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Inclusive Public Housing: Services for the Hard to House

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Document date: February 19, 2010
Released online: February 23, 2010


While HOPE VI has changed the face of public housing, it has not been a solution for the most vulnerable families. The Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration, an innovative model for serving these residents, provides them with intensive family case management, along with relocation, employment, financial literacy, mental health and substance use supports. This report focuses on one of the major challenges to serving vulnerable families: identifying which clients require the full intensive services. We develop a typology that provides a template for delivering wraparound services to public and assisted housing settings, including vouchers and units integrated into mixed-income developments.

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the Full Report in PDF format.


Twenty years ago, dilapidated, high-crime public housing developments populated by impoverished, female-headed households were a powerful symbol of the failures of U.S. social welfare policy. HOPE VI was a key element of a bold effort to transform these public housing communities and demonstrate that housing programs could produce good results for residents and communities. The program provided grants to housing authorities to replace their most distressed developments—those with high crime rates, serious physical decay, and obsolete structures—with new, mixed-income, mixed-tenure communities. In a departure from earlier efforts to "rehabilitate" public housing, HOPE VI sought to move beyond "bricks and mortar" and provided funding for supportive services for residents to help them move toward self-sufficiency and improve their life circumstances (Cisneros and Engdahl 2009; Popkin, Levy, and Buron 2009).

There is no question that HOPE VI has changed the face of public housing—hundreds of those dilapidated structures have been replaced with attractive new developments, and the program has sparked innovations in financing and management (Popkin et al. 2004; Kingsley 2009). However, the picture for residents appears more mixed. Evidence from the HOPE VI Panel Study, the most comprehensive study of resident outcomes, shows that many former residents have received Housing Choice Vouchers or moved into mixed-income developments, and now live in better housing in neighborhoods that are considerably less poor and distressed and provide safe environments for them and their children. Studies of individual HOPE VI sites show similar results (Popkin, Levy, and Buron 2009). However, despite these generally positive findings about the impact on residents' well-being, there are still real reasons for concern—many advocates point to the low rates of return to the new developments and the loss of hard units of public housing as a critical issue (Crowley 2009).

Of even greater concern, the program has not been a solution for the most vulnerable families—those "hard to house" families with multiple, complex problems that make them ineligible for mixed-income housing or unable to cope with the challenges of negotiating the private market with a Housing Choice Voucher. In many U.S. cities, public housing has served as the housing of last resort for decades, with the poorest and least desirable tenants warehoused in the worst developments. As these developments have been demolished, vulnerable families have often simply been moved from one distressed development to another, and with a concentration of extremely troubled families and a lack of adequate supportive services, these new developments have the potential to become even worse environments than those from where these families started.1

Although bills reauthorizing HOPE VI were introduced in both the House and Senate in 2007, debate over resident relocation and displacement has delayed their passage (Crowley 2009). Congress has authorized the Obama administration's new initiative, "Choice Neighborhoods," that will build on the successes of HOPE VI, but broadens the scope of revitalization efforts beyond public housing to the surrounding community. If this new effort is to be more successful than its predecessor in improving the lives of the vulnerable families that suffered the worst consequences of living in distressed public housing, it must incorporate strategies that effectively address their needs, specifically, by making targeted and intensive supportive services available to help these families succeed in housing (Popkin and Cunningham 2009). None of these solutions are simple, and all will require a long-term commitment to improving the quality of life for these households and ensuring better futures for their children (Popkin 2006).

The Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration provides an innovative model for serving the needs of the most vulnerable public and assisted housing families, those with high rates of physical and mental health problems, low levels of educational attainment, weak attachment to the labor force, and high levels of involvement in public systems (e.g., criminal justice, child welfare). The Demonstration, a partnership of the Urban Institute, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Heartland Human Care Services (HHCS), and Housing Choice Partners, offered enhanced, wraparound supportive services to residents of two of CHA's remaining traditional public housing developments, the Ida B. Wells and Dearborn Homes.2 The project is now in its third year, has achieved impressive engagement rates of nearly 90 percent, and has adapted its model from one that provides place-based services to one that serves residents after relocation in a variety of settings.3

In this report, we provide an overview of the Demonstration and its progress to date, and then focus on one of the major challenges for providers serving vulnerable families: identifying which clients require the full intensive services, and which would benefit from a different approach. The typology we have developed provides a template for delivering the wraparound services associated with supportive housing within public housing and assisted housing settings, including vouchers and units integrated into mixed-income developments.

Listen to Thursday's Child event "The Next Challenge for Public Housing: Serving Its Most Vulnerable Families"

(End of excerpt. The entire Report is available in PDF format.)

Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Housing | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net

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