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Commentary By Howard Husock

Social Housing with a Troubled History

Cities Housing

Editor's note: This letter to the editor appeared in the July 5, 2017 edition of the Financial Times

Sir, The suggestion in “Anatomy of a housing disaster” (The Big Read, June 30) that the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy should lead to a revival of social housing construction overlooks the troubled history of such government-led development.

Here in New York, the city’s housing authority owns and operates 176,000 units and faces a backlog of deferred maintenance estimated at $18bn. Roofs, plumbing, heating and water systems routinely need emergency repairs. The original US public housing model, in which tenant rents would support operating costs, has long since proved unworkable. Many of the 326 developments are distant from basic amenities, such as food markets. The problems of maintenance in public housing have led widely to its demolition across the US.

Far better to look to a private housing market that is well regulated — in contrast to the Grenfell situation — for a sustainable model.

This letter to the editor appeared in the Financial Times


Howard Husock is the Vice President of Research and Publications at the Manhattan Institute. From 1987 through 2006, he was director of case studies in public policy and management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. 

This piece originally appeared in Financial Times