Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Recent Articles

Housing Policy's Moment of Truth

In Washington these days, HUD is about as popular as mosquitoes. But there's a way to make housing more affordable without the old bureaucracy.

A t least one million Americans, including an increasing number of children and working adults, are homeless at some point each year. About half of young families can't afford the American dream of homeownership. Yet both the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans favor dismantling long-standing housing programs for the poor, and some in Congress want to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) altogether. The moment of truth for federal housing policy has arrived. Hardly anyone can be found to defend the agency. "Politically, HUD is about as popular as smallpox," reports the Washington Post . The department is typically associated with public housing projects, big cities, and the welfare poor, and under Reagan and Bush it became identified with mismanagement and corruption. So conservatives get to look like good-government reformers, even as they throw out the housing baby with the HUD bathwater. The United States devotes more than $100 billion a...

Wild Pitch

For baseball players and fans, winter is the "off-season." But for team owners and their executives, it is the season for deal making. As most fans are looking back on another season of what might have been (except for New York Yankee fans, who get to savor another World Series victory), the deal makers are looking to the future. Usually they have their eye on this question: How might we make more money? Bring in new superstars? Charge more for tickets? Build more luxury skyboxes? Tear down the old stadium? A great part of baseball's allure has to do with its sense of history. But in the business offices, an "out with the old, in with the new" attitude prevails. This is the case even in historic Boston, where the owners of the Red Sox are now drafting plans to tear down Fenway Park and to build a new ballpark. As a baseball fan and former Boston city official, I heard of these developments and wanted to cry, "Say it ain't so." Boston enjoyed a tremendous season, with the Red Sox...

Seismic Stimulus: The California Quake's Creative Destruction

The earth literally had to move to jolt Congress into passing a stiumulus package -- and to lift California out of recession.

In April 1993, Congress rejected President Clinton's proposal for $16 billion of economic stimulus and public investment. Opponents attacked it as pork barrel politics, tax-and-spend liberalism, and a budget-buster. Yet a year later, the same Congress easily passed a series of Clinton proposals to increase the fiscal deficit by spending $9.5 billion on emergency assistance and public works for Southern California. The difference, of course, was the Los Angeles earthquake, an event that revealed a great deal about the nation's ideological fault lines. The disaster that rocked Southern California in January was the costliest in U.S. history. Sixty-one people died. More than 9,000 were injured. The quake destroyed more than $15 billion of property, including 21,000 housing units. It devastated highways in the nation's most auto-dependent region. The federal government provided disaster relief for Southern California, duplicating and expanding actions it took after the Midwest, South...

Moving From the 'Hood: The Mixed Success of Integrating Suburbia

In theory, dispersing the poor to better suburban schools, jobs, and housing was a bipartisan alternative to housing projects and ghetto unemployment. But, surprise, nobody wanted them in the neighborhood.

S axophone player Bill Clinton and blues legend Luther Allison haven't conferred on urban policy, but both are singing the same tune. In his new song, "Move From the 'Hood," Allison wails: I know some of you are doin' your best; You want a good job, not a welfare check. But you gotta move; You gotta move from the 'hood. As politicians and policy analysts revisited the thorny problems of urban poverty in recent years, they seemed to be arriving at a rare consensus: Poor people are hurt by their concentration in large, inner-city neighborhoods that further social isolation and racial segregation. In this view, it would be better to disperse poor people and minorities, putting them in closer proximity to jobs, decent suburban schools, and safe communities. This idea of helping individuals, rather than funneling aid to localities, came to be known as helping "people, not places." In principle, this approach enjoyed bipartisan support. As an instrument of integration and community renewal...

Kinder, Gentler Canada

I f President Clinton wants to see how activist government can solve social problems with strong public support, he should take a few days to visit Canada. With Toronto's World Series victory, the nationwide referendum on constitutional reform (including the status of Quebec), and the controversy over the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada lately has been in the American news more than at any time in recent memory. But despite all this attention, there's a Canada few Americans know about-- a nation whose citizens are better off than their American counterparts in many ways: safer cities, less poverty, fewer homeless, lower infant mortality, and healthier workplaces. Clinton has pledged to introduce, during the first 100 days, comprehensive health care reform. Thanks to the recent national debate over our country's health care crisis, many Americans now know that Canada does a better job of providing decent health care for all its citizens at a reasonable cost. The U.S. spends...

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