Mixed-Income Public Housing Improves Urban America

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Editor: Roman Espejo
Date: 2011
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: Opposing Viewpoints
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 1,765 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1410L

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Charles Woodyard, written testimony of Charles Woodyard, president/CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority, submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee for Housing and Community Opportunity, June 21, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

"Mixed-income communities [are successful] as a strategy to deconcentrate poverty, create more culturally diverse communities, positively impact school equity, and create a more financially viable public housing."

In the following viewpoint, Charles Woodyard asserts that the federal Housing for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) program, an initiative of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, helps to eliminate urban blight and to disperse concentrations of poverty by replacing distressed public housing with mixed-income units. Woodyard attests that the program in Charlotte, North Carolina, transformed the site of a crime-ridden housing complex and surrounding areas into a diverse, thriving neighborhood with a wide range of incomes. For low-income families, HOPE VI served as a stepping stone away from government assistance to self-sufficiency and a better quality of life, he contends. Woodyard is the president and chief executive officer of the Charlotte Housing Authority.

As you read, consider the following questions:

  1. What does HOPE VI attempt to do for America's economy and citizens, according to the author?
  2. In Woodyard's view, how does the mixed-income approach to building communities benefit public housing residents?
  3. How does the Charlotte Housing Authority manage gentrification, as stated by the author?

The HOPE VI [Housing for People Everywhere] program's original mandate of eliminating distressed units of public housing across the nation and replacing them with mixed-income communities represents a formidable task. Add to that task the additional goal of deconcentrating poverty plus eliminating urban blight and you have a complicated public policy goal that impacts real people and the health of America's cities. To the extent that cities are a collection of commercial economies that thrive or suffer as a result of market forces and government intervention, HOPE VI can be seen as an attempt to grow and stabilize America's economy. To the extent that cities are a collection of diverse people, diverse cultures and children who are the foundation of the country's future, HOPE VI can be seen as an attempt to raise the minimum standard of living for more Americans.

Whatever your take on HOPE VI as a public policy might be, it is important to understand that public policy must also have a measurable impact on the lives of Americans and the health of American communities.

With this in mind, it would be helpful to understand the nature of Charlotte, NC and how HOPE VI is used as a growth strategy, a community building strategy and a way to impact the self-sufficiency efforts of very low-income families. Charlotte is a growing Sunbelt city of over 650,000. Its real estate market is among the most vibrant in the country, unemployment is low, home prices are rising rapidly despite the national trend, but income increases are not quite keeping pace with housing and energy cost increases. The result is that over 11,000 very low-income families in the community either live in substandard housing or pay more than 30% of their income for housing. Charlotte is suffering from growing pains.

The city also recognizes that housing development patterns are at the heart of school equity issues, economic development, transportation, and race relations. In order for Charlotte to grow while avoiding some of the more common growth pitfalls, the city has adopted smart growth policies that include light rail and transit oriented development, incentives for infill development, and is currently considering land use strategies that disperse affordable housing around the city.

A major catalyst for the idea of a new way of providing affordable housing as a growth strategy was the city's first HOPE VI grant. Earle Village was a 400-plus unit public housing complex in the heart of uptown Charlotte. This low-income housing community dominated an entire quadrant of the uptown area and was the major source of crime, the perception of crime, the lack of housing development in uptown and the suppression of property values in the uptown. The award of the city's first HOPE VI grant meant that mixed-income housing and mixed-use development would be the norm for infill development. The HOPE VI site was transformed into a diverse community with different housing types, incomes nearly along the entire spectrum of incomes. The impact was not limited to the Earle Village site. The onslaught of economic development in Charlotte's center city can be traced directly to the HOPE VI grant. The next logical question then, is what happened to all those families in Earle Village and other families in HOPE VI communities?

HOPE VI in Charlotte

The Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA) has received four HOPE VI revitalization grants and one demolition grant for a total of over $122 million. The Federal Government's HOPE VI investment has leveraged and/or stimulated over $750 million in private investment plus over $35 million in local government funds. As impressive as those dollar figures are, they are almost incidental to the real story behind the numbers.

The five communities directly impacted by the HOPE VI grants totaled 1531 units of severely distressed, crime ridden apartment homes that were breeding grounds for social disorder. The HOPE VI grants eliminated those distressed communities and replaced them with thirteen mixed-income family communities, five public housing senior communities, and 474 Section 8 vouchers. These new communities contain 1366 public housing units, 974 moderate income affordable rental units, 978 market rate rental units, and 85 homeownership units developed on the original HOPE VI sites for former public housing families. All totaled, 1531 housing opportunities for 30% AMI [area median income] and below families were transformed into 1729 housing opportunities in mixed-income environments or Section 8 vouchers in neighborhoods of their choice.

