Planet Money, a program from NPR, recently asked a tough question: if the government provides food stamps and healthcare to anyone who needs it, why do we provide housing subsidies by lottery? After all, isn't shelter a fundamental need?
The show's hosts speak with Shanay Manson, a woman in Connecticut who has struggled to provide housing for herself and her two children. She just secured a temporary position after having been unemployed, and she recently applied to the West Hartford lottery for a Section 8 housing voucher. According to a West Hartford Housing Authority official, Eileen Kozlowski, Manson has a 3% chance of winning the voucher that could help her put a roof over her kid's heads.
Kozlowski says the lottery seems to be the only fair way to dole out the housing subsidies. The federal government only provides a small amount of money, so it limits the number of people who can receive assistance. She says there are just too many people in need in West Hartford to run a 'first come, first served' program or try to justify who needs it more.
The program estimated that it would cost roughly $40 billion a year to provide rent assistance to anyone who needed it. And other programs like food stamps, for instance, actually served the public good in various ways. Food stamps started out as a way to prop up prices for farmers, and public housing created construction jobs.