In his characterization of the HOPE VI public housing program and the Section 8 housing choice voucher program, Jonathan Fanton ["Signs of Hope for America's Cities," op-ed, Nov. 3] mistakes life-support -- in the form of public funding -- for genuine renaissance.

Although HOPE VI has led to the reconstruction of many public housing projects, and more than 2 million households have their rent paid via Section 8 vouchers, these programs impede the long-term renewal of our cities.

Like public housing before it, HOPE VI projects take important parcels of urban real estate out of the commercial market, "freezing" the land on which they are built. We cannot know to what other, better purposes such land might have been put -- nor can we be confident that, in a few years time, HOPE VI projects will be in better condition than the failed high-rise projects of a previous era.

The Section 8 program is even more problematic. It equals the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash program in appropriation, but it provides none of TANF's deterrents against long-term dependency -- despite also serving a population overwhelmingly made up of single mothers and their children.

Rather than helping to renew cities, Section 8 has led to the concentration of very poor households in de facto voucher ghettos, where property owners have diminished incentive to screen tenants or insist on good conduct, thanks to the guaranteed federal rent payments of Section 8.

It is disappointing that Mr. Fanton, as the leader of a major American foundation, has viewed these programs in such narrow terms.


Brookline, Mass.

The writer is the author of "America's Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy."