No amount of explaining can adequately deal with the recent killing of four women at a South Tulsa housing complex.
As the days go on, the police will begin to uncover more about the victims, the possible motive, and the murders. As bad as this incident is, it calls for a broader examination and discussion about the real life-and-death environment in public housing. Certainly what happened at the Fairmont could have happened in a private home. But violence appears to happen way too often in housing complexes.
Most of us are familiar with the term Section 8 housing, which came from the Housing Act of 1937, which authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance on behalf of approximately 3 million low income households. It operates through several programs, the largest of which is the Housing Choice Voucher program. Recently as much as $17 billion has gone towards such expenses.
What started out as a program to provide temporary assistance until people could become self-sufficient and self-reliant has now become a long term or permanent way of life. Rather than the federal government providing a way to move people out of a government-supported lifestyle, it has gone in the opposite direction, creating greater dependence and enslavement of people to their government for that most basic of human needs -- housing.
It should be no surprise to anyone that if you bring together in a living arrangement large numbers of young people who are unemployed, drug dependent, poorly educated, or have shattered family units and/or a history of violence, you have created a tinder box that will explode.
In response to this, the government came up with the voucher program that, in theory, was to disperse tenants to safer and more upscale locales. Recipients now have a choice between the "voucher based" assistance (where they can live in privately owned units) or "project based" assistance (where they live in government owned units.) Naïvely, the government thinks if you take people with unstable lives and put them in a nice neighborhood, location alone will change their lives. Instead what occurs is that otherwise stable neighborhoods become unstable. Changing your address doesn't result in many people changing their lifestyle or life history.
There are so many places to look for the contributory fault and blame for the high crime found in government assisted housing. It's difficult to find just one overarching cause. Regardless of whether it's private-based or government-based, all subsidized units must meet the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, mandating a healthy and safe place to live. Yet no amount of federal regulation that, on the one hand, creates government dependence is, on the other, going to change people into law abiding, productive members of a society.
In many respects, this is a problem that should be laid at the door step of our federal government, not our local government. There is very little that the local government can do to change the federal rules and regulations of the Section 8 program. Perhaps the closest and best place for local government impact is with the Tulsa Housing Authority which is involved in the screening and selection of housing applicants. Perhaps it is at this stage that the selection preference should put the elderly, the disabled, and veterans at the top of the list. They all need housing and are less likely to be a violent or law breaking population.
There have been studies from cities across the country making the correlation between bad national housing policy and an increase in criminal activities. Certainly there should be a housing policy that makes home ownership or rental within the reach of everyone. But to have the taxpayers pay upwards of 70 percent of the rent and/or utility bills for lower income people is to discourage financial independence and to encourage government dependence, which in the end kills self initiation, self worth, self reliance, and self improvement.
The priority should not be for perfectly healthy and employable people between 20 and 30 or parolees or sex offenders. If the population of Section 8 housing was focused on the needier and vulnerable population, the owners of the complex should be required to provide all of the necessary security, which should be approved by the local law enforcement agency. The landlords should have to provide the security personnel, the entrance gates with a manned security booth to check identification, the security cameras, the well lit common areas, etc. As it is currently, public housing projects consume an inordinate amount of public safety services and resources at the taxpayers' expense. Given that the taxpayers are already paying the rent and utilities, the landlords need to be on the hook for security, tenant screening, and eviction policy.
There also needs to be an overhaul of the federal regulation, which now requires landlords to initiate judicial action for eviction of a tenant even when state laws allow quicker and less costly procedures. HUD has made it extremely difficult, cumbersome, and costly for landlords to remove tenants from public housing units. It's as if HUD has created a new civil right -- the right to raise hell in subsidized housing, even in nice neighborhoods. And then the local governments and authorities are left with having to manage the consequences of a failed housing policy.
Those receiving Section 8 vouchers are living all over the Tulsa area. There could be some in your neighborhood without you even knowing it. Where responsible property owners and neighborhoods are able to help bring people up to a better standard of responsible living, then Section 8 is a good thing. But subsidized housing should be a step, not a destination.
Perhaps it's time for public housing policy and regulation reforms like we saw a decade ago with the welfare system or at least give communities more local control.
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