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Dubuque Telegraph Herald: National Review right about HUD

Our opinion: National Review right about HUD

where we stand

Though Stanley Kurtz’s article has inaccuracies about Dubuque, it’s right about the overreach of HUD.


Sunday February 17, 2016

Stanley Kurtz’s depiction of Dubuque in an article last week in the National Review isn’t flattering.

“Dubuque is … a small and economically struggling city. … Like other nearby Mississippi river towns with aging populations, Dubuque is hard-pressed to provide good jobs and decent housing for the low-income people already there,” Kurtz writes.

Well. That sounds a bit bleak for the vibrant city with 3 percent unemployment that we’re all familiar with.

Kurtz’s article, “How Obama Stole Dubuque,” paints a picture of the president’s heavy hand squeezing poor little Dubuque over its Section 8 Housing program. Local officials dismissed the article as a political piece from a writer with a penchant for skewering Obama.

Indeed, the article depicts Dubuque in a wan light, and there are points of inaccuracy: “Dubuque is 200 miles and a four-to-five-hour drive away from Chicago, even without traffic.”

But there is a theme Kurtz hits that is spot-on. Dubuque might not be the Mississippi River backwater town he depicts, but city officials are at the mercy of the federal government when it comes to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

When HUD blasted the city’s approach to revamping the Section 8 voucher program in Dubuque, local officials entered into a compliance agreement with HUD. That agreement required the city to abandon its system for treating local applicants preferentially and expand its voucher program to reach out to minority populations. Progress had to be reported regularly to the federal government. Failing to do so would mean losing out on HUD money.

In fiscal 2015, the City of Dubuque counted on HUD for $6.1 million, including $1.3 million in Community Development Block Grants.

Trying to replace a $6 million hole in a budget the size of Dubuque’s would mean significant cuts to programs and services. This is the rock and hard-place bookends between which the federal government places the city.

It’s not unprecedented. Three decades ago, the federal government said to states, “You don’t have to raise your drinking age to 21, but if you don’t we’ll drastically reduce your state’s share of federal highway money.” That didn’t leave states much of an option.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 employed a similar tactic, requiring states to report in on voting upgrades and other changes to be eligible for federal money.

In the real world, we would call that blackmail. In government, it’s business as usual.

City of Dubuque officials are in a far better position than Washington bureaucrats to know how many housing vouchers the city can successfully monitor. Yet HUD demanded that the city issue more vouchers, even when local officials didn’t think that was the best course, and the federal government doesn’t have the money for them. What sense does that make?

Another point Kurtz gets right is the strange circumstance HUD’s system creates. The portability of vouchers in the Section 8 program creates a huge incentive for someone to move from a metropolitan area like Chicago, where the voucher waiting list is ridiculously long, into a town such as Dubuque. That creates consequences Dubuquers know only too well.

Locals won’t like Kurtz’s depiction of a weak and powerless city, and it’s easy to dismiss the rant of a writer who has not been here. But highlighting the imposition of the federal government on Dubuque’s housing system is a point that has merit.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the TH Media Editorial Board.


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