Skip to main content

Evidence Matters: Choice Neighborhoods - History and Hope

Evidence Matters Banner Image

Winter 2011   


        Choice Neighborhoods: History and HOPE
        Understanding Neighborhood Effects of Concentrated Poverty
        Building Community Capacity Through Effective Planning

Choice Neighborhoods: History and HOPE


      • HOPE VI has been effective at deconcentrating poverty and improving some resident outcomes, particularly for those moving to the private market and to mixed-income developments.
      • Choice Neighborhoods will expand supportive services and educational opportunities for residents, building on the strategies of successful HOPE VI sites.
      • Choice Neighborhoods will promote positive economic spillover by requiring partnerships with neighborhood institutions. Residents from both public housing and the surrounding neighborhood will play an essential role.

Aerial view of Murphy Park in St. Louis, Missouri, a precursor to HOPE VI mixed-finance projects.
McCormack Baron Salazar
Aerial view of Murphy Park in St. Louis, Missouri, a precursor to HOPE VI mixed-finance projects. Credit: McCormack Baron Salazar

Twenty years ago, governments and community organizations tackled the challenge of providing decent, affordable housing to low-income people primarily by focusing their efforts on individual families in need. Due to growing understanding and scholarship about the effects of place on people’s lives, that approach evolved into one that seeks to transform poor, severely distressed, and segregated neighborhoods into resilient and sustainable places that integrate families and neighborhoods into the larger community. The epicenter of this work has been public housing communities, which are among the poorest in America. Since the 1990s, a federal program, HOPE VI, has employed a strategy of improving both individual lives and communities. HOPE VI combines demolition and the physical rebuilding of severely distressed public housing with services aimed at improving the life chances of residents. Under HOPE VI, public housing residents return to their improved community after rebuilding, relocate with assistance to other neighborhoods of their choice, or move to other public housing. Since its inception in 1992, 254 HOPE VI grants totaling more than $6.1 billion have been awarded to 132 local public housing authorities, including 6 new projects announced on June 1, 2010.

Although some communities have been more successful than others at fulfilling the goals of HOPE VI, a number of studies indicate that overall the program has been effective at eradicating concentrations of poverty, improving residents’ quality of life, and driving neighborhood renewal. Building on the lessons learned from the HOPE VI model, the Obama administration has announced a new initiative, Choice Neighborhoods, that will reach beyond public housing redevelopment to transform high-poverty neighborhoods into sustainable communities. Choice Neighborhoods incorporates insights gained from HOPE VI and recognizes the importance of reaching beyond a public housing redevelopment strategy to one of neighborhood transformation. It expands eligibility to other assisted housing and it requires leveraging resources for neighborhood revitalization beyond the public or assisted housing stock. The initiative explicitly requires an approach that considers employment access, education quality, public safety, health, and recreation. To do this, Choice Neighborhoods enlists the institutions of the affected communities, including neighborhood residents, in all phases of planning and implementation.

Expanded supportive services, such as recreation and education, are part of the holistic approach emphasized in Choice Neighborhoods
Expanded supportive services, such as recreation and education, are part of the holistic approach emphasized in Choice Neighborhoods. Credit: McCormack Baron Salazar

Housing Is Just the Beginning of Broader Transformation
One of HOPE VI’s principal accomplishments was to shift the emphasis of housing policy from output (units built and managed) to outcomes — housing quality, safety, resident outcomes, economic opportunity, and the vitality of the surrounding neighborhood. Researchers Turbov and Piper have argued that the main catalyst for this shift was the creation of the mixed financing, mixed-income model, which permitted private and other affordable units and financing of public housing. This approach helped build economically integrated communities consisting of both public housing and market-rate units.1

Choice Neighborhoods expands the HOPE VI strategy of encouraging developers to leverage HUD revitalization funds. By making funding available to a wider range of stakeholders, including nonprofits, private firms, local governments, and public housing authorities, the initiative encourages greater community investment in redevelopment projects and increases available resources.2 Just as important, the program widens the range of activities to include the acquisition of properties to create mixed-income housing in strategic locations. As HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, this feature gives local partners the flexibility they need to deal with the full range of distressed properties that often blight neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.3

HOPE VI and Choice Neighborhoods are both premised on the idea that mixed-income, economically integrated neighborhoods improve the lives of residents and aid the surrounding community. In studying four mixed-income developments, Turbov and Piper found that such projects were instrumental in both revitalizing the market and improving residents’ quality of life. In all four sites, the median household income of neighborhood residents grew significantly faster than elsewhere in the city or region. Likewise, unemployment levels fell, workforce participation rates improved, and residential markets strengthened. As Turbov and Piper explain, “With market rate renters and homebuyers getting a foothold in these renewing neighborhoods, property values and new investments have also soared in these more viable, mixed income communities.”4

