Monthly Archives: May 2014

Government agency makes rational decision; whining ensues.

From Gothamist, “NYCHA Trying To Force 91-Yr-Old WWII Vet To Move Into Smaller Apartment“:

“NYCHA’s downsizing (or as they call it, “right-sizing”) plan was put in place to accommodate families on the waiting list; as of last summer, the number of people on the waiting list was up to 270,000 people, while the total amount of public housing units in NYC was at 178,900.”

This is what a well-run public agency is supposed to do – allocate scarce resources based on where they can do the most good. If Calinda is taking up an apartment that could be a home for three or four or more people on that waiting list (the story neglects to say how big an apartment he’s living in now), while NYCHA has another apartment that would be adequate for him, that should be the scandal – “NYCHA keeps families on streets by favoring long-time residents!”

Calinda’s tenure – the fact that he’s lived in public housing for 60 years – does not give him a property right in that apartment.* The city has a responsibilty to use its housing developments for the benefit of everyone who’s supposed to be eligible for the program, not just those lucky enough to make it in decades ago.

That said, there can still be compassionate reasons not to move very old people away from their communities – I could imagine that losing his connection to his friends and home could make Mr. Calinda’s life a lot worse, and even have negative health effects. But if that’s true for any reasonably large number of people, it suggests that NYCHA should look into other ways of dealing with elderly long-time NYCHA residents so they’re not a barrier to providing housing to others who need it. And in the meantime, if there’s an interim accomodation for special cases, the right place to make that argument is an impartial administrative process, not by spewing sentimental nonsense in the press. (This is a good time to link to Bryan Caplan’s smart post on demagoguery, which he calls “the politics of Social Desirability Bias.”)


*Note that this is somehow an area of pretty fundamental disagreement in most conversations about housing policy & gentrification.