Federal vouchers that encourage low-income families to move to the suburbs have caused severe problems in Lancaster, California. The government housing program created in 1974, called “Section 8” because its authority comes from the 8th section of the United States Housing Act, was intended to break up concentrations of urban poverty by encouraging low-income families to move to the suburbs where they could get better jobs and their children could go to better schools. Unfortunately, it has had the opposite effect.
As the housing bubble burst and home prices plummeted, a large number of low-income families moved from their LA apartments to houses that they couldn’t otherwise afford in the SoCal suburb under Section 8. As such, the program incentivizes uprooting individuals from urban homes—where they have job prospects, easy access to public transportation, and support networks—to Lancaster—where they have none of these things.
Now, Lancaster retains 10 percent of all Section 8 contracts nationwide, the highest concentration of any city. Accordingly, reliance on Lancaster’s social services has dramatically increased while its funding has not, crime has gotten worse, and tensions have flared between those residents in Section 8 housing and those not.
Lancaster isn’t the only city to suffer at the hands of the Section 8 program. North Memphis, Tennessee, also faced increasing levels of crime in areas of Section 8 resident influx. In fact, the program has proven to simply export crime to neighboring cities and states instead of achieving its goal of reducing it. Section 8 residents have mainly grouped themselves together in neighborhoods with worsening poverty problems instead of spreading out among low-poverty areas. Consequently, the voucher program has merely served to increase levels of poverty in suburban areas not equipped to deal with it.
The positive effects of the program have not even come to bear. Mixing income demographics has neither proven to increase employment among Section 8 residents nor has it proven to eliminate the harmful social environment they had attempted to leave, according to a 2000 study by Fannie Mae.
Social engineering may be popular with well-intentioned politicians and bureaucrats, but it’s a failure in reality. Lancaster is a painful example of that.