Noting these ripple effects, Zielenbach and Voith found that HOPE VI redevelopments are responsible for positive economic spillover to surrounding neighborhoods. Their study of four redeveloped sites in two cities, using changes in residential property values, crime rates, and household incomes as indicators, found mostly positive effects. They observed that the degree of improvement depended on local market conditions and preexisting economic development resources within the community.5 In analyzing changes in property sale prices in neighborhoods surrounding three HOPE VI redevelopments in Baltimore, Castells also concluded that conditions in the neighborhoods before HOPE VI rehabilitation, as well as HOPE VI’s emphasis on private investment and the mixed-income model, affect the magnitude and nature of spillover effects.6

Broadening Support for Residents
According to the latest followup of the HOPE VI Panel Study, a multiyear effort to track living conditions and outcomes for residents in five program sites, 84 percent of families no longer lived at the original HOPE VI sites but had moved, most with relocation assistance, to private-market housing, mixed-income developments, or other traditional public housing sites.7 The study also found that:
Early childhood programs, quality education, and family support promote better life outcomes for children.
Early childhood programs, quality education, and family support promote better life outcomes for children. Credit: McCormack Baron Salazar

      • Respondents who relocated to the private market or mixed-income sites improved the quality of their housing and now lived in neighborhoods with lower unemployment and poverty levels.
      • Those who moved to the private market remained in largely same-race (primarily African American) neighborhoods, as did those who went to other public housing developments.
      • Those who moved to private-market housing or mixed-income housing felt significantly safer and less fearful of crime. As a result these residents allowed themselves the freedom to make changes, such as allowing children to play outside, and enjoyed reduced levels of anxiety and depression.
      • Relocated children benefited from better housing and safer living conditions but also faced new risks, different schools, and the need to make new friends. On measures of behavior problems, children in families who moved to private-market housing showed improvement, whereas those who moved to other public housing did not.
      • Many who moved to private-market housing experienced financial difficulties, primarily with their utility payments.
      • Neither employment nor self sufficiency improved for private market movers or for those remaining in traditional public housing. However, a recent report by Vale and Graves on the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA’s) Plan for Transformation — one of the cities tracked in the Panel Study — notes that several studies have found significant improvements in employment outcomes when tenants left public housing either by using vouchers or moving into mixed-income housing.8
      • The lack of improvement in chronic health problems for HOPE VI participants appeared to be a detriment to getting and keeping jobs, as did inadequate education and childcare.
      • Families with multiple problems were least likely to benefit from HOPE VI and to make positive changes in the absence of appropriate services and support.

These findings speak volumes about the most intractable barriers to fighting the consequences of concentrated poverty. Despite having better and safer neighborhoods, improved mental health, and fewer behavioral problems, many HOPE VI residents remained economically at risk or were in poor health, and many of those who moved to traditional public housing experienced no gains at all.9 New evidence, however, suggests that some of these outcomes have improved in recent years. Between 2005 and 2009, Popkin et al. found that residents from the Chicago site had improved circumstances regardless of their housing assistance type, whereas previously only those who had moved to private housing were living in higher quality housing and experiencing safer neighborhoods.10 Nevertheless, one of HOPE VI’s main challenges has been its inability to address multi-faceted problems in residents’ lives, such as health issues and employment. Because many HOPE VI projects have found resident relocation to be especially challenging, residents relocated under Choice Neighborhoods will have strong protections to preserve their right to return to redeveloped housing.11 The initiative also ensures that families displaced by revitalization will receive support services, mobility counseling, and housing search assistance.12 HOPE VI has been criticized for not ensuring that lease-compliant residents had the right to return and for the reduction in the number of physical units affordable to those earning the lowest incomes.13 In general, public housing authorities had difficulty meeting the inherent challenges of relocating large numbers of households, particularly the many families with multiple problems that made them especially hard to house. Although most agencies provided support services, they were largely illequipped to provide the needed comprehensive case management services.

When asked, the relocated Chicago public housing residents identified the services they needed in addition to relocation. Over one-third named three or more types of needed assistance related to “employment and education; financial issues (paying bills, buying food, rebuilding credit history); and drug/alcohol, domestic violence, or legal issues.”14

Strategies that give residents the option to move to the private market through vouchers, such as Choice Neighborhoods, help deconcentrate poverty.
Strategies that give residents the option to move to the private market through vouchers, such as Choice Neighborhoods, help deconcentrate poverty.

