The Real History of Section 8 Shows the Ignorance of People Who Use It as a Racial Slur

Human Rights

When Tatiana Rhodes, a 19-year-old black woman who hosted a swimming party in a mostly-white neighborhood in McKinney, Tex., was told to go back to “Go back to your Section 8 home,” she knew it was a racial slur. But Section 8 history tells us that public housing was really designed for working white people, according to the Washington Post.

By now, we all know about what happened at that party on June 5: AlterNet previously reported that a local cop was seen in a cell phone video running around wilding and randomly brandishing what appears to be his department-issued flashlight at balck kids in the neighborhood after responding to a 911 call about a fight at the pool. That same cop, ex-Cpl. Eric Casebolt, pulled 15-year-old Dajerria Becton down to the ground by her hair and pulled his gun on boys who ran over in obvious concern for her safety. Casebolt has since resigned his position.

Before the cops came, some of the white people at the pool yelled the Section 8 slur at the black kids. Here's what those ignorant white folks obviously do not know. Public housing was created in 1937, as part of the New Deal. It was actually designed to revive the housing industry, not provide shelter for the poor. Housing construction collapsed during the Great Depression and major housing shortages followed. To help revive the industry, the federal government paid for the construction of hundreds of thousands of new homes. Lots of those homes were built on land that had previously been slums.

These homes were built for working-class white families, however. If any of them were built for black people, it was segregated. In large urban cities like Chicago and Detroit, public housing “became a black program,” the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein told The Post, “because the Federal Housing Administration created a different program for whites, which was a single-family suburban program.”

The Post breaks down the racism in public housing that allowed poor whites to move to better homes:

The Federal Housing Administration financed the construction of new single-family homes in suburban developments (and government money plotted and paved the roads to get there). The FHA and the Veteran's Administration also guaranteed cheap mortgages for the families who moved there, making this new kind of owner-occupied housing often just as affordable as rents had been in public housing projects in the city. Like many of those original projects, though, the new homes were explicitly unavailable to blacks. The FHA required developers to use restrictive covenants barring blacks, and it denied black families the mortgages that allowed working-class whites to leave public housing.

As the white “barely poor” moved out — and as the strict criteria for who could live in public housing faded -- the median incomes of the families there began to fall. In 1950, the median household in public housing earned about 57 percent of the national median income. That number fell to 41 percent by 1960, then 29 percent by 1970. By the 1990s, the median family in public housing made only about 17 percent what the median family in America made.

Relatively speaking, that means public-housing residents by the 1990s were about three times as poor as they had been in the 1950s.

Most people in public housing today are not even black; around 44 percent of black people receive public housing assistance. A lot of the problems we see in public housing today stem from flaws in the program that date back to 1937. Rents were supposed to pay for property upkeep but housing authorities never had enough money to pay for the buildings. The cheap materials used in the construction mean constant structural issues. Large public housing structures began to be demolished during the 1990s, raising fears (basically among white people) that former Section 8 residents using federal vouchers with private landlords in better neighborhoods would increase crime.

There is no evidence of this, but the fear persists.

There is much more to the history of public housing (which you can read about in The Post), but the main takeaway from the article is that Section 8 housing was originally designed for white people trying to survive and come  out of one of the most economically depressed times in American history, but, somewhere along the way, it became associated with black people. And now it has become another slur against them.


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