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

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...

From "Projects" to Communities: How to Redeem Public Housing

Saving public housing will require more than bootstrap lectures and selling off units to tenants. To transform housing projects into safe communities requires a new balance of rights and responsibilities—and real resources.

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Kinder, Gentler Canada

America could use some northern exposure.

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...

Affordable Housing: Lessons from Canada

How Canada manages to build scandal-free nonprofit housing

T he corruption scandal at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been popularly reported as a story of how Reagan Administration officials steered scarce subsidies to political insiders. That picture is accurate, but the real issue at HUD concerns the roles that government, private developers, and community organizations ought to play in an effective national program for affordable housing. The public is rightly skeptical of programs that offer big profits to politically connected developers and consultants in the name of housing the poor. However, the solution is not to scrap federal housing programs, as some conservatives suggested in the wake of the HUD uproar. Instead, we should learn from the successes of our neighbors in Canada and of other industrial nations like Sweden, Holland, and France, which target government housing funds to nonprofit community developers. Unlike HUD, their programs are virtually corruption-free, and they do a better job of supplying...