Documentary: Poverty, Politics, and Profit: Since the recession of 2008 more working Americans are struggling to make rent than at any time since the Great Depression. In this documentary, Frontline and NPR conduct an investigation into the billions spent on housing low-income people and why so few actually get the help they need. The film examines the politics, profits and problems of an affordable housing system in a deep crisis.
During the course of their nine-month investigation, NPR’s Laura Sullivan and Frontline’s Rick Young traveled from Dallas to Miami. They discovered that just one in four households eligible for Section 8 assistance are getting it – largely because many landlords won’t take the vouchers – and the nation’s signature low-income housing construction program is costing more and producing less.
Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
A significant amount of time is spent exploring and discussing the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit with low-income housing proponents and housing experts. The LIHTC is a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for affordable housing investments. It was created under the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and gives incentives for the utilization of private equity in the development of affordable housing aimed at low-income citizens. LIHTC accounts for the majority (approximately 90%) of all affordable rental housing created in the United States today. The cost to the federal government of this program is approximately $6B per year.
Not surprisingly, the program also explores the inseparability of race and housing programs in America, tracing a legacy of government sponsored segregation that began more than 80 years ago.
During their time in the Dallas area, and their exploration of the construction of low-income housing, particular attention was paid to McKinney, a mid-sized city located about 37 miles north of Dallas. Readers may remember the infamous McKinney Pool Party incident in June 2015, when excessive police force was used on African-American youth.
Ultimately, as they followed the money, the pair’s journey takes them to an upscale resort in Costa Rica. The money trail raises questions about the oversight of a program meant to house low-income people.
Poverty, Politics, and Profit is a timely and probing exploration of a system in crisis — and who’s being left behind. The documentary is available on streaming devices via the PBS app – I watched it on an Apple TV – and the PBS website.