«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»
They’re scattered. Not everyone can walk. When someone lives here, you could feasibly walk, but it’s a long walk, up the hill.
This loss of shared common space is echoed by another long term resident, stating, “There’s nowhere to congregate now. ‘Hi. How are you?’ That’s what we do. ‘Smooches. I have to go in the house now, I have laundry to do.’ That’s how it is now.” Another resident said of the new community, “People don’t have the same values. I’m not really planted here. I’m not invested in the community. I was hesitant about my child going out there, because there’s always a fight or something going on.” Some of the seniors with the longest tenure in Salishan described trust, interaction, and sharing with neighbors in their old community, noting less interaction in the community since the redevelopment. Many of their friends have moved out and they don’t know their new neighbors as well.
Health problems contribute to challenges in getting out and meeting new people. A stakeholder, a member of the clergy, stated— It is the hardest on the seniors, specifically ethnic groups who already had a sense of community.
Especially those that had family nearby.... A lot of the people got used to the space, contributed to the gardens. It has become more dense in the new location.
Respondents identified other barriers to neighbor relationships, including language differences, busy schedules, and more limited opportunities to meet. “We socialize, but our ties are not as strong. Everyone is so busy in America. No one has time.” “I don’t know them and I don’t speak English. I don’t know what to do.” Another, a 45-year-old Russian woman stated— I study at the college now and work. There is no time. Another reason is that no one is ever outside. You don’t really see people on the street.... In the old community, people spent more time outside and there was more socializing.
It is not surprising that ties in New Salishan were not yet as strong as they were in the old community. “We don’t know as many people here yet.... In a new place, people are more careful. They just look at each other.” “As far as friendships and relations, the old community was much better.
It was like living in a small town, where everybody knows each other.” One respondent recognized that New Salishan would have more economic diversity and thought that this diversity was an improvement. “Income will be more diverse and there will be less poor people and crime.” Another respondent had a different understanding and was disappointed, saying, “They told me that they built them for low-income people, but it is not true.” Socializing in the New Community After relocation, 62 percent of respondents reported socializing less with new neighbors than previously, and 35 percent indicated no participation in community activities in their new location.
Overall, isolation seemed to have increased among relocated residents, particularly elderly ethnic minority respondents. The Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Russian-speaking seniors thought that being close to others who spoke their language was an important aspect of community life. Some had been involved in strong support networks, such as a Vietnamese phone tree and burial society.
As one 73-year-old Vietnamese man said, “The life over here (Salishan) was more comfortable, but here it is nothing; it is just an apartment.” He does not socialize much with new neighbors because, “We cannot talk to each other.... No Vietnamese here. Only me.... Living here is very sad.” A 65-year-old Vietnamese male respondent expressed the same sentiment: “I am very sad to live here.... The Old Salishan was happier than here.” Cambodians provided mutual aid for each other in times of need, both as individuals and through their temples and churches. One Cambodian respondent explained that the decrease in socializing with neighbors in the new community was “because they are Americans.” Another elder said, “I don’t know [the neighbors] because we don’t speak English and they always go to work.” Some residents, however, do report positive feelings toward their ethnically diverse neighborhood in New Salishan, suggesting that community is beginning to emerge again. A 63-year-old White woman stated— We have a Russian family next door; they’re from Ukraine. I love them. I mean, we’ve been to their daughter’s wedding. You know the adults don’t speak English, so it’s hard to have a real...
relationship with the adults, but the kids, they do.
She continued, “It really fascinates me, all of the different cultures. And we have a lot of our church people that are from Tonga and Samoa.... I gravitate towards it.” Some connections are being made across cultures in spite of language differences. As a 52-year-old Russian woman said, “I could not speak English. I communicate mostly with Russian neighbors. I do not speak with Americans or Mexicans, but I do know them. My husband speaks to them.” She did state, however, that what she likes most about the community is “Probably the fact that many Russian-speaking people live in this area. In the evenings, especially during summer, people going outside for fellowship talk, like in Russia.” Other signs that community may be beginning to emerge include the fact that 61 percent of parents stated that their children do have friends in the new neighborhood.
Cityscape 41Keller, Laakso, Stevens, and Tashiro
Discussion We see a community that was ethnically diverse but that came together to address common problems and concerns. Residents felt a strong attachment to the location and to each other. With relocation, the existing community was disrupted. Some of the most vulnerable residents, elderly people, in particular elderly immigrants, seem to have been the most negatively affected by this disruption of community and have experienced increased isolation in relocation. Immigrants’ feelings of not fully belonging anywhere, neither their homeland nor their new home, may be partially eased by living in a community such as this one, with a critical mass of people from the same cultural background and other immigrants with at least some shared experiences.
When considering the increasing diversity of the United States (see Census Bureau, 2011; DHS, 2012), recognizing and meeting the needs of immigrants in public housing are critical. Based on this examination of the Salishan community, immigrants’ adjustment to the community is enhanced by ethnic-specific agencies and onsite case managers who speak their language. The immigrants who lived in Salishan were strongly connected to ethnically based agencies, churches, temples, and groups such as the Vietnamese burial society. The older generation, in particular, relies on this sense of community. It also is important to recognize the circumstances of their immigration and the resources they bring with them, which may include history of trauma, limited access to education, different living circumstances (urban or rural), and different cultural traditions. Putnam (2007) spoke of “bonding ties” (with one’s own group) and “bridging ties” (across groups) and stated that they are not negatively correlated, as one might imagine. Rather, strong bonding ties may be important if people are to develop strong bridging ties, suggesting that if one feels comfortable and supported within one’s own ethnic group, one may be more likely to bridge with other groups. This comfort and support appeared to be the case in Old Salishan, where residents had strong ties to their ethnic community but also were able to reach out to neighbors. When this concentrated ethnic base dispersed, residents had a difficult time adjusting to new neighbors and the new community. In fact, a key element to the success of Old Salishan may have been this combination of the ethnic diversity of the community as a whole (“I love all the different ethnic backgrounds”) and the ability to live near others of the same ethnic background (“There are lots of Vietnamese here”).
