Craigslist, Law Schools

Should Taxpayers Fund Your Law School Housing?

Funny, if I told you that a prospective law student was taking out a mess of student loans in order to rent a reasonable apartment for three years of law school, people would react with a considered “meh.” It’s the way the system works. It’s expected that law students will finance part or all of their law school experience with debt — debt that is backed up by the federal government.

So, now if I tell you that a student is using public assistance to pay for housing while she’s in law school, does your reaction change?

If it does, you are what the scientists call a “Republican.”

If she’s eligible for public assistance, isn’t doing something like going to law school exactly what she’s “supposed” to do in order to one day not need public assistance?

Here’s the Craigslist ad from a person who appears to be starting at Ole Miss Law in the fall:

3br – Law student/mother of 2 seeking Section 8 housing ASAP! (within 30 miles of Oxford)

I am seeking section 8 housing asap. I see that many people do not like to accept it, but why not? The average tenant may or may not pay rent, but due to Section 8, mine will be paid by the housing authority automatically. Also, they will be paying it the entire time that I am in school, so that is three years for sure rent! I am neat, clean, and have 2 older kids, so the property will be well taken care of! Thanks for considering me!

Our tipster points out:

I’m thinking investing in law school (particularly one with a terrible job placement record) might not be the best thing for this mother of two.

That’s a fair point. I would tell this woman to go back to school and learn a skill, like plumbing or landscaping or something where at the end of her education she’ll have marketable skills.

But what is this mother supposed to do? If you accept the following premises (and I write everyday about how the following premises are generally unacceptable), then you accept a situation where a lot of people are going to want to go to law school, and they’ll need to take out loans to do make it happen:

1) Everybody should be able to go to law school;
2) Law schools are free to charge what they want; and
3) Law school is a path for upward mobility.

We can say that “loans are supposed to be paid back,” but we know many of them are not being paid back, not in this economy. And neither the government nor the ABA is doing anything about that — which means taxpayers are already on the hook for the costs of legal education.

If this woman qualifies for Section 8, why shouldn’t she use it to fund housing while she’s in law school? The alternative is to have her take out more loans. Hell, most likely, she’ll end up taking out loan money to afford a nicer place than she could possibly swing on Section 8. The buildings that do accept Section 8 applicants tend not to be of the highest quality. She could be saving the public money by finding Section 8 housing.

Look, we have public assistance precisely so that people like this woman, single mothers who are trying to better themselves, can do things like go to law school and have a chance at improving their lives and the lives of their children. It seems to me like the kind of person who can get into a law school like Ole Miss is exactly the type of person we should be helping. And even if she wasn’t going to law school, she’d still have to live somewhere.

The fact that law school isn’t a great investment right now is the much bigger problem. But the public is going to be on the hook for the discrepancy between the cost of law school versus the value of law school for as long as we allow that gap to persist. Seems like this woman is taking care of that transaction upfront. I don’t see the problem with that.

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