The Right Opinion

A Man's Home Is His Subsidy

By John Stossel · Jan. 9, 2013

The Obama administration now proposes to spend millions more on handouts, despite ample evidence of their perverse effects.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says, “The single most important thing HUD does is provide rental assistance to America's most vulnerable families – and the Obama administration is proposing bold steps to meet their needs.” They always propose “bold steps.”

In this case, HUD wants to spend millions more to renew Section 8 housing vouchers that help poor people pay rent.

The Section 8 program ballooned during the '90s to “solve” a previous government failure: crime-ridden public housing. Rent vouchers allow the feds to disperse tenants from failed projects into private residencies. There, poor people would learn good habits from middle-class people.

It was a reasonable idea. But, as always, there were unintended consequences.

“On paper, Section 8 seems like it should be successful,” says Donald Gobin, a Section 8 landlord in New Hampshire. “But unless tenants have some unusual fire in their belly, the program hinders upward mobility.”

Gobin complains that his tenants are allowed to use Section 8 subsidies for an unlimited amount of time. There is no work requirement. Recipients can become comfortably dependent on government assistance.

In Gobin's over 30 years of renting to Section 8 tenants, he has seen only one break free of the program. Most recipients stay on Section 8 their entire lives. They use it as a permanent crutch.

Government's rules kill the incentive to succeed.

Section 8 handouts are meant to be generous enough that tenants may afford a home defined by HUD as decent, safe and sanitary. In its wisdom, the bureaucracy has ruled that “decent, safe and sanitary” may require subsidies as high as $2,200 per month. But because of that, Section 8 tenants often get to live in nicer places than those who pay their own way.

Kevin Spaulding is an MIT graduate in Boston who works long hours as an engineer, and struggles to cover his rent and student loans. Yet all around him, he says, he sees people who don't work but live better than he does.

“It doesn't seem right,” he says. “I work very hard but can only afford a lower-end apartment. There are nonworking people on my street who live in better places than I do because they are on Section 8.”

Spaulding understands why his neighbors don't look for jobs. The subsidies are attractive – they cover 70 to 100 percent of rent and utilities. If Section 8 recipients accumulate money or start to make more, they lose their subsidy.

“Is there a real incentive for the tenants to go to work? No!” says Gobin. “They have a relatively nice house and do not have to pay for it.”

Once people are reliant on Section 8 assistance, many do everything in their power to keep it. Some game the system by working under the table so that they do not lose the subsidy. One of Gobin's lifetime Section 8 tenants started a cooking website. She made considerable money from it, so she went to great lengths to hide the site from her case manager, running it under a different name.

“Here's a lady that could definitely work. She actually showed me how to get benefits and play the system,” says Gobin.

Although Section 8 adds to our debt while encouraging people to stay dependent, it isn't going away. HUD says it will continue to “make quality housing possible for every American.”

Despite $20 billion spent on the program last year, demand for more rental assistance remains strong. There is a long waitlist to receive Section 8 housing in every state. In New York City alone, 120,000 families wait.

Some are truly needy, but many recipients of income transfers are far from poor.

America will soon be $17 trillion in debt, and our biggest federal expense is income transfers. They are justified on the grounds that some of that helps the needy. But we don't help the needy by encouraging dependency.

Government grows. Dependency grows.

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12 Comments

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY said:

This same subsidy mentality extends to food stamps as well. I work in a grocery store, and see families that "live" together buy 300-500 dollars worth of food, (I'm talking high quality cuts of meats) by scamming the system using 2 or 3 different EBT cards. I don't want to give anyone ideas, but one of the ways they scam it is by saying that one member of the family owns the residence, while another says he or she rents out a small part of said residence. For example their address will read 123 main street, AND 123a main street. The case workers are so over loaded that even IF they wanted to check it out, they'd not have the time or resources to do get it done.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:52 AM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY replied:

Addendum:

All the while, when these folks come up to the registers, they're laughing and having a good ol time taking on cell phones, and loading up rather nice vehicles. Meanwhile, my co-workers and I, are eating hamburger and tuna helper, and other quick prepare foods, 3-4 nights a week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:55 AM

READY4ACHANGE in ILLINOIS replied:

Sure.. let's make it fair for ALL!! Maybe we should start borrowing from those using Section 8 - obviously they know how to work the system.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Rod in USA replied:

Me too, Doktor. See my story below.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Rod in USA said:

*" But because of that, Section 8 tenants often get to live in nicer places than those who pay their own way."*

Reminds me of when I was just out of college, paying off student loans, paying for my car, working two jobs, living in a rented room in a house owned by someone who had done the same a few years before. One day I was shopping for groceries and ahead of me in line were two women buying steaks and other items (yes including wine) that I could not afford.... and paying for it with food stamps. When they left, they got into a Cadillac. I am so glad my taxes paid for that.

This is a hell of an indictment against the liberal left's "well intetioned" (debatable) programs of handouts instead of hand-ups.

We could easily go back to 1990's spending levels ($2.2 Trillion vs $4 Trillion) and stop this non-sense. While there might be some short term pain, those folks would over time become motivated to produce, not be the leeches that they are.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Lyna in AL replied:

EBT should only pay for simple, nutritious, basic ingredients--no highly processed convenience foods, no sodas and snacks; similar to WIC guidelines. Since they are not working, of course they have time to cook at home, right?
Job training could also include every parent working at least 8 hours a week in their kid's daycare, professionally supervised. Then while other parents are learning about child development (working daycare), they have 4 days to learn how to cook from scratch, get GED, etc.
I wish.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:05 PM

Rod in USA said:

PS: The guvmint is crowding out regular charities, those who might actualy do a better job of ensuring that only yhe truly needy got assistance.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 12:49 PM

JAC in Texas said:

I think I recently read an article that said New York welfare payments are more than the minimum wage. Why should some of these people on welfare look for a minimum wage job (which is probably the only thing they are qualified for), when they can do nothing, get a free cell phone, and get paid more than their neighbors who are working?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 1:10 PM

richard ryan in Lamar,Missouri said:

The Obama administration may call everything they do as "BOLD STEPS', but I prefer to call them goose-steps reminiscent of Adolph Hitler`s goose steeping Gestapo.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

I posted this one time before but this article just makes it perfecft. Liberals 23rd Psalsm. The government is my shepherd, I shall not want. It makes me lie down in subsidized houseing. It leads me to the welfare office. It restores my monthly check. It leads me in the path of laziness for its benefit. Yea, though I walk through the valley of idleness, I will fear no need, for the government is with me, It's progarms sustain me. It prepares a free cell phone for me in the presence of the taxpayers. It anoints me with food stamps, my pantry runs over. Surely the government will take care of me for the rest of my days and I will dwell in the house of the Democrats forever. Written on December 28, 2012 by Wayne Ellis Miller

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:24 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

Sorry about the spelling.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:25 PM

Robinius in Broomfield, Colorado said:

Shouldn't the title of this article have been "A Man's Home Is Our Subsidy"? I'm just saying...

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 1:59 AM