Most social programs in America work like this: if you qualify for assistance, you get it. Food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit all have their own criteria. But if you pass the threshold and fill out the application, the help is (supposed to be) yours. With housing though, that's not how it works. There are far more people who qualify than actually receive help. For subsidized housing vouchers, there is often a lottery. And your chances aren't good.
But why? The answer is partly about money and partly about history.
We talk about the "social safety net" as if it's one coherent thing. But Congress never sat down and figured out one best way to help the poor. Food stamps, for instance, started out as a way to prop up prices for farmers back in the 1930s. Public housing was a reward for the "worthy poor" and a jobs program for the construction industry.
On today's show: how chance became the deciding factor for help with housing. And just how lucky you have to be to win.
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