SECTION 8 UPDATE….Last week I mentioned a plan to use Section 8 housing vouchers to help people left homeless by Katrina. It’s a good idea, but the Bush administration appears to prefer the idea of vast “Katrinatowns” filled with thousands of mobile homes. Jon Cohn picks up the story today and suggests that this doesn’t make much sense:

With vouchers, these people could start rebuilding their lives right away rather than spend two or three years waiting in government-built trailer parks. “Think of a displaced renter with a couple of kids,” says [Bruce] Katz. “How do you get those kids into a stable environment for the coming school year and next school year? Live in a trailer? Live in a motel? It makes so much more sense to get them into stable rental housing.”

It does ? unless you have the instincts of the Bush administration. After all, the Clinton administration embraced the voucher scheme after Northridge because, when it needed to design and implement an emergency housing plan, it immediately looked to HUD ? a department it had packed with capable, experienced policy hands and whose ideas (like Section 8) it was accustomed to taking seriously. But the Bush administration has tried to shrink HUD’s budget and stature. It has also tried to gut Section 8, the program’s bipartisan history notwithstanding. So, while the pressing human crisis of Katrina (not to mention the political backlash at the bungled federal response) has forced the administration to spend lavishly on hurricane relief, it has instinctively looked away from government and toward private firms like the Shaw Group, which won a no-bid contract to construct mobile homes. (Shaw’s lobbyist, in case you hadn’t heard, is Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA director and Bush campaign manager.)

Read the whole thing. A Section 8 proposal from Paul Sarbanes has passed the Senate, but it faces an uncertain reception in the House and a distinct lack of interest from the president. Hopefully that will change.

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