Alex Tabarrok suggests expanding the Section 8 housing voucher program to assist the newly homeless victims of New Orleans—allowing them to take advantage of the historically high vacancy rate among rental units in the area. It’s a fantastic idea, and much easier than building public housing. One quick policy note, though: landlords are not at all required to accept Section 8 tenants, and in recent years the market price for rental units has exceeded the “Fair Market Price” bestowed on the vouchers. In other words, the voucher recipients could still be priced out of the local rental market (or landlords may just choose not to accept them). Plus, Congress would be handing out vouchers to Katrina victims ahead of many families that have been waiting in “line” for years—which is obviously understandable, but could still cause a bit of resentment or political bickering. Otherwise, though, it’s really a good idea.
Meanwhile, large natural disasters aren’t the only time that people need places to live, and Katrina would offer a good excuse for restoring the deep cuts made to the Section 8 program in last year’s budget. It’s not likely, but who knows?