The New Yorker contributor Nathan Heller examines the hard push to subsidize middle-class families.

In Palo Alto, Calif., city leaders are exploring subsidized housing for families earning between $150,000 and $250,000 a year. Heller writes:

The proposal, advanced by Palo Alto’s vice-mayor, traveled far and wide because the numbers seemed preposterous. In much of the country, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year qualifies as wealth. The subsidized-housing idea has an eye to public employees—government officials, teachers, firefighters—and would be part of a constellation of housing efforts that the council has launched to build units in Palo Alto’s downtown, near its transit hubs. This has the admirable goal of reducing car emissions but the amusing implication that households earning a mere quarter of a million a year are unlikely to be able to afford a car. Palo Alto’s median family income has been marked at $167,408, the third-highest in the country for a city in its size class. The median property value in town, according to Zillow, is two and a half million dollars and on the rise. The council’s plan to help the area’s struggling six-figure earners is, by a certain logic, sane.

However, it's a dicey proposition. Heller points out that one of the chief risks facing booming cities is "the new poor will supplant the old in public concern."

Read more >