination). This would result in a substantial change in the allocation of resources, resulting in a more equitable distribution of all federal housing assistance. (62-63)
This proposal highlights the extent to which federal housing policy heavily favors upper-income households which benefit greatly from the mortgage interest deduction. The proposal also highlights a limitation of the article. While it it makes clear that housing policy violates norms of distributive justice, it does not chart a practical course to achieve political change in an environment where the mortgage interest deduction is one of the most heavily protected federal tax expenditures. That being said, the article helps to clarify what is at stake in debates over federal housing policy and provides some intellectual clarity for those who study it.| Permalink