Forum on community building and mixed-income housing draws more than 200 attendees - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Forum on community building and mixed-income housing draws more than 200 attendees

On Feb. 2, a panel of one national and four local experts discussed how to coordinate property management, social services and resident engagement to create healthy mixed-income communities.

The fourth edition of the “Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities” forum series, co-sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and MPC, in collaboration with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), brought together a record number of experts and individuals interested in planning, creating, and sustaining mixed-income communities.

Lori Healey, vice chair of the CHA Board of Commissioners and a member of MPC’s Resource Board, moderated a discussion featuring:

  • Gayle Epp, vice president of Abt Associates, project director for Abt's HOPE VI Technical Assistance Contracts. She has assisted housing authorities throughout the country (including Cincinnati; Chester, Penn.; and Milwaukee) in the transformation of dilapidated public housing into mixed-income communities.
  • Steve Porras, vice president of LR Development, who is responsible for the development of the 100-acre, $600 million Roosevelt Square mixed-income community being developed on the former site of the ABLA public housing complex on Chicago's Near West Side.
  • Toby Herr, director of Project Match , which has developed a community-based employment program derived from its experience operating its own direct-service program, first in Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood and now in West Haven, the new mixed-income community created on the former Henry Horner Homes site.
  • Kevin Hardman, a resident of North Town Village, who has been living with his family in this mixed-income community located in the vicinity of the Cabrini-Green site since 2002.
  • And, Meghan Harte, managing director of Resident Services at the CHA, who oversees the Authority's departments of Relocation and Supportive Services, and Community Development and Supports, as well as the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

The panel discussion started with Lori Healey posing the following questions to panelists:

  • Given the often competing priorities facing the new mixed-income sites, how do you create a sense of community by coordinating property management, social services, and community engagement?
  • Based on your work in this area, what are the key lessons you’ve learned and your outstanding questions? For local panelists, where is help needed?

(Left to right) Gayle Epp, Steve Porras, Toby Herr, Kevin Hardman and Meghan Harte

According to Epp, “Community building does matter,” both for the individuals living in mixed-income housing and for the surrounding neighborhood. Quoting Prudence Brown and Kitty Barnes of the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, Epp stated: “Relationships among neighbors can serve two important functions.  First, they can provide social support to the individual and family.  Second, they can contribute to the community’s store of social capital, networks of social ties that link people to one another and help a community function effectively.”

Epp outlined a number of benefits to coordinating property management, social services, and resident engagement strategies in mixed-income housing:

  • Strong community ties lead to increased social control, legitimating both written and unwritten norms of behavior.
  • The responsibility for managing relationships between residents is shared by individuals, the collective resident body (social norms), and property management.
  • Effective service delivery that enhances family stability and links residents to neighborhood resources promotes stability of households.
  • Minimizing turnover of residents at all income levels not only impacts the ‘bottom line,’ but also stabilizes the ‘collective community.’

Epp looked back to King’s Lynne, an early mixed-income housing community developed in Massachusetts between 1977 and 1979, to extract some applicable lessons from history. Though somewhat effective, the combination of property management and social services at that site was more focused on calming down crises and less focused on outreach and in-depth family supports.

 The lesson learned was that the primary objectives of service programs on and off-site should be:

  • Information and referral to appropriate community resources.
  • Activities that promote a sense of community and the development of common concerns across income groups.

The experience to date, said Epp, distinguishes three models of management and services coordination:

  1. Services as a ‘management tool’ is a model that is reactive to tenancy problems and seeks to keep residents in unit without addressing root cause of family problems.
  2. Services in ‘advocacy role’ is a useful model when residents do not trust management but can be a more adversarial model, diverts energy from services, and may make residents become dependent on others to advocate for their needs.
  3. Services and management in ‘partnership’ is a collaborative model looking more comprehensively at resident needs, but which makes it difficult to clarify specific roles of manager and service provider.

The main challenges of today’s mixed-income communities are, explained Epp:

  • Fostering informal social ties and networking among residents.
  • The “governance issue,” or how to create resident organizations that are functional and representative of renters and owners at all income ranges.
  • Managing the many expectations of residents, developers, property managers, and the community at large.

Some of Epp’s recommendations include:

  • Being clear to public housing residents – well in advance of their move back to the new community – what the admission and continued occupancy requirements are.
  • Not hiding the mixed-income nature of the community, but not overplaying it either, when marketing to market-rate residents.
  • Deliberately planning for the creation of a resident organization before occupancy.
  • Focusing explicitly on community building and developing strong social norms.
  • Acknowledging that ‘communities’ evolve over time, and that the roles of property manager, service connector, and resident organization will change.
  • Involving partners such as MPC that can play a role in convening forums for property managers, service connectors/providers, and resident organizations.

Porras, of LR Development, began his presentation acknowledging developers and property managers do not have all the answers to the question of “how to create a healthy, sustainable mixed-income community?” and their work is always in progress through a continuous checking of assumptions against reality.

Porras described the community-building model that his company has set in place for Roosevelt Square, a neighborhood being redeveloped on the former site of the ABLA Homes. The area is located in the vicinity of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, spanning from Cabrini Street on the north to 14th Street on the south; and from Loomis Street on the east to Racine Avenue on the west.

At Roosevelt Square, LR Development is partnering with Heartland Alliance and Westside 2000 to offer services to residents. Complementarily, LR and its development partners, Quest Development Group LLC and Heartland Housing, Inc., will contribute 10 percent of their developer fees, approximately $4 million to fund Roosevelt Square Community Partners and its initiatives to ensure the community’s long-term success.

