Policymakers, researchers, and practitioners seeking to help improve the life chances of low-income children know that families living in neighborhoods mired in concentrated poverty endure overwhelming challenges and consequences to living healthy, stable lives. One strategy that is receiving attention is using dual-generation models that seek to serve adults and children. In particular, policymakers are considering the potential for housing as a platform for delivering comprehensive, wraparound services to meet the deep needs of the most vulnerable families, those who are coping with issues such as trauma, physical debility, and mental illness.
For the past five years, we have been partnering with housing authorities and service providers to test the potential for providing wraparound services to public housing families. The Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration produced strong improvements in adult health, education, and employment for adults. Yet, children and youth, who continued to struggle in school, engage in risky behavior, and have pregnancy and parenting rates far above average, did not share similar benefits.
Building on that effort, the Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) Demonstration is testing strategies that deliberately use housing as a platform to improve the life chances of youth and adults. HOST was launched in 2010 in public and mixed-income housing communities in four cities with the support of the Open Society Foundation’s Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation. The demonstration is testing two-generation service models that aim to address parents’ key barriers to self-sufficiency while simultaneously integrating services and supports for children and youth.
The four housing authorities participating in the HOST Demonstration are diverse and serve very different communities. However, all are facing similar challenges about how to best help their residents take steps to improve their life circumstances. The four HOST partners are:
- Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), implementing HOST in Altgeld Gardens on the city’s far south side,
- Home Forward, the Housing Authority for Portland, Oregon, implementing HOST in the two mixed-income sites New Columbia and Humboldt Gardens,
- DC Housing Authority (DCHA), planning a program for Benning Terrace in southeast Washington, DC, and
- New York Housing Authority (NYCHA), planning a program for the Brownsville community in Brooklyn, NY.
Throughout the evaluation, the Urban Institute will interview families, service providers, and program administrators, as well as analyze administrative program data. As a formative evaluation (tracking the successes and challenges of each HOST site as they develop and refine their models over time), all HOST site evaluations will consist of three key components: 1) an outcome evaluation, 2) a process evaluation, and 3) a detailed cost-analysis.
Designing and evaluating effective place-based models, such as HOST, for families is crucial for improving life chances and ensuring the viability of public and mixed-income communities. The long-term benefits of testing effective two-generation service models have the unique potential to address neighborhood concentrated poverty and influence the life outcomes of vulnerable families and communities.