«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»
Important critiques of HOPE VI, however, center around the rationale used for tearing down housing that might have been renovated and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of people who never returned to the redeveloped sites (DeFilippis and Fraser, 2010; Goetz, 2012a). Goetz (2012b) examined three discourses about public housing that have legitimated its demolition: (1) the pathologizing of public housing, (2) the proposition that neighborhood effects of concentrated poverty create social ills, and (3) the notion that public housing is simply obsolete. The discourse of public housing as obsolete refers to the buildings being outdated and in disrepair but also to “outdated notions of government control and direction that are embedded in the public housing program” (Goetz, 2012b: 3). The discourse of obsolescence not only puts forth a description, but it is also performative in the sense that it suggests that the state cannot produce adequate housing, which is the appropriate domain of the private sector. As a performative act, the discourse of obsolescence legitimates state withdrawal from providing public housing and, in its place, makes the claim that something essential about the private sector—its efficiency and flexibility—makes it superior. In this way, the cutbacks of federal funding for and the privatizing of public housing seem logical and appealing.
The private sector has not been a good steward of public housing, however, in part because the real estate interests that comprise the sector are not legally compelled by the state to perform a public function. This condition renders the provision of adequate amounts of low-income housing a likely unattainable goal; the private sector may choose to participate in developing affordable housing, but it rarely does so unless the state provides deep discounts. Indeed, the number of vacant housing units in the United States would easily house most U.S. citizens, but citizenship rights to housing are eschewed by the private sector and not supported by the U.S. government.
Private interests have substantially shaped the state’s position on public housing (Hunt, 2009;
Vale, 2000). One need only review the history of debates on public housing to glean the private sector’s attempts to stop the state from entering into what the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) claimed was its domain. During the 1930s, NAREB launched a campaign that skillfully linked homeownership to nation building and forcefully promulgated the message that public housing was “a dangerous socialist experiment which threatened free enterprise and the traditional American values of government” (Parson, 2007: 17). This campaign was taken to cities across the country to speak out against government-owned public housing, reiterating to people that homeownership was the hallmark of American “exceptionalism” and individualism (Gotham, 2002; Vale, 2000; Williams, 2003).
This campaign constituted the context within which public housing developments were built after the Housing Act of 1937,2 and it is arguably still operative today. Not long after the Act was The Housing Act of 1937. Public Law 75–412.
passed, “[a] growing number of anti-New Deal politicians elected to Congress between 1938 and 1942 cut off funding for the public housing program. … During World War II, Congress funded housing for defense but banned its use for low-income households. Not until the passage of the Housing Act of 1949 did Congress authorize any more public housing” (Von Hoffman, 2000: 303).
Throughout the 1950s, real estate interests continued to affect public housing policy through the enforcement of income limits that radically changed the population composition of developments.
During this era, any semblance of public housing being mixed by incomes faded. Pressure from real estate interests, rapid suburban housing growth, and the introduction of public housing policies (such as income-based rents) that targeted those with very low or no incomes dramatically reshaped the public housing landscape. As Friedman (1966: 651) put it, public housing “was relegated to the permanent poor in the city … [and] was exclusively for those who were certainly, indisputably, and irreversibly poor.” Simultaneously with the exodus of higher income and White residents from many inner-city public housing developments in large cities, racialized images of public housing as a breeding place for social ills began to shape the American imagination. In a study of media portrayals of public housing between 1950 and 1990, Henderson (1995) found that— The “implied messages” embedded in public housing photographs were fairly clear by the late 1960s: welfare-dependent African-Americans subverted the objectives as well as the actual structures of public housing. While these images were probably part of a broader trend that witnessed increased depictions of African-Americans in the popular press during the late 1960s, they nevertheless advanced stereotypes that demeaned both public housing and those who lived in it. (Henderson, 1995: 27) Critiques of public housing were manifold, from pointing toward the atomizing effects of largescale housing projects like Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis (Yancey, 1974) to less sympathetic attacks that condemned public housing tenants as being problem families associated with an internal “culture of poverty” that was transmitted from generation to generation. Henderson continued— During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the popular press perpetuated the almost entirely negative image of public housing that had emerged in the mid-1960s.
This image was maintained by using stark visual imagery and simplified explanations of complex and often ambiguous policy issues. One of the period’s dominant motifs was that public housing re-created rather than eliminated slums. (Henderson, 1995: 40) These images continually reappeared in press coverage during the 1970s through the 1980s, a period when Congress did not appropriate enough funds for the maintenance of public housing developments and passed legislation that unintentionally created large gaps between tenant rents and maintenance and operation costs for many public housing authorities (Fraser, Oakley, and Bazuin, 2012).
Vale and Freemark (2012: 382) summarized the different periods of public housing as an initial 25-year period of accommodating “the upwardly mobile working class between 1935 and 1960, and thereafter the worthy elderly”; 30 years of “consolidation of the poorest into welfare housing between 1960 and the mid 1980s, coupled with efforts to introduce direct private sector
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involvement in public housing and other programs”; and, since the late 1980s, an effort “to return more of public housing to a less-poor constituency, while furthering growth in other kinds of both deep and shallow subsidy programs through mixed-finance projects and tax-code intervention.” Many scholars view recent changes to public housing policy like the HOPE VI program, which has mixed-income housing as a central feature, as an ideological shift back to the initial role public housing played; that is, to house an upwardly mobile, “submerged” middle class alongside those who are experiencing greater poverty but have employment (Fraser, Oakley, and Bazuin, 2012;
Heathcott, 2012; Nguyen, Rohe, and Cowan, 2012; Vale and Freemark, 2012). The next section provides a brief overview of the challenges posed by establishing mixed-income developments under policies like HOPE VI.