Additionally, the physical environments of the newly constructed apartment units and homeownership units were a vast improvement over the dilapidated public housing communities they replaced. Rental units for public housing residents in mixed-income communities are indistinguishable from market rate units and have all of the amenities associated with an "A" property. The mixed-income approach to community building has allowed public housing residents to mitigate the stigma of public housing, model their behavior after their mainstream neighbors, and move into economic self-sufficiency at a rate that would not have happened without the financial stimulus provided by the HOPE VI grants. Furthermore, the Charlotte Housing Authority has utilized mixed-income communities as a strategy to deconcentrate poverty, create more culturally diverse communities, positively impact school equity, and create a more financially viable public housing stock.

Growing Pains

According to our own local research, the affordable housing problem in Charlotte impacts low-income families more than any other income level. The need for 11,000 additional units in Charlotte for families earning at or below 30% AMI (Area Median Income) is the only income level in the city that demonstrates a shortage of units. In a city with this demography, one for one replacement is essential public policy. Charlotte's Housing Authority is subjected to tremendous local pressure to commit to one for one replacement when revitalizing a community under HOPE VI. As a part of our latest HOPE VI initiative, we are on track to replace more units for 30% AMI families than originally existed at the public housing site.

Another determining factor in one for one replacement is the careful management of gentrification. By its very nature, the HOPE VI program promotes gentrification. However, managing gentrification so that it maintains the delicate balance between stabilization and diversity versus the complete displacement of low-income families requires careful attention. In Charlotte, residents are given a priority for moving back into the revitalized community. However, we do require that residents commit to pursuing genuine efforts at attaining self-sufficiency.

Relocated Residents

The experience for relocated residents in surrounding neighborhoods utilizing housing choice vouchers has been positive. The majority of residents requesting relocation with housing choice vouchers want the opportunity to select the future neighborhood in which they will reside. The flexibility of the voucher program has aided in deconcentrating low income residents from a concentrated area and improved the quality of housing. The resident utilization of housing choice vouchers for relocation from the first HOPE VI in 1992 at Earle Village was 53 vouchers compared to the last HOPE VI in 2004 at Piedmont Courts which was 158 vouchers. This represents a 198% increase for the use of Section 8 vouchers and proves that housing vouchers are the preferred relocation method for residents. The majority of CHA families have a seamless transition to surrounding neighborhoods....

Resident Screening

The Charlotte Housing Authority has committed itself to the goal of assisting its residents in their pursuit of self-sufficiency. In the early 1990's, CHA began its "Campaign for Self-Sufficiency." As a part of the overall campaign, CHA implemented a number of programs designed to aid residents in ending welfare dependency and poor quality of life. These programs include the Family Self-Sufficiency program, the Bootstrap/Homeless Program, the Family Unification Program, the Gateway to Family Self-Sufficiency, the Stepping Stone program, and the HOPE VI program. Under the auspices of four HOPE VI grants received by CHA for Earle Village, Dalton Village, Fairview Homes and Piedmont Courts, residents of these communities are being offered the benefits of these programs with the additional support of funding to provide tuition assistance, childcare subsidies, and other funding as needed to support the goal of self-sufficiency.

The Campaign for Family Self-Sufficiency ensures that public housing is a vehicle for families to obtain the skills and training necessary for entry into the private marketplace and a "stepping stone" to get off public assistance and out of public housing. The Campaign is part of the Transitional Families Program, started by CHA to promote self-sufficiency and economic independence among public housing residents. Authorized by the 1987 Housing Act as the Transitional Families Demonstration Program, the Transitional Families Program (TFP) has been established as an overall umbrella organization to promote self-sufficiency for all programs operated by CHA. Families who participate in a self-sufficiency program are expected to move out of public housing and into the private market within five (5) years....

Tremendous Potential

To say that HOPE VI has been a success in Charlotte would be an understatement by many measures. However, other cities have duplicated this success and many more could with the appropriate changes to the program....

HOPE VI has tremendous potential to continue changing the American landscape. The model for public housing must change and we must all adopt new paradigms for solving this country's affordable housing crisis. Mixed-income housing is a proven winner.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010399241