The Future of Public Housing: A National Perspective on Creating Successful Mixed-Income Communities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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The Future of Public Housing: A National Perspective on Creating Successful Mixed-Income Communities

On October 28, 2003, the Metropolitan Planning Council hosted a roundtable to learn from national and local experts about the status, challenges, and prospects of mixed-income communities nationwide as they relate to the Chicago Housing Authority's Plan for Transformation

As the ten-year Chicago Housing Authority Plan (CHA) for Transformation advances toward its halfway point, plans are gradually transitioning into groundbreakings, new construction, and even complete new housing opportunities.

A particular emphasis in many of these sites is to foster mixed-income communities that appeal to families from a variety of economic backgrounds. The vision is for homes affordable to former public housing residents alongside moderately priced and market-rate housing. As of September of 2003, nearly 1,400 homes priced for former CHA residents or other eligible households had been built or rehabbed in Chicago within mixed-income communities. Of the 25,000 new or rehabbed apartments the CHA has committed to as part of the Plan for Transformation, approximately 6,000 are expected to be within mixed-income environments. The remainder will be a combination of senior housing, scattered site apartments, and traditional rehabbed housing .

Redevelopment of dilapidated public housing within mixed-income communities has taken place in the United States since the 1990s, spurred to a great extent by federal grants available through the HOPE VI program . To capture lessons learned both nationwide and here in Chicago, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) organized a roundtable on the Future of Public Housing: A National Perspective on Creating Successful Mixed-Income Communities on Oct. 28, 2003. The event, presented and moderated by MPC Housing Committee Co-Chair Bernard Loyd, featured a panel of national and local experts who provided “state of the art” information about promoting the appeal and viability of mixed-income communities.

Despite the scarcity of studies on mixed-income communities, Paul Brophy, principal of Brophy and Reilly — a Maryland-based consulting practice specializing in housing and community development — outlined findings from throughout the country.

“Mixed-income housing in distressed areas requires a great deal on the part of the developer and other partners to create a product and an environment capable of attracting market renters and buyers,” Brophy said. In order to make these developments work, developers need to be deliberate about making the homes successful within the community beyond just financial viability. Careful marketing of the property and its surrounding neighborhood, along with quality, well-staffed property management and services, help achieve the main goal of creating a healthy and viable community of residents from different walks of life. One of the best ways to promote interaction between residents, suggested Brophy, is through celebrations, and also by encouraging children living in the community to join sports and art programs where they can intermix.

Sudhir Venkatesh, a Columbia University professor who focuses research on public housing residents, pointed out that strong interaction and community work might not be enough to break down barriers among families living in mixed-income developments. Like Brophy, he stressed the need to provide quality property management along with supportive services to those residents that need them, both through on-site providers and off-site “anchor” agencies operating in the neighborhood. Knowing in advance new residents' backgrounds, needs, and expectations is key to success. An important challenge in order to guarantee the continuity of social services provision and avoid turnover is securing an ongoing stream of flexible funds that extends beyond the first year after residents move into their new homes.

Venkatesh identifies three stages in public housing residents’ moving-in timeline:

  1. First eight months after residents move in to their new homes: stabilization period. During this time their immediate problems should be addressed. Strategies to help people adapt to the private market must be in place.
  2. Eight to18 moths after moving in. This stage requires aggressive property management and help with job search and training for residents. 
  3. Eighteen to 36 months: Working with anchor services in the area is needed in order to guarantee a safe and appealing community both within the development and around it.

Mixed-income developments can positively affect the stability and good health of the neighboring community. Mindy Turbov, principal of Turbov Associates, presented a summary of four cases that she recently analyzed as part of an extensive study on this topic sponsored by the Brookings Institution’s Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. “Public housing has been usually seen as a cancer the eats the neighborhoods around it,” Turbov said at the beginning of her presentation, “but well planned, built, and managed mixed-income communities can heal these neighborhoods, knitting them back together.”

After studying mixed-income communities in Atlanta; Louisville, Ky.; Pittsburgh; and Saint Louis, Mo.; Turbov discovered four factors that have made developments succeed:

  1. They included a substantial number of rental units as a catalyst to jump-start the development.
  2. They were part of a larger master plan that consciously included surrounding areas. 
  3. A serious market assessment and a plan to change adverse real-estate-market-related conditions was developed.
  4. Revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood was done simultaneously.

In the four cases analyzed, mixed-income housing had a very positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood, leading to increased private investment rates and family incomes, and decreased unemployment, poverty, and crime rates. In Atlanta’s Centennial Place neighborhood, for instance, a mixed-income revitalization strategy stimulated investment of around $350 million in the surrounding area, in the form of new condominiums, apartments, offices, hotels, and mixed-used developments. Crime rates decreased 93 percent between 1993 and 2002, and Centennial Place Elementary School has the second highest test scores in the Atlanta school system while 65% of their students are covered by the free lunch program.

Peter Holsten, president of Holsten Real Estate Group and a pioneer in the creation of mixed-income communities in Chicago, shared his experience as the developer of North Town Village, a development located off the Cabrini-Green site, on the Near North Side. The community opened in June 2001 and has received awards and extensive coverage in the local and national media. It includes 145 for-sale and 116 rental homes — town homes, duplexes, coach houses, and mid-rise buildings.

A number of services have been developed for residents living in North Town Village. Holsten prepares its own needs assessment for families living in public housing and helps them develop 5-year plans. A Resident Transition Program coordinated with the CHA’s Good Neighbor initiative helps public housing residents settle and succeed in their new community by helping them find good jobs and schools for their children. Community building activities are part of the integration strategy, including quarterly parties where new families moving into the community meet current residents. Renters are allowed to attend condominium association meetings, and a Shared Area Committee composed of three owners and two renters has been created to facilitate governance of the community.

The lessons and ideas shared by the speakers were well received by an audience of more than 120 advocates, public officials, developers, civic and business leaders, and other citizens. During 2004, MPC will organize additional public events on the realities and future of mixed-income communities in Chicago. Stay tuned for more information by checking back to MPC's Web site.

Resources on Mixed-Income Communities

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