Dispelling Myths About Public Housing

Photo of Poe Homes, Baltimore City.People love to hate public housing — housing that’s owned or subsidized by the government, whether HUD or a Public Housing Authority (PHA) such as the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. Detractors will point to public housing as the cause of all things terrible in a community, blaming the residents, making all sorts of assumptions with regard to everything from race to employment (or the lack thereof.) Let’s face it, especially considering the political climate over the past few decades (and especially now), we’ve all heard the stories about “welfare cheats” and “Black women with ten kids living rent free”.

Let’s take a look at some demographics, and steer the conversation around public housing in a more productive direction. All statistics/information are provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),  with the effective dates of August 01, 2015 through November 30, 2016, providing a recent snapshot of the people across the country who live in public housing:

  • The majority of them are white (51%)
  • Half of the residents (50%) live in public housing for five years or less
  • The average income for public housing residents nationally is $14,547 per year
  • 72% of residents pay $201 or above, as their monthly rent contribution
  • 1/3 of all public housing residents nationwide are elderly
  • The overwhelming majority of households in public housing are 1- or 2-person households, and the vast majority of those are headed by women.

As Ben Carson was recently appointed by President-elect Donald Trump as HUD Secretary, I think it’s important that we paint a clear, fact-based picture as to who benefits from public housing, and what needs to be done, in order to create more affordable housing nationwide, but particularly in cities like Baltimore, where housing discrimination has prevented people from accessing safe and equitable housing opportunities for the past five decades.

Maryland Public Housing Demographics (Statewide)

  • African-Americans make up the majority of residents living in public housing across Maryland, with 55%. Whites make up 41%, Asians 3%. Out of those groups, only 4% identify as Latino or Hispanic.
  • Over half of the residents (52%) stay in public housing five years or less, slightly better than the national figure.
  • The average annual income for public housing residents in Maryland is close to the national — $14,535.
  • A slightly higher percentage of Maryland public housing residents, 77% (compared to the national figure of 72%) pay $201 or above, as their monthly rental contribution.
  • 33% of all residents are elderly, and 35% of public housing households have children. 34% of all households are headed by women.
  • The average households size is 2 people.