Monday, October 25, 2010

Hurry up and wait

Public housing is falling apart around the country, as federal money has been unable to keep up with the repair needs of buildings more than half a century old.

Over the last 15 years, 150,000 of the nation’s public housing units have been lost, officials said, as agencies have sold or torn down decrepit properties. An additional 5,700 units are pending removal from federal public housing programs.

In New York City, which has a three-year backlog of repair requests, the effects can be seen in places like Aixa Torres’s apartment on the Lower East Side.

The paint chips were the first to be dislodged, drifting like snowflakes from her kitchen ceiling. When water began dripping through the ceiling, forming a hole sometime this spring, she called her landlord, the city’s public housing authority.

A maintenance worker showed up to take a look, and repairs were scheduled.

A plasterer would come to fix the hole in May 2011. A painter would come to cover up the plasterer’s work in May 2012.

The drip has yet to be fixed.
In a world with limited resources, outsourcing some task to the government and making it "free" does not ensure that everyone's needs will be met. In fact, government responsibility is a virtual guarantee that distribution of that good will be made more inefficiently than would otherwise be the case and less will be made available. Given that money is not infinite, consumers must sacrifice another limited resources to obtain what they want -- in this instance, time.

Either way the piper must be paid, and that's true whether the government is distributing home repairs, cars or health care.

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