HOPE VI and Choice Neighborhoods: What is the Government’s Role in Housing and Economic Development?
As I mentioned in my previous post, the heart of modern urban planning is economic development. That includes not only helping the middle-class expand, but also creating conditions where people have a fighting chance of lifting themselves out of poverty. In the past, most of planning’s focus was on the revitalization and renewal of business districts. The rationale was that thriving businesses would produce increasing wages, which, in turn, would help people out of poverty and improve neighborhoods. In fact, government and private planning programs specific to low-income neighborhoods were almost non-existent, and those that were operational sought to do little more than put a thin, multifamily, tenement roof over the heads of those who needed it.
After many social critics and worsening social problems convinced the federal government that the urban renewal public housing projects were an utter failure, a new breed of low-income housing emerged with a distinct focus on sustainable neighborhoods. HOPE VI began in 1992 with a $300 million pilot program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program sought to replace dilapidated public housing projects with mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods. Former “project” residents would be given vouchers to live in houses in the same community – often the same block – as residents who could afford market-rate homes. Other low-income former-residents would be given vouchers to rent apartments elsewhere. The Congress for the New Urbanism, a sustainable urbanism advocacy group, was instrumental in determining the style and philosophy of the new master-planned, public-private neighborhoods.
The jury is still out on the definitive impact of HOPE VI neighborhoods. In most instances, it is pretty clear that the new neighborhoods are profoundly more attractive than the slums that they replaced. The Urban Land Institute points out that HOPE VI paved the way for many New Urban and Smart Growth-related neighborhoods to gain financing and navigate unique issues of management and service delivery. The program also had its problems. Local governments often botched the implementation of the project, some developments were not significantly different from the ones they replaced, and, most significantly, many original residents were not able to benefit from the new neighborhoods. HOPE VI legislation does not require enough below-market-rate units to be built to completely replace the units being demolished, and new HOPE VI residents often came from outside of the neighborhood, leaving many original residents to fend for themselves elsewhere.
During the 2010 Appropriations process, Congress passed a revision of HOPE VI legislation to correct for some of those deficiencies and offer more comprehensive services to low-income families. Choice Neighborhoods, as it is termed, not only required new HOPE VI communities to offer replacement housing for every former resident, but it also provided funds for nonprofit financial and employment counseling, local food development, public transportation improvement, and other peripheral programs that support sustainable economic development.
With politics currently moving rightward, HOPE VI and Choice Neighborhoods funding is in jeopardy. Some see government intervention in housing markets as an over-reach of power. What do you think? If government should not be involved in housing and economic development, what does the future hold for many urban planners? Can the private market adequately provide for the housing needs of low-income families?