Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guest Bloggers Lora Engdahl and Henry Cisneros: 'Choice Neighborhoods' and the Next Leap in Urban Policy

HOPE VI advanced housing and anti-poverty policy by transforming the way that America provides housing assistance to its poorest residents. Rather than being packed in dense, neglected public housing complexes in isolated neighborhoods, very low-income families are receiving assistance to live in new lower-density, attractively designed mixed-income communities; in smaller public housing settings; and in more private apartments through rental vouchers. As a result, such families are living in healthier, less hope-defeating environments―and neighborhoods and cities are all the better for it.

But among the lessons of HOPE VI (cited in our new book From Despair to Hope) was that many long-time public housing families have significant barriers to self-sufficiency, such as limited education and poor health. Housing programs alone can’t dismantle these barriers in less than a generation. As we know from decades of research, the neighborhood conditions that foster the best long-term family outcomes are least likely to be found in the disinvested minority communities that too many of our publicly assisted families still reside.

HUD’s new Choice Neighborhoods initiative presents the opportunity to make the next leap in housing and anti-poverty policy by creating the same sort of institutional change as ushered in under HOPE VI, but affecting a broader swath of urban policy. Ideally, we will someday be able to look back and say that Choice Neighborhoods created a replicable model of community revitalization that allows low-income minority families an opportunity to live in truly successful urban family neighborhoods with the same access to jobs, good schools, and other attributes that have traditionally underpinned the achievements of America’s middle-class families.

Such a model would include:
  • A focus on neighborhoods that have potential to attract other public and private investment;
  • Incentives to coordinate intergovernmental investment in housing, education, transportation, business development and other vital neighborhood services, with a high priority on the housing/schools connection;
  • HUD-assisted housing redeveloped or rehabilitated as well-designed, mixed-income housing;
  • Phased redevelopment and early counseling of affected residents to help those who want to remain in the community repair credit issues or other problems that could serve as barriers;
  • Supportive housing systems for the “hard-to-house” (See This Reference);
  • Well-designed voluntary mobility counseling with post-move and second-move counseling; and
  • Affordable housing set-asides, community land trusts, tenant protections and other mechanisms to maintain affordability in the revitalized neighborhoods.
Henry G. Cisneros, executive chairman of the CityView companies and former HUD Secretary, and Lora Engdahl, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor, are editors of a new multi-author volume, From Despair to Hope: HOPE VI and the New Promise of Public Housing in America’s Cities.

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