Some of the services specifically designed for public housing residents living in Roosevelt Square will include:

  • case management;
  • a transitional jobs program to serve residents who are unemployed or with minimal employment histories;
  • direct placement employment;
  • construction training and placement;
  • a minority vendors and contractors program providing assistance to small, local minority-owned and woman-owned businesses; and
  • a homeownership program that will provide down payment or closing costs assistance to public housing residents interested in purchasing at Roosevelt Square.

Through Roosevelt Square Community Partners, after-school, wealth creation, and education programs will be offered to the entire community of residents.

There have been many challenges in the short, but intense, history of Roosevelt Square. Porras highlighted the reintegration of the neighborhood into the larger community, both physically and socially, as one of those challenges. Other problems that needed to be solved were related to political turf issues, and the difficulty of designing comprehensive self-sufficiency strategies for a very low-income population.  Although the developer has overcome most of the obstacles and started construction on Roosevelt Square in late 2004, remaining concerns include development, financing, and occupancy timelines (which are tied to each other and require careful coordination and timely execution); the creation and enforcement of effective admission and occupancy guidelines; and the guarantee of enough funding to complete the different phases of the 2,441-unit development.

More than 200 attendees listen as Lori Healey introduces the panelists.

Herr, director of Project Match, opened her presentation by pointing out the many meanings of the word “community,” and proposing an alternative model of service provision to mixed-income housing residents. Her formula’s goal is not to promote community life in an abstract way, but to ensure that property managers and residents of mixed-income housing are committed to the same goals. That requires, according to Herr, a combination of well-maintained units, activities generated by residents’ concerns and interests, and lifestyle amenities.

Project Match is implementing an intervention program for residents at Westhaven Park, the new mixed-income community created on the former Henry Horner Homes CHA site, on Chicago’s Near West Side. The group is partnering with Interstate Realty Management Corporation, Near West Side CDC, and TASC to launch this initiative, funded by the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The CHA, the Horner Local Advisory Council, and the Horner Residents Council are advisory partners.

The target populations are both public housing residents and the community at large. As many as 150 public housing residents at Westhaven will have the opportunity to join “Pathways to Rewards,” a program that recompenses the steps that residents take towards improving their work status, education and skills, role in the community, and tenant standing. Rewards include free Internet and cable service, utility bill payments, gift certificates, and more. “Pathways to Rewards” was modeled after successful business practices such as Weight Watchers ® (from which “Pathways” took the system of points and support groups elements) and airlines Frequent Flyers programs (with their logic of rewards to customers). Children can also participate in the program and have a different set of activities to fulfill in order to earn rewards such as books, toys, and games. Winners will be recognized at bimonthly community events.
Along with “Pathways to Rewards,” Project Match is recommending opening a business center and exercise rooms, establishing a tenant-organized advisory committee, and organizing lectures, classes, and clubs. These amenities and activities would be available for all Westhaven Park residents.

Hardman, a neighbor of the North Town Village mixed-income community (located in the vicinity of the CHA Cabrini-Green site), offered the resident perspective on community building. When Hardman moved into the community in 2002, he felt “a mix of excitement and fear.” Now, three years later, he thinks “the community has come around,” and is diverse and healthy.
“Of course, in a 261-household community you are going to have competing priorities, but we –the residents— tried to focus on our common goals and acknowledged that creating a community takes some time.” As people met each other and become familiar with the neighborhood, “the original tensions have melted away.”

Finally, Harte, managing director of Resident Services at the CHA, shared her experience as an asset manager. According to Harte, mixed-income communities are no different from any other communities: they need to create and respect their own written and unwritten rules in order to prosper. “Struggles at community meetings, arguments about landscaping and decoration, and complaints about children playing outside happen in every neighborhood, regardless of the income of the residents. It is all about building trust and about people learning to live together,” she noted.

The first stages in the life of a mixed-income community are the more delicate, noted Harte. During those initial years, some people won’t adapt to the new surroundings and will move out, while others will build community by creating relationships with their neighbors. After those first years, community meetings, for example, will be less and less contentious.  

Meghan Harte of the CHA shares her ideas on community-building with panelists and the audience.

As a key implementer of the CHA Plan for Transformation, Harte has had to find the right combination of natural adjustments and intentional interventions needed to build community among residents. “CHA is not an expert on this,” she said. “That is why we have an array of partners with experience helping us through the process of managing properties, delivering social services, and guaranteeing community participation.” Currently, community-based organizations offer services to public housing residents before, during, and after their relocation process from their former housing complexes to their new homes. A key piece of this process is the Service Connector , a program implemented by the Chicago Dept. of Human Services.

Said Harte, the CHA believes a successful property management plus service delivery strategy must approach community building by “knocking at people’s doors not to tell them what they did wrong, but to let them know what opportunities exist out there to improve their situations.” It is also important, she continued, to establish systems of conflict resolution and give people choices. She ended by acknowledging that “In the five years that the Plan for Transformation has been in place, CHA has learned from the bumps on the road and is willing to apply every lesson learned to create successful mixed-income communities.”

A "Questions and Answers" section closed the forum. Among the inquiries from attendants, one common question was “How to prepare residents to meet the site-specific requirements in place in mixed-income communities?” In this regard, Toby Herr recommended to use “small steps” when defining the goals that residents must meet in order be admitted and/or continue occupancy in mixed-income communities. Gayle Epp stated that “the sooner the preparation starts, the better” and recommended holding a “welcome session” for future residents 9 months or so in advance of the first units coming online, in order to remind them about the site-specific requirements.

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