AFTER COMING UP with several good policies to improve daily life in public housing, city officials have gone overboard with another. Unlike their efforts to disperse public housing families throughout the city, or their constructive plan the other day to evict tenants who are convicted of crimes committed in public housing complexes, this proposal -- aimed at alcoholism among project-dwellers -- is a bad idea.
There's no question that alcoholism in the projects is a serious issue. One out of every 10 city residents lives in a project -- and of these tenants, an estimated one out of 10 is a problem drinker. Given the other depressing living conditions in these complexes, it is no wonder that managers and tenants alike are deeply concerned about alcohol abuse and its effect on an already miserable environment. But what the city government is proposing is wide open to abuses of other kinds -- beginning with the creation of tenant committees that would "select and screen" candidates for a voluntary treatment program. That's a glorified way of sanctioning neighborhood snoops.
But there's more, and it gets worse: some tenants would be trained to be counselors for their designated neighbors whom they had adjudged to be bad drinkers.Those found to have been noisy and to have interfered with the peace of others could be evicted. That's wrong on several counts. The government should not be deputizing certain residents to determine who among their neighbors should be deemed an alcoholic or which ones have misbehaved enough to warrant expulsion.
There is nothing wrong with helping people to deal with their drinking problems. Existing counseling groups and medical authorities can assist. As for any disturbances of the peace, there are law enforcement and judicial authorities -- as well as that other public housing proposal to evict tenants convicted of crimes in the projects. Fortunately, the alcoholism plan is still subject to a series of reviews. This gives officials time to scrap it, and they should.