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Choice Neighborhoods

Looking for Promise in Choice Neighborhoods

During the past few weeks there has been a lot of buzz around President Obama’s federal urban policy agenda. While public statements on these initiatives have been tossed around since campaign season, we have finally started to get a clear idea of what these initiatives are going to look like on the ground. In a number of recent speeches, the president has specifically mentioned Promise Neighborhoods alongside HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods, an effort that will supposedly involve participation from the Departments of Education, Labor, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Building on the successes and lessons learned from the landmark (and sometimes controversial) HOPE VI program, the Choice Neighborhoods effort aims to “support a wide range of interventions in neighborhoods of extreme poverty.”

HOPE VI was launched in the early 90s to help revitalize blighted neighborhoods negatively affected by public housing projects. In the proposed budget for fiscal year 2010, the administration has reducing its funding request for the program to zero, opening the door for the new approach currently working its way through the federal pipeline. With a proposed budget of $250 million, this program would receive a net increase of $130 million over its predecessor’s baseline. The program will fund competitive grants to local governments, nonprofits, and for-profit developers, and public housing authorities. The average sizes of these grants will range from $25 to $35 million, and funds will be used for pools encompassing 7-10 neighborhoods. The program will also require matching funds from state, local, or private sources. Through this strategy, officials hope that Choice Neighborhoods will build on the HOPE VI legacy by not only alleviating the symptoms of urban poverty, but also by making interventions in the poverty cycle.

Beyond public housing, the initiative takes an interdisciplinary approach to community development that would involve public, private, and nonprofit institutions. Working across these sectors, the program would also incorporate employment, safety, transportation, and educational components targeting neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. This holistic approach responds to widespread criticism from policy and academic circles that HOPE VI’s success was limited because of tendency to operate in silos. While HUD has reported that some aspects of the program could be integrated with Promise Neighborhoods and other services on the local level, it seems as if the primary focus here is still really on infrastructure. Based on the plan’s current form, it looks like the human services component will be included as a peripheral aspect of the plan. This concern is based on a recent HUD report that identifies housing statistics as the main success indicator for Choice Neighborhoods. Last week we heard Secretary Donovan address the successes and lessons learned from HOPE VI, but the question remains– will HUD take the critics seriously this time around and transcend the silos?

HUD Secretary Discusses Choice Neighborhoods, Jane Addams

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan joined former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and HUD urban policy advisor Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, July 14 to talk about the administration's proposed Choice Neighborhoods initiative.

I will confess that those remarks were not terribly enlightening, at least not to me. Some excerpts:

Combined with HUD's Sustainable Communities Initiative to bring transportation and housing planning together at the local level to reduce costs and increase opportunities for working families, we believe Choice Neighborhoods has the potential to revitalize and transform communities across the country.

Choice Neighborhoods would also link housing interventions more closely with intensive school reform and early childhood innovations. Critically, the Department of Education is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us in this effort with its new Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

How will these programs link together, other than Choice Neighborhoods being a pot of money that can be used for more than public housing revitalization? We don't know yet.

Regardless, we were happy to see Secretary Donovan give a shout out to one of UNCA's founders, Jane Addams:

For both better and worse, the notion of "public housing" in the United States was, in many ways, sparked in my home city of New York at the turn of the century. In response to Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives, awakening America to what he described as "the hot beds of epidemics" and "deadly moral contagion" of the city's cramped tenements, Governor Teddy Roosevelt and Lawrence Veiller created a State Tenement House Commission to address the deplorable conditions depicted in Riis's photographs.

Riis, Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, and others in the emerging settlement house movement recognized that substandard physical structures, as terrible as they were, were only part of the problem. They believed then what Henry would nearly a century later - that transformation required a focus on something far more ambitious: On physical health, on education, on access to economic opportunity.

Just goes to show that if you wait long enough, the old eventually becomes new and cool again. Ben Adler writes more over at the Next American City blog.

President Speaks at Urban Policy Roundtable

President Obama spoke today at the White House to a collection of mayors and urban policy experts who were invited to a one-day roundtable. The president talked about several proposals that have already been released, including the administration's sustainable communities initiative, which is built around transportation, housing and the environment.

He also briefly mentioned both Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods.

The first, Promise Neighborhoods, is modeled on Geoffrey Canada's successful Harlem Children's Zone.  It's an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck effort that's turning around the lives of New York City's children, block by block.  And what we want to do is to make grants available for communities in other cities to jumpstart their own neighborhood-level interventions that change the odds for our kids.

