Inside The Bricks - Episode 2: Waking Up In History

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There's a long waiting list to get into public housing in Cleveland. At last count, the list ran to about 19,000 people.

That's about one out of 20 city residents, all waiting to get apartments at places like Woodhill Homes. And the number doesn't include the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly Section 8, where people get a subsidy to rent an apartment on the private market. Another 10,000 people wait on the list for that.

The average wait for a public housing apartment here is about two years, which puts Cleveland on the higher end, nationally, of wait times. Some people at Woodhill have told me they waited four years or more.

With all that waiting, people probably stay a long time once they get in, right?

Well, not really. The average length of time that people stay in public housing is six years. That’s longer than the three years that the average renter stays in a private apartment, but hardly the decades that some may imagine.

At Woodhill Homes specifically, the average stay is actually shorter than the national average: five years, according to an analysis of Census data performed for ideastream by Kirk McClure of the University of Kansas.

These statistics challenged some of my own preconceptions about public housing. I'd always assumed that it was easy to get into public housing and hard to get out, because the neighborhoods tend to be isolated from jobs and opportunity.

The reality, though, may be closer to the opposite: It's hard to get in, and not all that hard to get out — if you want.

In this episode of Inside the Bricks, we hear stories of people moving into Woodhill Homes, and moving out.

Plus, we consider what it's like to live in a place where a lot of people — including U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson — believe you shouldn't want to stay.

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