ThinkProgress’ recent article “Trump’s HUD wants to expand flawed program that is ‘privatizing public housing. It leaves vulnerable residents at the mercy of developers,” is misleading and in some places factually inaccurate, creating a false narrative around a successful program that is preserving hundreds of thousand affordable housing units by leveraging public-private partnerships.
ThinkProgress looked at HUD’s administration of the Rental Assistance Demonstration, and like its predecessor, the Trump administration wants to expand RAD in order to preserve affordable housing.
However, the headline and sub-headline attempt to connect two unrelated topics. First, the story focuses on a case study that is not about public housing. The reporter profiled a man who did not live in public housing, a fact that is buried much deeper in the story.
Given that his case is unrelated to the subject of the article, it’s misleading that ThinkProgress used him as the focus for a story that examines the preservation of public housing.
The ThinkProgress article is also built upon critics’ argument that RAD “privatizes” public housing. The article states that RAD is “designed to motivate private developers to renovate or rebuild public housing: In a RAD ‘conversion,’ public housing authorities turn over low-income housing to private developers, who receive private activity bonds or low-income housing tax credits to repair or rebuild dilapidated housing.”
RAD is designed to empower local housing authorities to use a variety of tools to deal with their capital needs, and the program does invite capital investment into these distressed properties, but that’s precisely HUD’s intention: It permits a public-private partnership.
Characterizing this as “privatization,” despite the use of quotation marks in the headline, doesn’t absolve ThinkProgress of their responsibility to use more accurate framing. RAD requires public housing authorities or public-minded non-profit organizations to retain an ownership interest in these developments after their conversion. In addition, the majority of RAD public housing conversions include no private sector involvement at all.