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Hope VI: Community Building Makes a Difference


Posted Date: March 30, 2005

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Executive Summary

How the groundbreaking HOPE VI public housing revitalization program builds human and social capital and restores urban neighborhoods

Since it was authorized in 1937, public housing has grown to the point where it now provides low-cost shelter to 1.4 million households in 14,000 developments managed by some 3,400 public housing authorities. The great majority of these projects are neither large nor distressed. In accordance with HUD mandates, most provide decent, safe and sanitary housing.

However, the situation was much different in the late 1980s. Much of public housing—especially in large cities—had deteriorated, and had become physically isolated from needed amenities and opportunities. In 1992 a federal commission estimated that approximately 86,000 units—about 7 percent of the total public housing inventory—was distressed.

HOPE VI, passed into law in 1993, represents the most dramatic change of direction in the 60-year history of U.S. public housing policy. It promises nothing less than a full transformation of the nation's most distressed public housing projects - places that have been both physically and socially devastated by extraordinary concentrations of poverty, and years of disinvestment.

With its ambitious mission of transforming the most distressed public housing projects in the nation, HOPE VI works on both improving the physical quality of public housing and expanding opportunities for its residents. Although the physical improvements have often been dramatic, the HOPE VI program should ultimately be judged on its effectiveness in helping low-income families improve the quality of their lives and move toward self-sufficiency as well as its accomplishments in bricks and mortar.

This report is the first detailed look at how HOPE VI is changing the lives of public housing residents across the country. It evaluates the accomplishments of seven representative HOPE VI developments. Compared with other public housing projects, these sites had high rates of welfare dependency, minority concentration and single-parent families. They also tended to have high crime rates. These communities, along with other HOPE VI sites discussed in the report, show significant and positive results.

The Report has six key findings.

FINDING 1: HOPE VI is achieving its goals of community building.

HOPE VI did not call for building housing alone. New, revitalized HOPE VI sites are weaving positive ties among public housing residents, neighborhood associations and community institutions. In addition to housing, HOPE VI sites are building new community centers to house and more closely coordinate the many supportive services that help make a working lifestyle achievable for those formerly dependent on welfare. New multi-service centers that house childcare, afterschool programs, computer labs, employment services, training, recreation and healthcare are common at HOPE VI sites.

  • In Baltimore, the Greater Baltimore Medical Center operates the Weinberg Community and Family Health Center, which serves Pleasant View Gardens and the neighborhood, providing primary healthcare for children and adults, dental care, eye care, substance abuse and mental health services.

FINDING 2: HOPE VI is showing impressive results in helping residents move from welfare to work. The number of residents earning income has increased by as much as 30 percent.

HOPE VI occurred in the context of welfare reform. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act changed the old welfare system. Operating in this new environment, a central focus of HOPE VI projects is to help residents overcome obstacles to work, and placing residents in employment - many with impressive results. In every one of the HOPE VI projects studied, there was a substantial increase in the number and percentage of residents earning income, and average earnings have increased substantially - by as much as 30%.

  • Milwaukee - between 1995 and 1998 the percentage of long-term Hillside Terrace families with some level of earning rose from 27% to 69%. During the same period, the average income of long-term residents with earnings rose from $9,353 to $12,346 per year.
  • Baltimore - family incomes at Lafayette Courts averaged $6,099 in 1993 and only 14% of families had any earned income. In March 1999, family incomes had risen to $8,641 and 26% of households heads were wage earners.

FINDING 3: HOPE VI is helping residents move into the economic mainstream by stressing improved education, job training, and computer literacy.

Creating new educational opportunities for children and adults is a central feature of HOPE VI. In virtually every HOPE VI site, a range of new educational programs and partnerships has been established. In some cases, new schools have been built. In others, several colleges and universities have become community partners with HOPE VI communities. They offer computer training, job-readiness skills, entrepreneurial business skills, and preparation for the GED and College Board tests.

  • Atlanta - the Atlanta Public Schools, with support from area corporations, built a $12 million state-of-the-art technical magnet school. Today children of Coca-Cola and Georgia Tech employees attend classes alongside the children of families living in public housing adjacent to the revitalized Centennial Place.
  • Seattle - South Seattle Community College is a community partner, while the Seattle Children's Art Museum runs a successful arts program at the NewHolly HOPE VI development.

A number of HOPE VI sites have set up pre-apprenticeship programs with the AFL-CIO's carpenters and painters union to prepare public housing residents for careers in the skilled trades.

