I finally get around to reading his New Orleans column, and he makes a very good point in favor of cash payouts. Money quote:
The specific flood-related policy question is this: Given the population of poor people, do we make them, on net, better or worse off when we give them disaster relief (which is good) and simultaneously raise their housing costs (which is bad)? The refusal to engage that question is, it seems to me, nothing short of a declaration of indifference to what actually benefits the poor.
You might say that what we really owe the poor is disaster assistance and affordable housing. You might as well say that we owe them all magical pink unicorns that produce an unlimited supply of milk. It is quite simply impossible to guarantee assistance to people living on a flood plain without affecting their housing costs. And it is quite simply unserious to declare your commitment to poor people without pausing to ask whether your pet program does poor people more harm than good.