Housing a Nation: Public Housing

Research & Policy | July 13th 2017

City Street with text Policy Minute

Housing a Nation: Public Housing

The Housing a Nation series summarizes timely research on the largest federal subsidies for the development and preservation of affordable housing. This series sheds light on how these subsidies operate in jurisdictions across the U.S. This week we focus on public housing, the federal government’s only permanently affordable housing program.



Two-thirds of NYCHA residents live in neighborhoods where incomes are on the rise or already higher than the city median income.  Linking Residents to Opportunity: Gentrification and Public Housing, an article by Samuel Dastrup and Ingrid Gould Ellen, examines changes in the socioeconomic makeup of neighborhoods surrounding NYCHA developments, and how they affect public housing residents. The article finds that residents living in NYCHA developments surrounded by higher-income neighborhoods earned significantly more than other NYCHA residents, but had mixed reactions to neighborhood services and amenities.  The paper highlights the important role public housing plays in sustaining economic diversity in neighborhoods experiencing rapid increases in rents. Read more >>

In strong markets, leasing NYCHA-owned land for private development has the potential to create a funding stream to address NYCHA’s fiscal needs, and/or produce new affordable units.  Building New or Preserving the Old? The Affordable Housing Tradeoffs of Developing on NYCHA Land (PDF), a 2015 report released by the NYU Furman Center, finds that in neighborhoods with high rents, leasing underdeveloped NYCHA-owned land for private development could generate either substantial annual lease payments for NYCHA and/or significant numbers of affordable units. Where there is potential to lease land for development, the report quantifies the tradeoffs between generating revenue for NYCHA and creating new affordable units. Read more >>


Researchers find evidence of positive benefits to growing up in public housing.  Childhood Housing and Adult Earnings: A Between-Siblings Analysis of Housing Vouchers and Public Housing, a working paper authored by Fredrik Andersson, John C. Haltiwanger, Mark J. Kutzbach, Giordano E. Palloni, Henry O. Pollakowski, and Daniel H. Weinberg, uses a national-level longitudinal dataset that allow them to compare adult outcomes of siblings who grew up in the same household, but spent different amounts of time as teenagers living in public housing, as compared to voucher-assisted housing or unsubsidized housing.   The research revealed that  young adults who lived in public housing while teenagers enjoy higher earnings and are less likely to be incarcerated than those who lived in unassisted housing during their teenage years.  The authors found no difference between the benefits of living in public housing as teenagers compared to living in voucher-assisted housing. Read more >>

Children living in public housing are less likely to live in overcrowded conditions, and less likely to be held back a grade.  Are public housing projects good for kids?, a study authored by Janet Currie and Aaron Yelowitz, examines the effects of living in public housing on housing quality and educational attainment. Researchers found that children living in public housing are less likely to live in overcrowded conditions than otherwise similar children and are less likely to be held back a grade in school. Read more >>


The Dream Revisited: Public Housing and Deconcentrating Poverty is the nineteenth discussion in the NYU Furman Center's series of debates on issues related to racial and economic segregation in neighborhoods and schools. The essayists in this discussion – Lawrence J. Vale, Nicholas F. Kelly, Nathaniel Hendren, john a. powell, and Robert J. Chaskin – debate the future of public housing. Read more >>


READ: “Proposed cuts to public housing threaten a repeat of the 1980s’ housing crisis” (Susan J. Popkin; Urban Institute; June 1, 2017)

READ: “Trump wants more people who receive housing subsidies to work” (Tracy Jan; The Washington Post; May 23, 2017)

READ: “Trump's budget proposal is bad news for housing across the nation” (David Reiss; The Hill; March 16, 2017)

BOOK EXCERPT: No Simple Solutions: Transforming Public Housing in Chicago (Susan J. Popkin; Urban Institute; October 26, 2016)


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