The second proposal we call Choice Neighborhoods -- focuses on new ideas for housing in our cities by recognizing that different communities need different solutions.  So instead of isolated and monolithic public housing projects that too often trap residents in a cycle of poverty and isolate them further, we want to invest in proven strategies that actually transform communities and enhance opportunity for residents and businesses alike.

He announced that several White House offices would be collaborating in an interagency review of federal urban policy:

I've directed the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Urban Affairs to conduct the first comprehensive interagency review in 30 years of how the federal government approaches and funds urban and metropolitan areas so that we can start having a concentrated, focused, strategic approach to federal efforts to revitalize our metropolitan areas.

It's clear that Obama is practicing big-tent politics, as far as urban policy is concerned. Early in the speech he noted that:

[W]hen I spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year, I tried to hone in on this point that what I think traditionally had been seen as this divide between city and suburb, that in some ways you've seen both city and suburb now come together and recognize they can't solve their problems in isolation; they've got to paying attention to each other.

Now, that doesn't mean investing in America comes at the expense of rural America; quite the opposite.  Investing in mass transit and high-speed rail, for example, doesn't just make our downtowns more livable; it helps our regional economies grow.  Investing in renewable energy doesn't just make our cities cleaner; it boosts rural areas that harness that energy.  Our urban and rural communities are not independent; they are interdependent.

So he's for urban America, but also suburban and rural America, got that? Okay, okay ... politics are politics here, and we need to ensure broad support to make sure constructive policies for the inner city actually get enacted. Still, we also need to make sure the president's urban policy agency doesn't become so watered down that it has no impact. As noted in our earlier blog entry about the perils of regionalism, that's a real danger.

White House to Host Urban Policy Summit Monday, July 13

According to an article posted in the online version of the Washington Post:

The White House will host a daylong urban policy discussion including mayors, county executives, governors, urban policy experts, and heads of various agencies ... President Obama is expected to address the conference.

According to the article:

[D]iscussion will include initiatives like Choice Neighborhoods, a new HUD program that provides poor neighborhoods not only with housing, but also social and economic benefits, like day care and farmers' markets; and Promise Neighborhoods, a Department of Education program modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, to improve academic achievement and life skills by offering after school and weekend sports, social and arts activities.

The conference will include several dozen policy experts, including Bruce Katz, the director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, who developed some of the ideas that led to the creation of the Office of Urban Affairs. Bankers, planners, and advocates will also attend.

We will post more as we learn more.

Choice Neighborhoods

White House staff have indicated that they are planning to integrate, to the greatest extent possible, the Promise Neighborhoods initiative with another run out of HUD, called Choice Neighborhoods.

Choice Neighborhoods is a $250 million initiative intended "to transform neighborhoods of extreme poverty into functioning, sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods with well-functioning services, schools, public assets, transportation, and access to jobs."

'Choice' neighborhoods to combat poverty cycle
Washington Times | Tuesday, May 12, 2009

By Christina Bellantoni

The Obama administration is proposing a new program that aims to transform the nation's poorest neighborhoods from head-to-toe: taking 10 urban centers with high concentrations of public housing and improving it while adding day care centers and even farmers markets, sidewalks and parks.

The $250 million proposal is a planning experiment and one of the most progressive proposals under consideration for the next budget year, building upon the Hope VI program, which over the past 17 years has torn down nearly 100,000 of the worst public housing projects in the country.

The initiative, if approved by Congress, will operate in the same way by redeveloping public and assisted housing, but it will include community development, and applicants will have to prove the transformation would be catalytic, said Bruce Katz, a senior adviser to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

HUD estimates 10 cities would be granted the funding after a competitive process, and to qualify, at least 40 percent of a neighborhood's residents must live below the federal poverty line of about $22,000 for a family of four.

The communities awarded the "choice" grants will need to provide matching funding from state or local authorities or from private funding. If the money is approved, HUD will craft guidelines for using the funds that will spell out how the money can be spent and metrics for measuring how the grant recipients are performing.

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative also aims to partner with the proposed Promise Neighborhoods effort in the Department of Education budget. That program, which President Obama wants to fund at $10 million, is modeled after one in New York's Harlem and offers community organizations grants to improve low-performing school districts with day care centers and college-training programs.

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by Dr. Radut