Only the recent savings-and-loan scandal has generated taxpayer losses larger than those through mismanagement by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, says Bill Kurtis, host of latest installment of “Investigative Reports.” Occasionally hokey — Kurtis’ trenchcoat for one interview is a bit much — the docu points accusative fingers at pols of both major parties and builders who profit at expense of (who else?) taxpayers.
Founded as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program, HUD subsidizes low-cost housing for the urban poor by issuing tax incentives and low-cost loans to builders, and guaranteeing mortgages. The unexpected result, says Kurtis, is that builders have no incentive to maintain property, which promptly deteriorates through neglect. When builders default on their loans, HUD becomes owner of decrepit property that it’s in no position to keep up.
Kurtis interviews tenants, activists and HUD officials including Secretary Henry Cisneros, but he never gets to give the Mike Wallace treatment to a builder.
The disturbing subtext, never straightforwardly discussed, is that to some degree tenants themselves could perform minor repairs rather than waiting for service that never comes.
Late in the show, squatters show how run-down apartments can be spruced up with a relatively small amount of effort and no help from the owners. Of numerous tenants interviewed, all but one (a squatter) are African-American; HUD projects, notes Chicago Housing Authority chairman Vince Lane, tend to “isolate (poor people) socially,economically as well as racially.”
While Kurtis points out that assaults in such projects are several times above national norm, with prevalent drug and gang activity, Lane postulates, somewhat ingenuously, that “90% of the people living in public housing are decent, law-abiding people.”
Solutions presented tend to involve spending even more money. And lining even more pockets.
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