To sustain the kind of multiethnic, mixed-income neighborhoods envisioned by HOPE VI, then, the community at large must be more willing to accept refugees and immigrants, recognizing the strengths they bring to the community. In addition, when residents have opportunities to interact with each other, they are more likely to build connections. People need shared space to observe and interact with each other and ultimately develop feelings of trust (Curley, 2010). Many participants in this study noted that people are not outside as much as they used to be and that some of the previous shared spaces no longer exist. Several mentioned the need for a common space.
The ultimate conclusion was that neighborhood resources such as common spaces, parks, social services, and residents’ feelings of safety and attachment to place are more important than a mixedincome community for enhancing social capital (Curley, 2010; Laakso, 2013).
Given that this sample was a small nonrandom sample of residents who lived in Salishan before HOPE VI, the results of these findings cannot be generalized to other populations in public housing. In qualitative research, however, even small samples of a nonrepresentative nature can provide
potentially useful insights. Further, the results of this study ring true when compared with other recent research on HOPE VI that have come to similar conclusions about challenges in mixedincome neighborhoods and the loss of community.
What does the future hold for Salishan? The demographics continue to change, as they have over time in the past. Salishan remains one of the most diverse communities in Tacoma. Whether this neighborhood can regain its true sense of community remains a question, because communities take time to grow and develop. The history of Salishan shows that diverse groups of residents can work together. What remains to be seen is how the greater income spread will affect the formation and stability of the community. Salishan worked because of a sense that “we’re all in this together.” That feeling may not exist in a mixed-income community. With the increasingly diverse U.S.
population and continual flow of immigrants from various parts of the world, public housing will likely continue to be a destination for those immigrants and require attention to their needs.
Recommendations To maintain a truly diverse community, a critical mass, not dispersal, of immigrants and refugees is needed. The experiences of residents in Salishan demonstrate the importance of institutions such as, in the case of the Russian speaking, the church, and, in the case of the Vietnamese and Cambodian, the temples, church, and a small ethnic-based social-service agency. Another important consideration is the needs of multigenerational families. Many multigenerational immigrant families were broken up as a result of relocation, because either housing units were not large enough or multiple incomes disqualified the families from public housing. We recommend that stringent readmission criteria be waived when appropriate to allow for more former residents to return to these redeveloped communities. Residents also have decried the loss of a community center as a place to meet. The shared space of pocket parks and a few larger parks may not be widely used.
Elderly people and those with disabilities have limited mobility and access and may need some additional support. Housing authorities should develop and enhance partnerships for targeted supports to people with disabilities, children and youth, monolingual refugees, and immigrants.
Finally, rather than adopting the one-sided emphasis on mixed-income and ethnically diverse communities as places where poor people can benefit from interactions with those who have higher incomes, it is important to recognize that all residents can benefit from vibrant, ethnically diverse and income-diverse communities. Indeed, middle-income residents can learn resourcefulness and strategies for building community from their lower income neighbors. The long-term viability of these communities demands this recognition of the strengths of all community members.
Acknowledgments The authors thank the residents in this public housing community for sharing their insights, wisdom, and time. They also acknowledge Elizabeth Brusco, Emeritus Faculty, Pacific Lutheran University, for her contributions to and participation in much of this research.
Authors JoDee Keller is an associate professor in the Department of Social Work at Pacific Lutheran University.
Janice Laakso is an associate professor in the Social Work Program at the University of Washington, Tacoma.
Christine Stevens is an associate professor in the Nursing and Healthcare Leadership Program at the University of Washington, Tacoma.
Cathy Tashiro is Emeritus Faculty in the Nursing and Healthcare Leadership Program at the University of Washington, Tacoma.
References Abravanel, Martin D., Diane Levy, and Margaret McFarland. 2009. The Uncharted, Uncertain Future of HOPE VI Redevelopments: The Case for Assessing Project Sustainability. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Chaskin, Robert, and Mark L. Joseph. 2011. “Social Interaction in Mixed-Income Developments:
Relational Expectations and Emerging Reality,” Journal of Urban Affairs 33 (2): 209–237.
Chaskin, Robert J., and Mark L. Joseph. 2010. “Building ‘Community’ in Mixed-Income Developments: Assumptions, Approaches, and Early Experiences,” Urban Affairs Review 45 (3): 299–335.
Clampet-Lundquist, Susan. 2004. “Moving Over or Moving Up? Short-Term Gains and Losses for Relocated HOPE VI Families,” Cityscape 7 (1): 57–80.
Curley, Alexandra M. 2010. “Relocating the Poor: Social Capital and Neighborhood Resources,” Journal of Urban Affairs 32 (1): 79–103.
———. 2009. “Draining or Gaining? The Social Networks of Public Housing Movers in Boston,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 26 (2–3): 227–247.
Duke, Joanna. 2009. “Mixed Income Housing Policy and Public Housing Residents’ ‘Right to the City,’” Critical Social Policy 29 (1): 100–120.
Fraser, James, and Michael H. Nelson. 2008. “Can Mixed-Income Housing Ameliorate Concentrated Poverty? The Significance of a Geographically Informed Sense of Community,” Geography Compass 2 (6): 2127–2144.