Housing Resource Bundles: Distributive Justice and Federal Low-Income Housing Policy
69 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2015 Last revised: 11 Jan 2017
Date Written: 2015
Only one in four eligible households receives some form of rental assistance from the federal government. Nonetheless, there is no time limit for the receipt of this assistance; individuals can continue to receive benefits as long as they satisfy eligibility requirements. In addition, individuals who do obtain assistance frequently have higher incomes than those denied it. Beyond simply providing housing, federal rental assistance is enlisted to serve a myriad of additional policy goals — including furthering economic integration and providing access to better neighborhoods — that can exacerbate inequities between those who receive benefits and those denied assistance. These broader objectives often increase the cost of housing assistance and reduce the number of households served.
Given increasingly limited resources and the growing demand for rental assistance, difficult decisions must be made regarding how to satisfy a range of conflicting programmatic goals. Although for at least four decades legal scholars, economists, public policy experts, and politicians have denounced the inequities in existing housing policy, no one has provided a detailed analysis of the specific ways in which this policy departs from norms of distributive justice and of how it might be made more equitable. This Article moves the conversation beyond simply decrying existing inequities and instead carefully analyzes federal housing policy in light of specific theories of distributive justice. Drawing on the philosophical literature, it evaluates the specifics of existing policies, and their distributional impacts, in light of five theories of distributive justice. It then proposes a new structure for federal rental assistance, which would allow recipients to choose among a set of “housing resource bundles.” This approach will not only satisfy the most salient understandings of distributive justice, but will also advance the concerns that underpin other distributive justice theories and allow federal housing policy to more effectively embrace a plurality of programmatic goals.
Keywords: property, housing, distributive justice, horizontal equity, income targeting, equality of resources, capabilities approach, affordable housing policy, rental assistance, Section 8, public housing
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