The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
February 12, 2016

How can services for families with children in Choice Neighborhoods be improved?

February 12, 2016

In November 2015, we released a report examining the first five grantees in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle taking part in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (Choice).This post is the second in a two-part series examining the well-being of residents living in these five Choice Neighborhoods. The first post on the health of residents is available here. Background on Choice and our recently released report is available here.

Families living in Choice Neighborhoods often do so because it is the best housing they can afford. As a result, Choice Neighborhoods boast higher than average poverty rates. In four out of five Choice Neighborhoods, between 70 and 80 percent of families with children are single-parent households. Parents and guardians have lower levels of education than average: 20 to 43 percent have less than a high school education. Compounding matters, many families face significant physical and mental health challenges, with 14 to 20 percent reporting that their child has had a limiting chronic condition.

Evidence from Urban’s series of studies tracking the outcomes of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program, Choice’s predecessor, shows that the challenges residents face must be addressed as they will only be compounded by future relocation. While the primary goal of Choice is to improve housing and the majority of funding will be allocated to rehabilitation, the needs of families must still be addressed by providing them with supportive services throughout the relocation process.

Early success with services for families

At the same time that hundreds of public and assisted housing units are being built or rehabbed, residents are being invited to participate in a wide range of programs to increase their self-sufficiency and quality of life. These services, which include home-based infant and parenting services, full-day early childhood education, and programs addressing educational and health challenges for both parents and children, are designed to improve resident health, provide early childhood support, and improve access to education, employment, and workforce development programs.

Encouragingly, parents and guardians are making use of these services for both themselves and their children. Across the five target developments, 50 to 79 percent of families used at least one service in the past 12 months.

Although initial rates of service usage are promising, it is too early to understand if enough services are available and determine if families most in need are seeking out services and support.

Use of Services by Choice Neighborhood Families with Children

A call for case management

What is clear from the data is the need for an intensive case management program. Although case managers are making referrals for families in these five sites, case management did not always precede relocation and residents were not required to participate. Our research on HOPE VI showed the need for redevelopment and relocation efforts to consider the significant needs of residents during the process.

While HOPE VI provided many residents with an improved living environment, relocating residents to better neighborhoods did not help residents in their struggles to find work, address health issues that are a barrier to employment, or provide enough support for “hard-to-house” families who deal with multiple issues such as poor physical and mental health, weak employment histories, large numbers of young children, or criminal records. Case management provided by Choice grantees should address the largest challenges facing families by coordinating job training, workforce development, and access to physical and mental health assistance, while focusing on the needs of the whole family by including two-generation programs to help both parents and children. 

Implementing intensive case management programs will not be easy. While some early efforts are already underway, Choice grantees will need to partner with local service providers and secure additional funds from other federal, state, and local agencies to expand programs and services. Funding for services is only a small percentage of HUD’s Choice grant and securing more money is one of the biggest barriers grantees have to developing intensive case management programs.

One model for intensive case management efforts is the Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) program. Using housing as a platform, HOST goes into low-income neighborhoods to work with families to address key barriers to self-sufficiency. As of 2015, HOST operates in four sites and its model can serve as a guide. The program provides families in public and mixed-income housing with targeted two-generation services that equip families to face such barriers as poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, low levels of literacy and educational attainment, and trouble finding employment.

By designing programs similar to those offered by HOST sites, Choice Neighborhoods can help reverse trends in income, education, and health and take steps towards lifting families and children out of poverty.

Johnny Anderson,12, plays basketball in the Iberville housing projects in New Orleans, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP

SHARE THIS PAGE

As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.