Public housing

From Academic Kids

Public housing or social housing is a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. Although the principles are common, the details of the arrangements differ between countries, and so does the terminology.



In France, a quarter of the population lives in government-subsidised housing complexes, known as HLM (habitation loyer modr).

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the government provides homes through public housing estates which are rented at a lower price than the markets, and through the Home Ownership Scheme.


In Ireland, public housing and halting sites have been built by Local Authorities and are known as Local Authority Accommodation. Dublin Corporation and the former Dublin County Council provided the lion's share of Irish Local Authority Housing, with County Longford having the largest ratio of Local Authority to private housing in the state.

New Zealand

Main article: state housing

In New Zealand, public housing, known as state housing, was introduced in 1937 for citizens unable to afford private rents.


In Singapore, public housing is managed by the Housing and Development Board.

United Kingdom

Main article: Council housing

In the United Kingdom public housing is often referred to as "council housing" and "council estate". Local not-for-profit housing associations have begun to operate some of the older council housing estates in the United Kingdom. More recently the government refers to both as Social Housing, and Housing Associations are now referred to as Registered Social Landlords (RSL's).

United States

In the United States, public housing is usually a block of purpose-built housing operated by a government agency, often simply refered to as "projects".

In the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries government involvement in housing for the poor was chiefly in the area of requiring new buildings to meet certain standards - like having airshafts - for decent livability.

Most housing communities were developed from the 1930s onward. Most of the initial public housing could be considered slum clearance; there wasn't a national initiative in place to build housing for the poor and so the number of units didn't increase. This helped ease the concerns of a health-conscious public by eliminating or altering neighborhoods commonly considered dangerous, and reflected progressive-era sanitation initiatives. However, the advent of make-shift tent communities during the Great Depression caused concern in the Administration. Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote in 1938, "Today, we are launching an attack on the slums of this country."

Public housing in its earliest decades was usually much more working-class and middle-class and white than it was by the 1960s and after. Many Americans associate large, multi-story towers with public housing, but early projects, like the Ida B. Wells projects in Chicago, were actually low-rise, though Le Corbusier superblocks caught on before World War II, as seen in the (union built) Penn South houses in New York.

What Kenneth T. Jackson and other historians have called the "ghettofication" of public housing occurred for several reasons. One reason was the general weakening of the urban working classes. By the late 1950s the reservoir of needy working class urban dwellers was simply smaller than it had been previously.

Other reasons for the ghettofication of public housing can be attributed to broad public policy decisions. Federal law required that no person could pay more than a quarter of his or her income for rent in public housing. Since middle class people would pay as much, or more, for rent in public housing as they would in superior private housing, middle class people had no incentive to live in public housing at all. Another public policy factor that led to the decline in public housing was that, in general, city housing agencies ceased to screen tenants (New York City was an exception). In the 1940s, some public housing agencies, such as Chicago's under Elizabeth Wood, would only accept married tenants and gave special benefits to war veterans.

Public housing was only built with the blessing of the local government. Hence, unlike France, projects were almost never built on suburban greenfields. Usually projects were built in older neighborhoods, whose old housing was demolished to make way for them. The destruction of tenements and eviction of their low-income residents consistently created problems in nearby neighborhoods with "soft" real estate markets.

The destruction of deteriorating buildings to make room for public housing often created problems in adjacent neighborhoods. An excellent example of this phenomenon can be found in Brooklyn. When blocks of slums in the Brownsville district were cleared to make room for public housing in the 1950s, thousands of displaced families moved into the neighboring district of East New York, which at that time was a predominantly white, middle-class area with a stable economy. The sudden influx of large, lower-income black and Hispanic familes from Brownsville strained the physical and social services of the community. A mass exodus of the white population began. Within six years a healthy community became one of the most decayed and dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. A similar situation occurred when Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania attempted to tear down public housing in the Polish Hill area to make way for a Civic Arena. This, along with other factors, resulted in the formerly white commercial area of East Liberty to become a dangerous ghetto. (Crabgrass Frontier, 229)

Houses, apartments or other residential units are usually subsidized on a rent-geared-to-income (RGI) basis. Some communities have now embraced a mixed income, with both assisted and market rents, when allocating homes as they become available.

In recent years, many such projects have been torn down, renovated or replaced after criticism that the concentration of poverty in economically depressed areas, inadequate management of the buildings, and government indifference have contributed to increased crime. Indeed, US public housing continues to have a reputation for violence, drug use, and prostitution, leading to the passage, in 1996, of a federal "one strike you're out" law, calling for the eviction of project tenants whose housing units are the scene of certain types of criminal activity, especially that which is drug-related.

In 1997, the top providers of US public housing, according to HUD were:

In reaction to the problems surrounding public housing, the US Congress passed legislation enacting the Section 8 Housing Program in 1974, which Richard Nixon signed into law, to encourage the private sector to construct affordable homes. This kind of housing assistance assists poor tenants by giving a monthly subsidy to their landlords. This assistance can be 'project based,' which applies to specific properties, or 'tenant based,' which provides tenants with a voucher they can use anywhere vouchers are accepted. Virtually no new project based Section 8 housing has been produced since 1983. Effective October 1, 1999, existing tenant based voucher programs were merged into the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is today the primary means of providing subsidies to low income renters. The George W. Bush Administration has recently proposed controversial changes to the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Some US public housing developments

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