Reagan, the suburban president

Peter Dreier makes the case against Reagan’s urban policy in Newsday, but doesn’t even plumb the full depths:

Reagan also presided over the dramatic deregulation of the nation’s savings-and-loan industry, which allowed S&L’s to end their reliance on home mortgages and engage in an orgy of commercial real estate speculation. This ultimately led to a federal taxpayer bailout that cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

the S&L debacle was only half of it — the Tax Reform Act increased depreciation allowances, allowing commercial real estate developers to rack up huge paper losses (really profits) on developments of dubious merit. huge swaths of countryside, especially in the Sunbelt, were scraped for the biggest construction boom in office parks, shopping malls, and garden apartments ever. meanwhile, cities cleared away thousands of city blocks for redevelopment schemes of shimmering but street life-killing office blocks.

transit subsidies stalled in the 1980s, and the retrenchment in federal urban spending stalled many a city’s true recovery. “smart growth” anti-sprawl movements had an initial flowering in the 1970s, but were pretty much discarded in the 1980s and somewhat rediscovered in the 1990s as political winds shifted once again.

Reagan’s most dramatic cut was for low-income housing subsidies. Soon after taking office, he appointed a housing task force dominated by developers, landlords and bankers. Its 1982 report called for “free and deregulated” markets as an alternative to government assistance. Reagan followed their advice. Between 1980 and 1989, HUD’s budget authority was cut from $74 billion to $19 billion in constant dollars. The number of new subsidized housing starts fell from 175,000 to 20,000 a year.

and thus was born today’s affordable housing crisis.