PRRAC Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Home About PRRAC Current Projects Publications Newsletters Resources Contact Us Support PRRAC Join Our Email List

"Public Housing Redevelopment: Balancing the Right to Return and the Right to Expanded Housing Opportunities"

January/February 2008 issue of Poverty & Race

Since its inception in 1993, the federal HOPE VI public housing redevelopment program has received ample criticism both from housing preservation advocates and civil rights organizations. The original promise of the program—to replace severely distressed public housing with vibrant mixed-income communities and wider housing opportunities for former residents—has often been obscured by frustration: Families who want to return to their former, now revitalized community have sometimes been turned away, and in some sites, the relocation process has not opened up new housing opportunities for former residents, but has simply resegregated them in other high-poverty neighborhoods. And while the program has dramatically improved conditions in many former distressed public housing sites, it has also resulted in a net loss of public housing units in the areas where it has been implemented. (A number of these points were also raised in the 2002 report, “False HOPE: A Critical Assessment of the HOPE VI Public Housing Redevelopment Program,” prepared by the National Housing Law Project, PRRAC, the Center for Community Change and other groups).

Congress is now in the process of reauthorizing the HOPE VI program, which, if passed, would be the only new public housing program on the horizon (the larger Section 8 voucher program does not fund traditional public housing development). The major positive change in emphasis in the pending reauthorization bill is a serious consideration of one-for-one replacement of public housing units in the regions where the program is implemented. However, civil rights advocates have expressed concern that the bill steers too much of this replacement housing back to the same site and neighborhood of the originally segregated developments, and does not adequately recognize the desire of many residents to move to different neighborhoods and schools. In trying to balance these fair housing concerns with the legitimate interests of tenants who wish to return to a revitalized HOPE VI community, we have helped to develop the following statement of principles, which has been endorsed by PRRAC, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Inclusive Communities Project, the Maryland ACLU and (as of publication time) 16 additional state and local fair housing groups. For a full list, go to
— Philip Tegeler, PRRAC Executive Director

Statement of Fair Housing and Civil Rights Advocates on HOPE VI Reauthorization

In the ongoing discussions concerning the reauthorization of the federal HOPE VI public housing revitalization program, there has been much said about specific details of wording but less discussion about “first principles.” As H.R. 3524 moves to the full House and eventually to the Senate, we offer the following set of constitutional and civil rights principles for interested parties to consider.

The important civil rights issues surrounding the HOPE VI program—including the right to return to the redeveloped site, the impacts of relocation on nearby neighborhoods, and the right to expanded housing opportunities throughout the region—cannot be considered without an understanding of the historical use of public housing as a policy to segregate and contain poor people of color. The history of public housing development, beginning in the era of Jim Crow and continuing through the late 1950s and 60s, must be understood in the context of each city and region where a HOPE VI redevelopment is proposed.

(1) We support one-for-one replacement of all units. The replacement of units that have already been vacated or demolished before HOPE VI redevelopment is essential to prevent the loss of housing that has been a part of the affordable housing inventory. Because a portion of this housing is currently unoccupied (or demolished), due to the condition or undesirability of the location, one-for-one replacement creates a pool of units that does not involve even temporary displacement of current residents, and can be used to address the issues of segregation and lack of housing choice for low-income families in the broader housing market.

(2) We support meaningful and enforceable involvement of residents in the planning process. At the same time, advocates and policymakers must also recognize that the interests of residents are not “monolithic.” In any given development, some residents may wish to return to the original site, while others may wish to leave. These preferences will vary depending on the location of the development. The opportunity to move to racially integrated or low-poverty communities should not be denied because a majority of residents wish to remain in the neighborhood, or because housing in such areas will take longer to build. The future interests of families on the public housing waiting list—and their children—should also be considered.

(3) We support requiring public housing authorities (PHAs) to account for and keep track of every family who is relocated, both temporarily and permanently. If temporary displacement is necessary because of the condition of the housing, relocation should be done in such a way that minimizes the hardship on families and insures that people do not get lost in the process.

(4) We support every current resident’s right to be placed in a housing unit that is as good as or better than the housing on the redeveloped site. PHAs must provide assistance in the housing search process to insure this right is protected.

(5) Right of Return: We support the right of all current residents who choose to do so to return to the redeveloped site. We further support a redevelopment process that insures that an adequate number of replacement units are replaced on-site.

(6) Right to a Desegregated Housing Opportunity: We support the right of all current residents who wish to relocate to an area/development in which their race does not predominate, either in a public or assisted housing unit or with a voucher. Further, we support decisions that consider the similar interest of future residents, including the thousands of families on PHA waiting lists.

(7) We support replacement of units with units of comparable size. Under no circumstances should the demolition and replacement under HOPE VI result in a smaller number of family units unless it can be convincingly demonstrated that the housing need in the eligible community is disproportionately for smaller units as demonstrated by census and planning data, as well as the composition of the waiting list, and that the market is not producing smaller units than can be used with housing subsidies. In most markets, as HUD has recognized, it is more difficult for families to secure three-bedroom and larger units in the market.

(8) If a development is determined to be “distressed” as a result of physical factors, but is located in a higher-income, non-minority or racially integrated neighborhood—or in an area which can reasonably be expected to attract significant market-driven investment in the near future—then the revitalization plan should preserve as many affordable housing units as possible, consistent with the other principles outlined in this statement, on the site or in the surrounding neighborhood, and in no instance shall any replacement housing be located in an area with higher poverty or greater racial concentration than the development site will have after redevelopment.

(9) If a development is determined to be “distressed” as a result of non-physical factors (e.g., environmental factors, or distressed conditions in the surrounding neighborhood), but HUD does not consider it infeasible to develop on the site, then no more replacement public housing units will be returned to the site than are necessary to accommodate the preference of current residents to return, and current residents shall be given a range of locational choices in terms of replacement based upon their expressed preference.

(10) Finally, we support the requirement that each HOPE VI redevelopment plan take into consideration the extent to which public housing in that housing market area has operated to perpetuate racial and economic segregation of low-income families, and whether the replacement housing plan takes adequate steps to correct this segregation by expanding housing opportunities in more varied locations, including housing in low-poverty and non-minority concentrated areas throughout the city and region.

Join Our Email List
Search for:             
Join Our Email List