A Look at the Hope VI Program

The Hope VI program is a public housing redevelopment program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program has aimed to revitalize some of HUD's most notorious public housing projects by demolishing the original structures and replacing them with mixed-income developments. The goal has been for the new mixed-income developments to be made up of an equal mixture of private houses and condominiums, affordable housing units and units reserved for original public housing residents. While the program has seen many successes, it has not been without its share of complications and flaws that have caused it to fall short of its goals.

History of Public Housing

The American public housing projects were originally developed during the Great Depression in order to address the subpar housing conditions of the nation's low-income neighborhoods. Entire blocks' worth of slums were demolished and replaced with new apartment buildings that included amenities such as running water and built-in heating. In addition to providing improved housing for the poor, the projects were supposed to help residents find work and earn enough money to move out and settle somewhere more prosperous. To that end, the project staff provided on-site job counseling and administered daycare centers.

At first, the projects worked as they were originally intended. The public housing population went through cycles as older residents found decently paying jobs and moved out, while new residents took their places. The process slowed down considerably, though, as industry jobs and other unskilled jobs fell into decline due to nationwide deindustrialization. At the same time, the federal government started cutting the projects' budgets, causing local housing authorities to abandon services, loosen security and decrease maintenance. Unable to find proper employment, many residents turned to illicit jobs to make ends meet. By the 1980s, the projects looked like the very thing they were supposed to replace--decaying slums afflicted with crime and violence.

What the Hope VI Program Does

Under the Hope VI program, HUD would take some of America's most notorious public housing projects and start from scratch. The high-rise and mid-rise apartment buildings that were the hallmark of the project would be replaced with low-rise apartment buildings and condominiums. The new developments would feature mixed income housing. This would increase the neighborhood's tax base (and, consequently, property values), providing funds for services the community previously lacked. Furthermore, it was hoped that the mix of people with different incomes would encourage networking and, with it, social mobility. The housing units were built to much higher standards than the original housing projects, and the units would be the same regardless of income. In order to be able to live there, residents would have to pass rigorous background checks and follow a code of conduct. The original public housing residents would be able to take advantage of reinstated job counseling services and other resources.

Drawbacks of Hope VI

Once Hope VI was implemented, several flaws became evident. First and foremost, while the new developments reserved space for public housing residents, it would not be enough to accommodate all the public housing residents the developments displaced. In Cabrini-Green, for example, the new developments effectively excluded nearly two thirds of the original population. HUD attempted to address that by giving residents housing vouchers, but property owners don't have to honor the housing vouchers if they don't want to, which severely limits their options. By HUD's own estimates, nearly half of the displaced residents wound up moving into crime-ridden neighborhoods that were as bad, if not worse, than the projects they had left behind.

Another major flaw lies in the mixed-income nature of the new developments. In order to ensure the equal mix, the developers are prohibited from building affordable and public housing units until an equal number of market-rate units are built. In the wake of the real estate crisis, many real estate developers who were supposed to build market-rate units either pulled out or went bankrupt, bringing the construction of the new developments to a halt. Building condominiums on sites most of the potential residents are inclined to avoid was already a tricky proposition. In the current real estate climate, it may become unfeasable.

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