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A Man's Home Is His Subsidy


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.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="" <>></a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




8 Comments | Post Comment
Truer words were never spoken. This column is the highlight of my week, but is also very depressing.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Wed Jan 9, 2013 9:26 AM
While it still amazes me that this continues it no surprise. We have suffered under decades of federal school systems teaching kids its not thier fault and someone else is too blame for their lack of achievement, that being said we are already past the tipping point. the upcoming social upheaval that is brewing is our own doing.allowing for the fact that the ideals of America as they were explained too me have all but disappeared. You know reach down between your legs and pull up your own booystraps!!! no excuses only the weak, timid or truly disabled are not able to overcome the inequities of life. I believe in a handup not a permanent handout, it has always amazed the willingness to cry poor me in this great country! if they only knew what truly poor was they would beg to be let in. Why do you think they kick the doors down to GET IN! Wake up Americans!
Comment: #2
Posted by: johninocmd
Thu Jan 10, 2013 1:26 PM
Section 8 housing's home to us,
Keeps a roof over our heads.
And jerks like Stossel make a fuss,
Slamming us as lazy ill breds.
Of course Stossel got the gov to
Put him back in his beachfront place,
Something he says he would not do
Now - according to column space.
Stossel's gotten a few good breaks,
A few more than most of us get.
Because of that he thinks it makes
His "independence" a safe bet.

For those of us really in need,
Stossel needs us to sell - indeed!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ima Ryma
Fri Jan 11, 2013 1:10 AM
write less poetry--work more--no section 8?
Comment: #4
Posted by: lapoo
Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:38 AM
write less poetry--work more--no section 8?
Comment: #5
Posted by: lapoo
Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:38 AM
Public Housing/Housing Choice Voucher Clients and the FSS Program - Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) combines case management, education, job training and ongoing support to aid the family in improving their life. The requirements for a family to enroll in FSS are the desire to become self-sufficient and to make a commitment to take the steps necessary to make this happen. In order to graduate from FSS the head of household must be gainfully employed and all family members must be off welfare (TANF) 12 months prior to their contract expiration date. FSS is a voluntary program and FSS recruits families from the housing choice voucher and public housing clients. It is a voluntary worked based program. The families, who make the decision to take charge of their lives, leave public housing and welfare rolls are highly motivated to succeed in the program. Mr. Stossel did not mention FSS in his blog but I wanted you all to know there is a remedy for helping people get off public housing and Section 8. By the way this program is now called Housing Choice Voucher (not Section 8), although people tend to remember the old name first.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Emma Sanders
Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:49 AM
What gets me is, it's not just Section 8 that is run this way. MOST of our Welfare and Disability programs have this arbitrary 'hard cutoff' that comes into play as soon as someone tries to break free, virtually guaranteeing that once on public assistance, you will stay there.
Why don't we run more programs that gradually taper benefits off as a person's earning power goes back up?
My foster son is on SSD, and he KNOWS he can hold a 'desk job'. But in order to get one that pays as much as his SSD benefits, he would have to start out as part time or minimum wage... and the SSD cutoff for his earnings is a measly $600/month - if he makes more than that, SSD goes bye-bye. So there's no way he can work toward self-sufficiency, at all.
This, to me, is a system that is designed to lock people into a lifetime of public assistance, and hold them hostage to whatever policies will be enacted from that point on, from the state or from the federal government.
We're better than this. We could do it right, it just needs people elected to public office that aren't afraid to challenge the status quo or to color outside the lines a bit.
Comment: #7
Posted by: George E
Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:19 PM
" But in order to get one that pays as much as his SSD benefits, he would have to start out as part time or minimum wage"
What? I had to re-start my life at age 37, and guess what? I had to step down to a minimum wage job and build myself back up. That is the problem with many people in this country. They feel they are too good to work for low wages. I have a friend who dropped out of school in 9th grade, never held a job for any length of time, has no skills whatsoever,has not worked in 9 years, yet he turns down jobs because they don't pay enough. The whole entitlement program in this country needs overhauling. Everyday I see people driving better cars than mine, living in better houses than mine, while pulling out their food stamp card to purchase better food than I can afford.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Jay McF
Tue Feb 5, 2013 6:44 AM
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