  • Atlanta - a HOPE VI job training program, carried out in partnership with Atlanta's corporate community, has placed 53 residents with a set of 61 participating businesses
  • Oakland - construction and other jobs generated by HOPE VI employed 59 residents. Through a partnership with the carpenters and Painters Union, 35 residents were trained, 90% of whom are now employed with salaries ranging from $10.40 to $30.50 per hour

A major focus of virtually every HOPE VI site has been to bridge the digital divide, by establishing computer technology centers that provide residents with access to computers and computer training.

  • El Paso - at the Kennedy Brothers development, the Computer Literacy and Educational Center offers five computer courses including beginning and advanced courses in Windows 95, word processing and spreadsheets. The center has provided assistance to more than 592 computer users for about 5,920 hours of computer use. 173 residents have graduated from the programs to date.
  • San Francisco - the Housing Authority has worked with both the San Francisco Unified School District and San Francisco Community College to establish computer labs at housing developments through the city. At the Valencia Gardens HOPE VI site, adults attend morning classes in computer literacy and job-readiness while youth come by in the afternoon for computer work, tutorials and informal counseling.

FINDING 4: HOPE VI is dramatically reducing crime and violence in public housing. Overall crime rates in the communities studied have been reduced by up to 72%.

Many of the original HOPE VI developments were places where one could not safely walk the street in the day, much less at night. The drop in violent crime at HOPE VI sites has been dramatic, as high as 72 percent. Crime rates are declining at rates far higher than national crime rates, as a result of community policing programs, new police substations, improved physical design and other crime prevention initiatives.

  • Oakland - at Lockwood Gardens, between 1993 and 1997, arrests for drug possession and sale fell by 84%, while the number of assaults dropped 70% and incidents of theft and larceny fell by 72%.
  • Baltimore - at Pleasant View, between 1994 to 1998, robbery fell 93%, burglary 81%, and aggravated assault 87%. Total arrests decreased by 95%, falling from 145 in 1994 to 7 in 1998.
  • Atlanta - at Centennial Place, a new police substation located in the neighborhood helped assaults fall from 325 to 23 per year , robberies and burglaries from 141 to 10 per year, and vandalism from 66 incidents to 12 per year.

FINDING 5: HOPE VI is reducing the isolation of public housing residents.

HOPE VI residents, once physically and socially isolated, are now forging ties with mainstream society. In addition to the new education and employment services to help residents find their place in the world of work-new community centers, social service facilities, and recreation centers are attracting neighborhood residents into public housing.

  • In Baltimore, of the 73 children enrolled at the Child Development Center in Pleasant View Gardens, 48 reside in the surrounding community.
  • In Milwaukee, a private-sector provider of job development and placement services installed a satellite office at the Hillside Family Resource Center, serving HOPE VI residents and the whole neighborhood.
  • In El Paso, people from all around the city come to use the recreation center at the revitalized Kennedy Brothers development.
  • In Seattle, South Seattle Community College and the Seattle public library are community partners, while the Seattle Children's Art Museum runs a successful arts program at the NewHolly HOPE VI development.

FINDING 6: HOPE VI is leveraging significant investments in community-wide improvements.

Before their revitalization, HOPE VI sites were neighborhood eyesores that contained concentrations of extreme poverty, and functioned as havens for drugs and crime. HOPE VI revitalization often became a catalyst for change in the whole area.

  • Columbus, Ohio - HOPE VI rebuilt not only the distressed Windsor Terrace development but also the surrounding South Linden neighborhood; new investment via a neighborhood transit center, fire station, and police station helped local factory owners decide to refurbish their plant in South Linden rather than relocate to the suburbs.
  • Atlanta -- a $4 million YMCA fitness center and a new police substation have been built next to each other, and a new retail center anchored by a national grocery chain will be built two blocks away.


Lessons learned in studying these HOPE VI sites include:

  • Public housing communities can become effective training grounds for marginalized citizens who want to become self-sufficient - and a catalyst for revitalization of the larger neighborhood.
  • Success is dependent on active resident involvement from the start, in order to identify the needs and priorities of the community, as well as to shape and implement the strategies needed to address them.
  • Transformation efforts must be focused on an area of manageable size -- a community whose residents and other stakeholders know each other, feel some measure of control over their environment, and have input into the decisions that affect their lives.
  • It is essential to have a strategy or master plan in order to coordinate all potential partners.
  • Housing authorities must build partnerships with experienced nonprofit and for-profit institutions in the larger community (such as police, social service agencies, civic groups, area businesses or business associations, local school systems, and community colleges) in order for residents to move towards self-sufficiency.
  • Housing authorities must be prepared to adopt a new approach and train staff in the new direction that is inherent in HOPE VI. They must be prepared to stay the course. It is important to set short-term, more easily achievable goals, as well as long-term goals.
  • The case management approach can help pull together a variety of needed services at the local level in the service of a larger vision. But larger, systemic changes that are supportive of this service approach are needed as well.


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