The CHA’s comprehensive relocation support system incorporates lessons learned from residents and their experiences. Partnering with the Chicago Department of Human Services and enlisting communitywide resources, CHA assists relocating families through education, counseling, and followup services as they make housing choices, move, and establish new residences. CHA is now conducting a multiyear research demonstration with the Urban Institute to test an intensive case management approach to serving the hardest-to-house families. This approach involves “dramatically reduced caseloads; family rather than individual-level case management; a strengths-based approach; a transitional jobs program; and long-term follow up (as long as three years).”15 Outcomes from the demonstration are available from the Urban Institute.16

With such experiences in mind, the supportive services pioneered under HOPE VI receive even greater attention in Choice Neighborhoods. To be eligible for funding, Choice Neighborhoods projects must include activities that promote economic self-sufficiency among residents of distressed neighborhoods. Proposed projects must include partnerships with local educators to ensure that quality early childhood programs and primary and secondary public schools are available and accessible to resident children. In addition, projects must incorporate local community planning to ensure access to a continuum of effective community and health services as well as strong family supports to promote better life outcomes for children and youth.

Residents Are Crucial to Comprehensive Community Planning

In their study of redevelopment projects in Atlanta, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, Turbov and Piper concluded:

        As one of the major stakeholders in the new neighborhood, and the group with the biggest changes through the redevelopment
        process, public housing resident concerns and views must be central to the planning and implementation process.17

Choice Neighborhoods emphasizes the importance of involving residents early and meaningfully in a broad-based planning process. The entire range of a community’s assets — developmental, commercial, recreational, physical, and social — is necessary to ensure positive outcomes for families who live in distressed public housing and surrounding neighborhoods.18 Residents, both from public housing and from the wider community, are key to getting this initiative right; their investment in identifying needs, linking with community assets, and revitalizing their neighborhoods is the fulcrum for success.

Looking Backward, Looking Forward
As the nation embarks on a new era in housing policy, it is worth looking back on lessons learned through HOPE VI over the past 18 years: that ensuring healthy, thriving communities requires focusing on more than housing alone, that residents need greater support, and that comprehensive community planning and implementation have the best chance of success when residents and their needs are central to the process and the larger neighborhood is engaged. Choice Neighborhoods seeks partnerships among a wide array of local actors (public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofits, for-profit developers, federal agencies, and private investors) and extends revitalization efforts beyond public and HUD-assisted housing to the surrounding community. As Secretary Donovan emphasizes, with Choice Neighborhoods “we can create the geography of opportunity America needs to succeed in the decades to come.”19

  1. Mindy Turbov and Valerie Piper. 2005. HOPE VI and Mixed-Finance Redevelopments: A Catalyst for Neighborhood Renewal. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, v, 8.
  2. Susan J. Popkin, Bruce Katz, Mary K. Cunningham, Karen Brown, Jeremy Gustafson, and Margery A. Turner. 2004. A Decade of HOPE VI: Research Findings and Policy Changes. Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 14–7.
  3. Shaun Donovan. HUD Secretary’s Testimony Before the House Financial Services Committee Hearing on Choice Neighborhoods Legislation, 17 March 2010.
  4. Turbov and Piper, v, 22.
  5. Sean Zielenbach and Richard Voith. 2010. “HOPE VI and Neighborhood Economic Development: The Importance of Local Market Dynamics,” Cityscape 12, no. 1: 99–131.
  6. Nina Castells. 2010. “HOPE VI Neighborhood Spilllover Effects in Baltimore,” Cityscape 12, no. 1: 65–98.
  7. Susan J. Popkin, Diane K. Levy, and Larry Buron. 2009. “Has HOPE VI Transformed Residents’ Lives? New Evidence From the HOPE VI Panel Study,” Housing Studies 24, no. 4: 486.
  8. Lawrence J. Vale and Erin Graves. 2010. The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation: What Does the Research Show So Far? Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” 72.
  9. Susan J. Popkin. 2010. “A Glass Half Empty? New evidence from the HOPE VI Panel Study,” Housing Policy Debate 20, no. 1: 43–63.
  10. Susan J. Popkin, Diane K. Levy, Larry Buron, Megan Gallagher, and David Price. 2010. The CHA’s Plan for Transformation: How Have Residents Fared? Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 3.
  11. Donovan 2010.
  12. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Choice Neighborhoods FY2010 NOFA Pre-Notice. Accessed 1 December 2010.
  13. Popkin et al. 2004, 50–1.
  14. National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. 2010. Resident Relocation Survey: Phase II and Phase III Third Follow-up Findings and Methodology, 1–4; 135–41.
  15. Popkin 2010.
  16. Urban Institute and Chicago Housing Authority. 2010. Supporting Vulnerable Public Housing Families: An Evaluation of the Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration, Briefs 1–6.
  17. Turbov and Piper, 47.
  18. “Choice Neighborhoods FY 2010 NOFA Pre-Notice.”
  19. Shaun Donovan. “From Despair to HOPE: Two HUD Secretaries on Urban Revitalization and Opportunity.” Presentation at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, 14 July 2009.


Evidence Matters Home              Next Article

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.