Tuesday, July 10, 2007

America's Player: Has HUD just become a houseguest on Big Brother (Section) 8? (Part two of the series, "Drowning government in the Bathtub")

"My goal is to cut government in half...to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." -- Grover Norquist

I just watched the latest episode of Big Brother 8 on TV. This season have lots of skulduggery, surprises and backstabbing as usual but there's also a new feature called "America's Player". Here's how it works: America votes to tell someone in the Big Brother house to do something and they must do it.

We used to have a player like that in the White House -- but that's obviously no longer true. Now "America's Player" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is too busy trying to drown everything we hold dear in the bathtub to even think about doing what we tell him to do.

Take the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- HUD -- for example. Like the U.S. Constitution, the National Guard and FEMA, is its head also being held under the bathwater too long? Is more Big Brother intrigue going on here as well? Hummm. As Julie Chan is fond of saying, "Let's take a look."

A decade ago, HUD worked differently. If a Section 8 subsidized housing project developed problems, HUD dealt with them immediately. Audits were sent out. Miscreants were fired. HUD acted quickly. They knew what to do -- and within months, the troubled project was back on its feet again. However, things no longer work that way in the new HUD. Nope. This season it's a whole different show.

Suppose a Section 8 housing project in your town gets in trouble today. Apparently there is now a whole new sequence of events in the Big Brother house. According to a HUD insider I spoke with recently, here's the new scenario. "When a subsidized project gets in trouble these days, HUD simply waits around and does nothing. The project then implodes from within. The place falls apart. HUD then condemns it, gives vouchers to all of its residents, sells off the property to eager developers and HUD makes a ton of dough."

And what happens to the residents?

"They take their new vouchers out to dutifully look for new housing, can't find any landlords who will take them despite a diligent search, the vouchers expire and voila. HUD no longer has to subsidize that project."

"But wouldn't this be a good thing? Won't having fewer subsidized projects save money for American taxpayers?" I naively asked. Apparently not. For every project that is closed down, more homeless people are created and pretty soon America starts once again to acquire that "Great Depression" look that only the HUD Section 8 programs have prevented from happening all these years. So that's what we have been buying with all that housing subsidy money all this time -- the illusion that America was safely well-housed.

"Without HUD subsidies, the invisible poor of America suddenly become highly visible as millions of Americans hit the streets with their cardboard boxes in hand." And of course HUD manages to save a bundle. However, there's a catch -- we taxpayers never get to see this windfall because somehow it all magically ends up in Bush's Swiss bank account. Don't ask me how.

Perhaps the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials can offer us some clues as to how our money disappears. "In an effort to take back funding from the Section 8 program, it appears that HUD is intentionally over-funding some housing agencies while simultaneously under funding other agencies. Thus the over-funding is being returned to the Treasury Department, while creating shortfalls at the same time in other parts of the nation." What does this mean? Apparently it means that HUD projects have been deliberately overfunded so that the money can be taken back, sent off to the Treasury and recycled over to Halliburton.

The theme for this year's CBS Big Brother reality show is Alice in Wonderland -- and the White House is clearly following suit. Their plan for HUD definitely involves the theory of "One pill makes you small...." If something goes wrong on a HUD project these days, Alice will no longer be there to help out. Instead, the Red King responds to each crisis in the same manner that he responded to 9-11 and Katrina. "Let it happen". Humph.

It makes you wonder who exactly runs America now. The Red King? The Mock Turtle? Or the Mad Hatter?

And according to housing maven Lynda Carson, there's even more skulduggery going on in the Big Brother house -- enough to make us think that we too have taken bites out of Alice's mushroom. "HUD has intentionally been changing most of the rules and regulations in the housing programs very rapidly during the last three years, and many organizations cannot keep up with all the changes. Even with waivers for more time, many housing organizations and public housing agencies have major problems because of the funding cuts also occurring. And the result is that people get stressed out, and no one seems to know what the rules are anymore because of the vagueness of the rule changes, or changes that seem impossible to make." Perhaps Tweedle-dee is not so Tweedle-dum after all?

So. How does this summer's Big Brother (Section) 8 series finally end? Who will be left standing? The Red King, the Mock Turtle and the Mad Hatter? Yeah. HUD, along with such other houseguests as the Department of Justice, the FDA and the FCC, have already been kicked out of the house. And even though both Congress and America's Player have not voted to evict HUD, it will be gone just the same. And since the cost of low, moderate and middle-income housing has been inflated over the last seven years by both the housing bubble and by the recent demolition of over 200,000 units of affordable housing, only Section 8 subsidies have been protecting the low-to-middle-income affordable housing market. And as these subsidies are being forced to leave the Big Brother house too, more and more people across the country will be living in shantytowns and hobo jungles instead. And "America's Player" will be screwed again.

You can't get more "Big Brother" than that!

No. Wait. Maybe you can. In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld stated that, "According to some estimates, we cannot track 2.3 trillion in transactions." And then he grinned like the Cheshire cat.