Urban Wire Combating the Effects of Concentrated Poverty
Amanda Mireles
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In my last post, I wrote about the damaging effects of concentrated poverty, including drug addiction, arrest, and severe trauma. To combat concentrated poverty, the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) are testing innovative ways to use housing and support services to improve outcomes for low-income families, but getting those services to families can be challenging.

Early last year, in partnership with the University of Memphis, the Urban Institute began assessing current health and human service coordination efforts in Memphis to help HHS effectively deliver services to Memphis residents living in HUD-assisted housing.

With five redeveloped HOPE VI properties and only one remaining traditional public housing development for families (Foote Homes), the geographic distribution of HUD-assisted households in Memphis has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. The city now heavily relies on vouchers. Public housing residents are now dispersed throughout the city, continuing to live in very poor and predominantly African-American neighborhoods. While poverty is still in concentrated areas, Memphis’s population density is sparse for a large city (just over 2,000 people per square mile) and the public transportation system is extremely limited. Service providers in Memphis say that this dispersion has made service provision especially challenging.

Location of Hope VI Households in Memphis


With the growing dispersion of poor and vulnerable populations in Memphis and in other cities, intensive case management and aggressive coordination efforts may be necessary to ensure that families are linked to the programs and services that can help them move out of poverty.

One promising model cities can build on is the innovative and intensive case management strategy demonstrated by the Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) sites in Chicago and Portland. Building on findings from the Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration, HOST is testing ways to use housing as a platform to provide services to vulnerable families.

HOST works with families living in a range of public and mixed-income housing, tailoring services to each family’s needs and coordinating supportive services on a local level. The long-term, personal relationship with a single case manager located in their neighborhood helps residents navigate complicated social services and supportive programming throughout the city. In addition to regular check-ins with residents, case managers communicate directly with service providers to help improve their understanding of the individual’s needs and strengths, improving the quality of care and level of coordination among multiple providers.

Integrating models like HOST into larger federal or city initiatives would greatly benefit families in assisted housing.

Research Areas Social safety net Housing
Tags Federal housing programs and policies Poverty Welfare and safety net programs Federal urban policies Housing subsidies Neighborhoods and youth development
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center