The Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act, signed into law November 28 1990, sped up a decades-long transformation of public housing in the United States with federal contracts awarded to private developers, opportunities for the sale and ownership of public housing units, and increased policing and security.

The Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act (Public Law 101-625), signed into law November 28 1990, authorized the creation of the Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs that would transform the character of public housing in the United States. After the publication of the final report by the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing in 1992, the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-389) would create HOPE VI, freeing public dollars to be awarded to private contractors for the realization of concepts introduced through the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act. Though US legislative power would be transferred to the opposing party in 1992, the principles of the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act would be funded, codified, and normalized by the HOPE VI program throughout the subsequent decade.

Most importantly, the bill invites the private sector, through federally awarded grants and contracts, to participate in the production and operation of new public housing. The bill also introduced assistance programs through which residents of public housing could become homeowners, strategies that were increasingly advocated above support for tenants and construction of new public housing. Reflecting a fear that public housing developments had become untenably dangerous because of their highly concentrated populations of the urban poor, the bill advocated for mixed-income developments in the next generation of public housing. Finally, the bill allocated funds for the increased surveillance and security of public housing developments, reflecting national concerns and debates over security. These security funds would be awarded for projects ranging from increased investigation of recreational drug use to voluntary tenant patrol.

The homeownership programs written into the bill introduced initiatives through which tenants could purchase their homes in what had previously been public housing, giving individuals the opportunity to increase their financial assets at the expense of reducing public housing stock. The construction of mixed-income developments did little-to-nothing to address the poor residents’ underlying socioeconomic conditions, and invited the gentrification of the urban United States by young professionals. Echoing Kelling and Wilson, Oscar Newman, and the rise of community policing, security funds awarded for public housing projects would reflect national trends towards the re-establishment of foot patrol and preventative policing, and promote an environmentally determinist position that architectural design could be reconfigured to enhance security.

Further Reading

Reinhold Martin, Jacob R. Moore, and Susanne Schindler, eds., The Art of Inequality: Architecture, Housing, and Real Estate—A Provisional Report (2015), househousing.buellcenter.columbia.edu.

Entry Author
Buell Center (sz2950)