Public housing in the United States is administered by federal, state and local agencies to provide subsidized assistance for low-income households. Public housing is priced well below the market rate, allowing people to live in more convenient locations rather than move away from the city in search of lower rents. Now increasingly provided in a variety of settings and formats, originally public housing in the U.S. consisted primarily of one or more concentrated blocks of low-rise and/or high-rise apartment buildings. These complexes are operated by state and local housing authorities which are authorized and funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 1.2 million households currently live in public housing of some type.
Subsidized apartment buildings, often referred to as housing projects, have a complicated and often notorious history in the United States. While the first decades of projects were built with higher construction standards and a broader range of incomes and applicants, over time, public housing increasingly became the housing of last resort in many cities. Several reasons have been cited for this negative trend including the failure of Congress to provide sufficient funding, a lowering of standards for occupancy, and mismanagement at the local level. Furthermore, housing projects have also been seen to greatly increase concentrated poverty in a community, leading to several negative externalities. Crime, drug usage, and educational underperformance are all widely associated with housing projects, particularly in urban areas.
As a result of their various problems and diminished political support, many of the traditional low-income public housing properties constructed in the earlier years of the program have been demolished. Beginning primarily in the 1970s the federal government turned to other approaches including the Section 8 project-based program, Section 8 certificates, and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. In the 1990s the federal government accelerated the transformation of traditional public housing through HUD’s HOPE VI Program. Hope VI funds are used to tear down distressed public housing projects and replace them with mixed communities constructed in cooperation with private partners. In 2012, Congress and HUD initiated a new program called the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. Under the demonstration program, eligible public housing properties are redeveloped in conjunction with private developers and investors.