Unintended consequences of housing developments

These stories consider the effects of Section 8 housing vouchers that subsidize rents for low-income people to move into neighborhoods more expensive than they could afford without the federal subsidy. While this type of relocation is not what is being proposed for the residents of Charlesview, some of the issues are relevant as we think about an enlarged Charlesview moving from its current isolated current location into close proximity with an existing neighborhood.

The concept of unintended consequences applies to any new housing being proposed, such as the several hundred units of student housing proposed by Harvard near the Windom Street neighborhood. We should think about not only the people who will live in the new housing but also how the new housing will affect the existing community. Especially when there will be significant differences between the new and existing residences. Whether these differences are age (student housing) or economic (Charlesview) they should be considered carefully and be informed by precedents elsewhere.

There are also plenty of examples of housing voucher programs and people with these vouchers that have been successful. Just like there are low-income housing projects that thrive and others that resemble a scene from the TV show "The Wire". Why do some succeed while others fail? Or, more fundamentally, how should "success" be defined?

This is about more than the current residents of Charlesview, many of whom will not live there in 5, 10, or 20 years. It is about how we design, build, maintain, and sustain our society for our collective benefit.

As Program Moves Poor to Suburbs, Tensions Follow - The New York Times

American Murder Mystery - The Atlantic

Natomas crime wave raises question about low-income housing - The Sacramento Bee


  1. Harry, so what are you saying, that Charlesview residents are Bad people to live besides or are you insinuating that we rob and mug and steel and do house breakins and that we are leaching from the goverment I don't think so.
    I know for a fact that half the kids that live at Charlesview are honest working kids trying to work hard and try to do the right thing in life and to get ahead. Half the parents that live here are single parents, like my self and are trying to raise our children the best we can. I know it is hard to raise a child as a single parent I know because i did it. We at Charlesview Pay 30% of our rent that is what it is based on. I know the goverment only pays $55.00 dollars towards my rent every month so i PAY almost Market rent for my place and it is a piece of crap we freeze in the winter months our hallway leak of water and we have mold so i don't think the residents of Charlesview are bad people. Half of the residents are Elderly so you cannot say they come out into the community and rob you. Thanks a Charlesview Resident.

  2. Jimmy,

    I don't think in terms of stereotypes based on where people live or anything else. So I don't believe in generalizing assumptions about "Charlesview people" or "Mansfield Street people". In any group there will be a range of behavior.

    I apologize for any offense from the post in its original form. I have rewritten it some to try and better reflect my thoughts on the subject.


  3. Anonymous10:03 AM

    Jimmy, If conditions are that bad, why are the people fighting Harvard about a new place?

  4. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Correlation doesn't imply causation, but my personal experience with new "section 8" neighbors in Florida has not been very positive. usually after a short period of time after these families moved in, trouble would arise - for some reason, mostly with their teenage sons. it was mostly petty aggressive street behavior, but overall sharp increase in crime did follow and resulted in a pattern of established residents moving out...i hope this will not be the case with neighborhood surrounding the new charlsview. only time will tell. -peace.

  5. Anonymous1:53 PM

    Well, I will say that some Charlesview residents need to take a remedial English course. That first comment was absolutely painful to read, and I can only hope the school system will save their child's education. If not, America's decline relative to the world will continue.

    Successful public and Section 8 housing is far and away the exception, not the norm. Hence the reason why these articles are focused on the negative results. The fact is, the overwhelming evidence suggests subsidizing low income households to live amongst higher income households is a net negative for the incumbent households.

    It's all well and good to hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and imagine some harmonious relationship to emerge where both the low and higher income residents come out ahead. Here in reality land, it's a zero sum game, and the subsidized low incomers gain at the expense of the higher earners whose neighborhoods the government sponsors them to invade.

    There is zero indication that the Charlesview relocation will be one of the exceptions. In fact, the unusual density alone makes it a prime candidate to become a warzone one day. Even if best practices to try and raise the possibility of success are implemented it still is more likely than not to turn into a disaster.

    Sorry, I don't want my largest single investment to be involved in some social experiment.

    Oh, and it'd be great of the all the Charlesview resident's with satellite cable TV would cancel their extravagance and send $30-$100/month they pay DirectTV back to the taxpayers to reimburse us for the housing subsidy.

  6. What the heck. I mean yes, there are lots of theoretical concerns in these type of situations, but does anybody in North A/B really feel scared walking by Charlesview at night? Why on earth would putting those same residents and residency patterns in a high-rise a couple of blocks away change anything?

  7. I would like to point out that a lot of residents did not want to move from Charleview and did not want to go to Brighton mills they requested that Charlesview apartments be rehab so the residents could stay.
    But the Charlesview Board had a different idea i don't know if it was greed or not but i do know we did have a tenant group that did form and was broken up due to the fighting with the Board and the residents because no one would come to an agreement about the relocation of Charlesview. I would also like to point out that Charlesview Residents are not fighting Harvard about a new place. as you know The Charlesview Residents do not have a voice in this issue do to the fact that we did not negotiate the deal between Harvard and the Charlesview Board at all the only people that are voicing the concern for Charlesview are the neighborhood activist,or me. Harry, I know you mean well but i did have to say something because the story was one sided and i thank you for a correction. And for comment number 5 you are so low you had to hide behind anonymous and could not publish your name so what i have to say to you is some people are well educated and some people are not, But my adult kids do go to College and are in their 4th year and have a promising future for them self. A lot of residents who probably have Direct tv at Charlesview are the residents that pay market rate rent.so you need to get your facts straight #5 comment.

  8. Many housing experts felt that the article in The Atlantic that Harry refers to (titled, strangely, "American Murder Mystery") gave a misleading impression of the federal Section 8 housing program. They wrote a lengthy response to it at this web address, which I encourage folks to read:


  9. I Honestly never knew those apartments were Section 8. Go figure.