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An Early Look at Choice Neighborhoods Sites

Front Cover of the interim report, Developing Choice Neighborhoods: An Early Look at Implementation in Five Sites - Interim Report
The Choice Neighborhoods initiative was introduced in 2009 as a successor to the HOPE VI program, a vital part of HUD’s efforts to revitalize severely distressed public housing in the nation. Choice Neighborhoods builds on the successes of HOPE VI and addresses its shortcomings. It requires a more comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization that extends beyond housing transformation to include positive outcomes in education, safety, and health, as well as access to economic opportunities, high-quality schools, public transportation, and community services for residents. Whereas HOPE VI grants were available only to public housing agencies redeveloping troubled public housing properties, Choice Neighborhoods expands funding eligibility to a wider range of applicants and activities. Local governments, public housing agencies, nonprofits, and for-profit developers (as long they partner with a public entity) can apply for funds to revitalize HUD-assisted rental housing and surrounding neighborhoods, in addition to distressed public housing.

In August 2010, HUD published the first Choice Neighborhoods notice of funding availability for planning and implementation grants. Of the 42 first-round applicants for implementation grants, 6 advanced to the second round. In August 2011, five of the six second-round applicants received grants totaling $122 million to redevelop sites in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle. HUD recently released an interim report that provides an early look at these first five implementation sites. The report, prepared by researchers at the Urban Institute and MDRC, is part of a first phase of evaluation intended to study the program application and grant processes and establish a baseline for long-term assessment of Choice Neighborhoods.

Baseline Conditions of Implementation Sites

The implementation sites evaluated in the interim report include Boston’s Woodledge/Morrant Bay apartments and the Quincy Corridor neighborhood, Chicago’s Grove Parc Plaza development and Woodlawn neighborhood, New Orleans’ Iberville Housing Development and surrounding neighborhood, San Francisco’s Alice Griffith Homes and Eastern Bayview area, and Seattle’s Yesler Terrace development and Yesler neighborhood. Lead grantees (or lead applicants) for these sites include a city department in Boston, a national nonprofit in Chicago, public housing agencies (PHAs) in New Orleans and Seattle, and a for-profit developer in San Francisco. Researchers note that all grantee teams have complex structures with multiple partners except in Seattle, where the Seattle Housing Authority holds most of the responsibility. For each of the sites, the report describes baseline conditions of the target development and neighborhood, grantee capacity and redevelopment plans, early progress, and implementation challenges.

At the time of application, the five target developments all served very low-income households and needed substantial rehabilitation or replacement, but they varied in property age, size, construction style, site density, and energy efficiency. Built in the 1920s, Woodledge/Morrant Bay in Boston is both the oldest of the 5 housing developments and the smallest, with only 129 units. At 821 units, Iberville, constructed in 1940, is the largest of the 5 developments. Nearly all of Grove Parc and Iberville residents are black and only four percent of Yesler Terrace tenants speak English as their primary language. Children make up about 40 percent of the population in all 5 developments.

The neighborhoods surrounding the target developments meet the program’s eligibility criteria with high violent crime and vacancy rates, high unemployment, and at least one low-performing school. The 2006–2010 poverty rate exceeds 25 percent in all 5 neighborhoods, which are located in large metropolitan areas and are home to a high proportion of minority residents. The target neighborhoods contain a mix of housing types, except for Yesler, where 80 percent of residential buildings contain 5 or more units, and Eastern Bayview, where single-family homes constitute more than half of the housing stock. Researchers note that the public and subsidized housing units in these neighborhoods are an important source of affordable rental housing for residents.

Early Observations

Each of the implementation grant applicants submitted transformation plans detailing their strategies to achieve core goals of Choice Neighborhoods for housing, people, and neighborhood. In a cross-site analysis, researchers found variations in the goals and approaches of the grantees’ transformation plans. Some of these variations are a result of differences in target development and neighborhood sizes, existing community-based organizations and partnerships, the presence of anchor institutions, and levels of other public and private investment in and around the target neighborhoods. These variations, researchers note, offer an opportunity to assess how Choice Neighborhoods performs in different scenarios. Other initial observations include the following:

  • At all five sites, owners of target housing developments had already begun transformation work before applying for Choice Neighborhoods grants. Researchers note that although redevelopment of these sites may have occurred without further intervention, Choice Neighborhoods helped expedite the process. At the neighborhood level, the grants are a valuable addition to ongoing revitalization efforts.
  • Grantee team members, community partners, and other stakeholders are actively engaged in redevelopment work at all five sites, “offering promise for success in Choice implementation.” Researchers observed that most sites have made good progress toward implementing early childhood and other education initiatives.
  • Unlike HOPE VI, Choice Neighborhoods requires one-for-one replacement of all housing units that are demolished. All grantees anticipate meeting this requirement and aim to retain the original tenants of target developments. Four of the five grantee housing plans also call for an increase in the total number of housing units. As a result, researchers state, population densities will increase in these neighborhoods.
  • Grantees with PHAs as lead applicants or coapplicants (Seattle, New Orleans, and San Francisco) have the “clearest plans” for the people component of their transformation plans because they had already developed working relationships with different service providers through the HOPE VI program. Two of the PHAs partnered with Urban Strategies, a leading national nonprofit with extensive experience in case management and service provision, to implement people-related strategies.

Upcoming Research

The report’s authors note that Choice Neighborhoods does not directly provide the level of assistance needed to change neighborhood trajectories and achieve its ambitious goal of transforming high-poverty neighborhoods into mixed-income neighborhoods of opportunity. Instead, the program is designed to catalyze other investments and local actions to achieve change. Choice Neighborhoods grantees were selected in part because of the redevelopment efforts and investments already underway in their neighborhoods. Upcoming research will focus on the extent to which Choice Neighborhoods coordinates with and boosts existing efforts while leveraging additional investment. Researchers will also follow and report on levels of engagement among team members and community partners in the five sites. A baseline report will be released in 2014 with these findings and updated information on site conditions and implementation progress using information gathered through resident surveys, neighborhood meetings, and stakeholder interviews.