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Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Millennial Housing Commissions

Contribution to a National Policy on Housing and Urbanization 

In 2000 Congress established two Commissions, the Millennium Housing Commission and the Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facilities for Seniors in the 21st Century.  Their reports, “Meeting Our Nations Housing Challenges” and “A Quiet Crisis,” can be the starting point for a National Housing Policy.  

These Reports give us an overall look at the history of American policies and practices.  They demonstrate the importance of housing to human and community development, to education and employment, to crime prevention and family stabilization.  They pose the issues for housing in America.  They assume and render national values related to housing and community development.  They collect data that identify existing gaps and project future needs.  They show how federal programs have worked; and they make excellent recommendations in relation to these programs.  

However, most of their recommendations were broad and without any provision for follow up.  Indeed many were not seriously considered for action either by executive or legislative branches of government.  Indeed many were actively opposed by the executive and ignored by the legislature.  And housing practices in the first decade of the 21st century were primarily reactions to crises: terrorist attacks, floods, fires, and foreclosures.  Many were victims of ideological bickering.  

The Reports presented few concrete goals and measurable objectives.  They assumed that housing programs were generally sound, and simply needed to be extended.  They assumed homeownership as a source of wealth, not of impoverishment.  They did not anticipate the consequent housing bubble and its popping. 

They also assumed without question that the primary role for the federal government is to provide incentives and resources so that the private sector could use the market to satisfy the needs and fill the gaps.  They did not examine the costs and efficiencies of government financing directly versus government financing indirectly by tax incentives and insuring risk.  

While there was mention of housing related to jobs, community amenities, and smart growth, the Reports showed little link to energy, transportation, and land use policies.  There was no examination of urbanization, air and water needs, and global warming.  

For the most part there was no consideration of strategy and no plan for implementation.  There was mainly an acceptance, with little examination, of the mechanisms and agencies that the federal government was using to carry out housing programs.  In short the Commissions do not present a housing and urban policy, nor was that their intent which is evidence by their call for one. 



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