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December 10, 2002 - Urban Institute

HOPE VI has had mixed results in Public Housing

Many former residents of America's most decrepit public housing now live in better homes in lower poverty neighborhoods, thanks to the $5 billion HOPE VI federal housing program. But many others may not be as fortunate.

A large number of families face serious barriers to leaving their dilapidated homes, while others who have moved struggle to find and maintain private market housing, according to the first systematic, multicity evaluations of HOPE VI's impact on residents, conducted by the Urban Institute and its partner, Abt Associates.

"HOPE VI must go in new directions and deliver more comprehensive services to make sure all former residents end up adequately housed," says lead researcher Susan J. Popkin of the nonpartisan Urban Institute's Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. "While costly, these services are key to improving the lives of low-income families."

From Failed Housing to HOPE VI

By the early 1990s, public housing was widely regarded as a failure, trapping tens of thousands of extremely low-income families in crumbling, problem-plagued developments with neighborhood poverty rates upwards of 40 percent. HOPE VI, created in 1992, heralded a significant shift in federal housing policy. Instead of providing project-based assistance, HOPE VI promotes mixed-income housing and voucher subsidies to prevent the concentration of low-income households. It also seeks to address residents' social and economic needs and to revitalize their neighborhoods.

Since 1993, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded nearly $5 billion for redevelopment and client services. Some 72,000 units will be demolished, to be replaced with 41,500 new public housing units and 15,000 homeownership units, "affordable units" for the working poor, and market-rate units.

HOPE VI Panel Study: Baseline Report tracked 887 heads of household from five developments as revitalization began in mid- to late 2001. HOPE VI Resident Tracking Study provides a snapshot of the living conditions and well-being of 818 former residents of eight properties in early 2001-between two and seven years after the housing authority received a HOPE VI grant. The first study looked at sites in Atlantic City, N.J., Chicago, Durham, N.C., Richmond, Calif., and Washington, D.C. The second study went to Denver, Springfield, Ill., Newark and Paterson, N.J., San Francisco, Albany, N.Y., Louisville, Ky., and Tucson, Ariz.

On the Eve of Redevelopment

Residents living in HOPE VI sites before they were redeveloped reported terrible circumstances:

After Relocation

Families that left the projects-for refurbished public housing, other public housing units, or private homes-described moving to better housing in safer neighborhoods:

Strengthening HOPE VI

More than providing job assistance, says Popkin, supportive services must meet the special needs of residents with medical problems or contending with domestic violence, substance abuse, criminal records, and poor credit histories. Housing authorities should also pay special attention to older adults, many of whom are frail, disabled, or dependent on other residents for their care.

Former residents with weak credit histories or complex family problems are at a disadvantage using vouchers in the private market, Popkin and her co-authors note, where landlords' rules may be more restrictive than in public housing. These and other families with multiple risk factors need effective case management, follow-up services, credit counseling, budget guidance, extensive information about alternative neighborhoods, and assistance with landlords.

"A substantial proportion of those still living in distressed developments are literally one step away from becoming homelessùand may become so if relocated to the private market," says Popkin. Supportive or transitional housing for these hard-to-house families may be "costly, complicated, and require careful coordination, but without these services HOPE VI is unlikely to realize its potential as a powerful force for improving the lives of low-income families."

HOPE VI Panel Study: Baseline Report, by Susan J. Popkin, Diane K. Levy, Laura E. Harris, Jennifer Comey, Mary K. Cunningham, and Larry F. Buron, was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Chicago Community Trust.

HOPE VI Resident Tracking Study, by Larry F. Buron, Susan J. Popkin, Diane K. Levy, Laura E. Harris, and Jill Khadduri, was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Both studies are available from the Urban Institute Publications Sales Office at 202-261-5687 or toll-free at 1-877-UIPRESS. The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance problems facing the nation.