Policy Analyst: For Safety of Residents,
Privatize Detroit Public Housing

For Immediate Release

MIDLAND — A new federal audit has again uncovered widespread improprieties and mismanagement at the Detroit Housing Commission. Because of the latest spate of problems, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is threatening to withhold $46 million in grants to the city. This is the latest in a long history of failures at the Commission.

Jack McHugh, a legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute based in Midland, has a message for the city: Privatize. “Residents are suffering needlessly,” McHugh said. “Private owners or managers of rental housing could never behave in this fashion and get away with it.”

McHugh said that when private capital is at risk, investors and managers have an incentive to refurbish and maintain housing units on a timely basis and within budget. When such incentives do not exist, as at the Detroit Housing Commission, sooner or later follow the kinds of abuses uncovered by the federal audit.

“The current system simply isn’t working,” said McHugh. “The very idea of public housing rests on assumptions that portend the problems Detroit is experiencing. Residents expect the benefits of competent professional management, but what they get is city bureaucrats whose authority derives from seniority or personal contacts, not from how well they satisfy their customers. Detroit should sell its housing units to the tenants themselves or privatize the management of city housing.”

McHugh said cities such as Atlanta, Boston, St. Louis, and Washington D.C. have used private or tenant management to improve living conditions and turn blighted, unsafe projects into places of hope. “Detroit’s continuing failure to make necessary and timely corrections in the management of its public housing stock provides ample evidence that it should get out of the public housing business. The living conditions of its poorest residents hang in the balance,” McHugh said.

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