The Corrupt Politics of Low-Income Housing

State officials gleefully line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense.

The rent is too damn high—so each year Congress appropriates billions of dollars to address the nation’s collective housing needs. The programs vary from loans to tax credits to straight-up subsidies, but a common feature is that federal taxpayers pony up the dough and then a motley collection of state-level politicians, financing agencies, and housing authorities decide how it’s spent. Can you guess where things go wrong?

In theory, oversight is provided by bureaucrats in Washington tracking every dollar and by local leaders increasing their re-election prospects by providing housing assistance to their constituents as effectively as possible. In practice, the feds turn a blind eye to inefficient uses of the funds while local officials gleefully engage in politically advantageous graft.

Take California Treasurer John Chiang. By virtue of his position on the three-member California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, Chiang exercises enormous influence over who gets $94.9 million each year in federal tax credits intended for developers of low-income housing.

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