‘EnVisioning’ the Possible
Todd M. Richardson, Acting General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research.
When you visit HUD’s website, you’ll notice that one of our banner items features EnVision Centers. This is an initiative that “focuses on empowering people to leave HUD-assisted housing through self-sufficiency to become responsible homeowners and renters in the private market. By doing so, HUD will be able to make those resources available to others and help more Americans.”
It's a bold idea and an old one.
Bold because it’s a declaration of the possible. Secretary Carson himself walked a path from poverty to neurosurgeon to cabinet secretary. Because he’s walked this path himself, he believes there is a path to a better life for many of the families we serve, particularly their children.
It’s an old idea because coordinating and improving services for low-income families is current practice in many places and forms. We continually study these approaches and we are always learning lessons from the best practices that we can build upon.
I’ve often had the pleasure of listening to the Secretary tell his personal story. Just last week, as a group of us were meeting to discuss these EnVision Centers, he told us how after his parents got divorced, his mother was forced to move the family to Boston to live with his aunt and cousins to avoid homelessness. It was two to three years of living in a dangerous Boston neighborhood before the Carson family were able to return to Detroit and later to their own home.
With only a third-grade education, the Secretary’s mother observed as she cleaned the homes of other more affluent families, that their children seemed to read more and watch TV less. This observation drove her to reinforce reading to her boys and became the seed for Secretary Carson to excel as a student himself. The rest, they say, is history.
As a world-class pediatric neurosurgeon, Secretary Carson remembers the frustration that came with giving children a second chance at life, only to have them return to homes without much stability. His personal story and his passion to help solve the problem of instability in so many children’s lives became his inspiration for EnVision Centers.
Taking a page from his mother, Secretary Carson is challenging each of us to see ‘the possible’ and consider a new, more holistic approach to supporting self-sufficiency. HUD recently published a notice seeking the public’s comment on the EnVision Center demonstration. Comments are due February 12. The basic components of the demonstration are the following:
- Vision. “Intentional and collective efforts across a diverse set of organizations are needed to implement a holistic approach to foster long-lasting self-sufficiency.”
- Method. “Centralized hubs for supportive services focusing on the following four pillars of: Economic Empowerment, Educational Advancement, Health and Wellness, and Character and Leadership.”
- Partnerships. “Results-driven partnerships with federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profits, faith-based organizations, corporations, public housing authorities (PHAs), tribal designated housing entities (TDHEs) and housing finance agencies.”
The notice is specifically seeking comment on eight items. The Office of Policy Development and Research intends to evaluate this program, and comments on questions 1, 7, and 8 below are of particular interest to us.
- In administering and evaluating the demonstration, how should HUD define ‘‘economic mobility’’?
- How can HUD tailor the Economic Empowerment Pillar of the Demonstration to identify and focus on families and individuals residing in HUD-assisted housing that are able to work, and not those who are elderly or include persons with disabilities?
- How can HUD and identified partners (state and local entities, private sector, philanthropic, non-profit and other entities) best maximize existing programs and efforts across agencies in a coordinated and holistic approach?
- What impediments exist for achieving the four pillars, including institutional, organizational, legal or statutory, and behavioral impediments? Is it necessary to the success of the demonstration that communities link all four pillars, and if not, would it be sufficient for a community to identify in its participation plan the barriers to including a specific pillar? Are there additional pillars that contribute to self-sufficiency and economic mobility that should be made part of the demonstration?
- What incentives and programs have worked in the past to achieve the four pillars?
- What elements and level of detail should HUD require in a community’s participation plan?
- How should HUD define and measure economic mobility over time and space? How should HUD measure quality of life for residents that remain in assisted housing?
- What data sources or data linkage is needed to develop outcome metrics such as, return on investment, involvement of local institutions of higher learning, employment and economic opportunities for Section 3 residents and businesses, and a public process for reviewing outcomes and lessons learned?
I invite you to read our notice and provide your comments before February 12. Together, let’s envision the possible.