Study Finds Shortcomings in HOPE VI Supportive Services

Study Finds Shortcomings in HOPE VI Supportive Services
Dierdre Oakley, James Fraser, Joshua Bazuin
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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) grants for public housing redevelopment intended to provide housing and go beyond that to strengthen residents’ economic prospects. As part of the program, local authorities partnered with non-governmental organizations and created community and supportive services (CSS) programs to promote self-sufficiency. A study published in Urban Affairs Review evaluated the varied CSS strategies and programming launched in Nashville, TN and Atlanta, GA. The study analyzed and compared Nashville’s programs, which were managed and supported by the state and nonprofits, and Atlanta’s programs, which were managed and supported by the private sector. Although the two HOPE VI communities took different approaches to CSS programming, both experienced only modest success in supporting residents' progress toward increased earnings. Few families were able to transition out of public housing to self-sufficiency.

Major findings:

  • Nashville and Atlanta's CSS programs focused on employment, but the training and education offerings were not well-matched to existing or projected job markets.
  • While CSS intended to support families in overcoming poverty, it did not address many of the significant barriers faced by long-term public housing residents. In Nashville, these included a lack of access to reliable transportation, especially on weekends, when low-wage work is often in demand, as well as a lack of access to affordable childcare.
  • In Nashville, programs were disrupted by funding shortfalls of the large nonprofit managing many of the services for public housing residents, and the local public housing agency did not step in to replace lost services.
  • In Atlanta, CSS programs improved job retention; while in 2007, 23% of residents were not compliant with the work requirement, by 2009 that had dropped to 12%.
  • In Nashville, CSS programs were not responsive to resident association requests, which limited their ability to address individual needs.
  • In Atlanta, relocated residents who participated in CSS programming did not manage to increase their average monthly earnings from $800 a month, which kept them below the poverty line and in need of subsidies. Residents' limited earning power was largely due to low educational attainment and, in many ways, the the program's work requirement kept them from earning more education.
  • Ultimately, residents who participated in CSS programming continued to be poor despite working, and were often unable to achieve self-sufficiency. This may mean that residents need different supports or a longer time frame to rise out of poverty.