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Low-income families are usually understood to have a special claim to government housing assistance. When Congress offers a housing benefit to the rest of the population, the subsidy is disguised as a low interest loan, mortgage insurance, or the sale of land at less than fair market value. Only units that serve the poor receive direct, cash contributions. This attitude is reflected in federal housing legislation which, as often as not, contains some sort of income limitation.
But the result of thirty years of federal intervention in the housing market has not been a bonanza for the poor. Critics regularly expose programs which, either in design or administration, exclude low income families from their benefits. Programs that do reach poor people-in particular, traditional public housing-are considered unimaginative and badly administered. The disillusionment with public housing has increased interest in other forms of housing assistance which offer an escape from the inhumane environment of the public project. This paper considers three approaches which have become a part of the federal housing program (§ 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) mortgages, the Widnall "leased units" plan, and rent supplements) in addition to traditional public housing. The final section of the paper considers alternative criteria for low-income housing assistance and applies these standards to the four programs.
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