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Successes Warrant HOPE VI's Continuation, Research Record Suggests, but Major Reforms Are Needed

Document date: May 18, 2004
Released online: May 18, 2004

Contact: Stu Kantor, (202) 261-5283, skantor@ui.urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2004—Research evidence since the 1992 inception of the federal HOPE VI public housing program strongly supports its continuation, concludes a comprehensive research summary issued today by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. However, the same research underscores the need for immediate reforms if the program is to realize its full potential to improve the lives of poor families.

"Hundreds of profoundly distressed developments have been targeted for demolition, and many of them are now replaced with well-designed, high-quality housing serving a mix of income levels," the report notes. "Some projects have helped turn around conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods and have contributed to the revitalization of whole inner-city communities."

At the same time, ineffective local housing authorities have stalled some projects. In other cases, developments were simply rehabilitated in the same distressed communities, with little thought to innovative design, effective resident services, or neighborhood revitalization.

"Most seriously, there is substantial evidence that the original residents of HOPE VI projects have not always benefited from redevelopment, even in some sites that were otherwise successful," the study observes. "This can be partly attributed to a lack of meaningful resident participation in planning and insufficient attention to relocation strategies and services. As a consequence, some of the original residents of these developments may live in equally or even more precarious circumstances today."

"A Decade of HOPE VI: Research Findings and Policy Challenges" was written by Susan Popkin of the Urban Institute and Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution. They were joined by the Urban Institute's Mary Cunningham, Jeremy Gustafson, and Margery Turner and by the Brookings Institution's Karen Brown. The study was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

This assessment comes at a critical time for HOPE VI. In its fiscal 2004 and 2005 budget submissions, the Bush administration proposed eliminating the program, citing long delays between grant awards and the completion of revitalization projects at many sites. Congress restored the program for fiscal 2004, appropriating $149 million. No action has been taken affecting fiscal 2005. The program has received $5 billion since its start.

"A Decade of HOPE VI" describes the conditions that led to HOPE VI's creation; offers an overview of changes in public housing policy and the program's evolution; discusses HOPE VI's impact on public housing sites, residents, tenant services, and surrounding neighborhoods; and reviews the implications for the future of HOPE VI and public and assisted housing policy.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HOPE VI replaces the worst public housing projects, occupied exclusively by poor families, with redesigned mixed-income housing; provides vouchers so some residents can rent apartments in the private market; and funds management improvements and supportive services (such as job training and day care) to promote self-sufficiency among the mostly African-American and Hispanic residents.

To date, 63,100 apartments have been demolished and another 20,300 units are slated for redevelopment. Approximately 49,000 residents have been relocated from HOPE VI properties. Plans call for 95,100 replacement units, with 48,800 of these receiving deep subsidies for households with very low incomes. The other units will receive limited or no subsidies and will serve families ineligible for public housing, market-rate renters, or even homebuyers.

From Research to Recommendations

The report concludes that HOPE VI has reached its most basic goal by demolishing tens of thousands of severely distressed housing units, many of which were uninhabitable. In many cities, HOPE VI has brought about new, high-quality housing and spurred innovations in design, management, and financing. And for the first time, the federal government has combined, on a meaningful scale, deeply subsidized rental housing with other affordable and market-rate units.

Many former public housing residents have used vouchers to relocate to better housing in safer neighborhoods. Even so, most still live in crime-ridden neighborhoods contending with high poverty rates and extreme racial segregation. Some in the private market are also struggling to pay higher rent and utilities and are dealing with the loss of social ties and support systems.

In addition to recommending HOPE VI's continuation, the paper's authors suggest that HUD or Congress:

  • Extend HOPE VI's innovations in design, management, and financing to the broader public housing inventory;
  • Create an "enhanced" voucher to fund counseling and long-term support leading residents to self-sufficiency;
  • Continue to authorize deeply subsidized housing, especially where rental markets are tight;
  • Require housing authorities to provide adequate counseling and support so residents can make informed choices about housing options and locations;
  • Increase funding to help "hard to house" residents, who have health ailments and other difficulties and often end up in other distressed public housing; and
  • Insist that housing authorities explicitly address—through landlord outreach, resident education, and aggressive enforcement of fair housing laws—housing segregation and discrimination.
"A Decade of HOPE VI: Research Findings and Policy Challenges," by Susan Popkin, Bruce Katz, Mary Cunningham, Karen Brown, Jeremy Gustafson, and Margery Turner, is available at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=411002.

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