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Article: A Few Thoughts on Public Housing
- The HOPE VI Program

One year ago we wrote an article for CREW-Philadelphia's newsletter titled “Rethinking Public Housing: the HOPE VI Program”. It appears that this program will not be re-authorized, but there is likely to be another similar program that will replace it. We have included several excerpts from the article that summarize this new attitude toward the nation’s public housing stock.

“When public housing was established toward the end of the Great Depression, it was conceived of as a short-term solution to the unmet housing needs of families needing housing assistance as they moved toward independence. Although it was never intended as long-term permanent housing for generations of families, a variety of forces over the years resulted in its becoming so. By the middle of the last decade, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was providing support to over 3,000 local housing authorities managing over one million public housing units.

Along with the change in the demographics of public housing residents came the deterioration and ultimate obsolescence of the units that housed them. The vast majority of public housing units were too small by modern standards, and unit configurations no longer served the extended families that lived in them. Crime was increasingly a problem, both within public housing and in the areas surrounding it. Modernization money never seemed sufficient to address the spectrum of ills that plagued these developments and spilled out into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Enter the HOPE VI Program. Rather than endlessly patching up outmoded projects, HOPE VI required a holistic approach. It provided funding for an entire spectrum of activities, including demolition, new construction, management improvements, the revitalization of surrounding communities, and social service improvements. Resident self-sufficiency is the keyword, and widespread community and institutional support is the goal. Specific objectives include:

  • To change the physical shape of public housing;
  • To provide incentives to tenants to reach self-sufficiency;
  • To lessen concentrations of poverty by integrating affordable housing into the community, and bringing higher income residents onto the site;
  • To create working partnerships with governments, non-profits, and businesses.”

Has it worked? Slowly, but those of us in development know that this is not a field for the instant gratification crowd. Since 1993, HUD has granted more than $14 billion to 130 housing authorities for planning, demolition, and revitalization. A total of 97,000 severely distressed units have been or will be demolished, and 61,000 revitalized units produced. Section 8 certificates are available for families that do not wish to return to the project area.

What does a HOPE VI development look like? My own poster child for the HOPE VI program is in Coatesville, where we have provided market research services in support of a number of funding applications since 1997. A joint venture of The Community Builders, Inc., and the Housing Authority of the County of Chester, the Coatesville Area HOPE VI Revitalization Program is making its mark.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency approved two applications for Low Income Housing Tax Credit Financing. The first is being developed by the Housing Authority, and will entail the renovation of 30 vacant and blighted houses at various locations in the Project Area for rental and eventual homeownership under a “rent-to-own” program.

Even more adventurous, The Community Builders is undertaking the rehabilitation of 22 apartments located over six first-floor commercial storefronts along the old Lincoln Highway, Coatesville’s historic “main street”.

Can the HOPE VI Program be an effective tool in revitalizing our towns and neighborhoods? The jury is still out, but a walk through the Coatesville Project Area shows a community that is beginning to turn itself around. There’s reason for optimism.

We still believe that there is reason for optimism. We are keeping our eyes on Washington for the authorization of a similar program.

S. Huffman Associates

Susan M. Huffman, Principal
Planning and Development Consultants
Phone: 215 772-1311
Fax: 215 772-1420

230 South Broad Street, Suite 303
Philadelphia PA 19102

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