Mixed-Income Housing and Its Discontents Before exploring the challenges of mixed-income development approaches to public housing reform, it is crucial to note that public housing throughout its history has endured ideological, political, economic, and cultural factors that have worked against it. In particular, the emptying out of central-city neighborhoods near public housing complexes in the 1950s and 1960s and racial discrimination intersected to promote the enabling conditions for representations of, and attitudes toward, public housing that were deeply disadvantaging to public housing residents.
With the onset of the Nixon Administration in 1969 and the 1973 oil crisis, the operating and maintenance budget subsidies received by public housing authorities from the federal government began to shrink. During the 1980s, public housing declined because of depreciation of the housing stock and became a signifier for social pathology. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that, redevelopment under the HOPE VI program notwithstanding, the specter of “the projects” haunts public housing authorities. It is also not surprising that most HOPE VI developments follow a relatively conservative path, having had to adapt to the devolution of responsibility for raising operating and maintenance costs for their housing stock (Kleit and Page, 2012). In addition, although the evidence is insufficient to claim that institutional isomorphism exists among housing authorities, since the 1980s, the trend of public housing authorities becoming hybrid organizations that seek out private capital for investment in their portfolios is certainly growing (Nguyen, Rohe, and Cowan, 2012). Speaking about public housing authorities’ strategies to become solvent by relying heavily on low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), Kleit and Page (2012: 15) concluded that even “with the combination of LIHTC and vouchers, pressures to break even as an organization while meeting federal requirements for a portion of their units can make the arrangement barely sustainable.” The consequences of this move toward hybridization or privatization of housing management and units, respectively, can be an issue. As Kleit and Page (2012: 5) further suggested, “diversification of an agency’s housing stock can be symptomatic of a retreat from serving very low-income households.” This retreat translates into selective occupancy that is reminiscent of previous phases of public housing (Vale and Freemark, 2012).
HOPE VI and other mixed-income approaches to remaking public housing embrace this trend toward privatization. Although the promotion of mixed-income housing initiatives varies slightly in content, intent, and design, it inevitably comes back to a stylized vision of helping the poor in addition to significant reliance on market-oriented strategies to promote their relocation into 88 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Making Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Work for Low-Income Households neighborhoods where they can live in proximity to moderate- and middle-income households.
Although the theoretical antecedents are more nuanced, this conceptual model is based on the neighborhood effects perspective, which posits that the disadvantaging effects of individual-level poverty are exacerbated when living in highly concentrated areas of poverty, cut off from institutional and relational ties that characterize flourishing communities (Wilson, 1987). Researchers have identified the routes through which mixed-income housing might achieve such outcomes, and social networking figures prominently among them (Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber, 2007).
Empirical studies to date, however, suggest that these proposed routes for increasing life opportunities for low-income residents have proven to be elusive, and it is unclear how these residents benefit from the relational, political, and economic resources that higher income households may bring to an area (Chaskin and Joseph, 2011; Levy, McDade, and Bertumen, 2011).
Parallel to these findings, case studies focusing on the everyday realities of residents living in mixed-income public housing developments have found multiple obstacles to building cross-class ties and social networks based on a sense of community (Chaskin and Joseph, 2010; Graves, 2011;
Kleit, 2005; McCormick, Joseph, and Chaskin, 2012; Sedlak, 2008; Varady et al., 2005). These empirical findings are not surprising given that HOPE VI neglects any specification on why or how cross-class alliances would emerge. This aspect of HOPE VI has informed arguments that the call for mixed-income housing may actually be a state-led effort to colonize former public housing developments to prepare neighborhoods for market reinvestment (Hackworth, 2005). In Bridge et al., 2012, the central questions about mixed-income housing initiatives revolved around the contention that mixed-income policies may be less about helping people in poverty and more about neighborhood revitalization for the middle classes. Although gentrification occurs around some HOPE VI developments, in many cases it is a protracted, and often unsuccessful, process (Fraser, DeFilippis, and Bazuin, 2012), further complicated by the Great Recession of 2008. Nonetheless, although some initiatives may not be successful at promoting neighborhood revitalization, doing so is a stated goal of the program. One need only look to Chicago and Atlanta to see examples of rapid gentrification around areas that were considered no-go zones during the 1980s (Keating, 2000; Pattillo, 2008). Even in smaller cities, mixed-income development has led to clear instances of dramatic increases in housing values (Bair and Fitzgerald, 2005; Fraser et al., 2003; Voith and Zielenbach, 2010; Zielenbach, 2003).
A growing number of studies have examined the realities of low-income residents returning to redeveloped HOPE VI sites (Chaskin and Joseph, 2011, 2010; Kleit, 2011; Levy, McDade, and Bertumen, 2011). A common starting point for these examinations has been to ask: do mixed-income environments engender meaningful resident engagement across income lines and, if so, does this social interaction effect positive changes in the lives of low-income residents? These studies report that social relations among HOPE VI residents that cross class lines tend to be rare. In addition, although some benefits accrue to low-income residents by virtue of the relative safety and quality of the built environment compared with that of the public housing communities from which they moved, the possibility of promoting access to the social networks and resources of higher income neighbors in ways that might promote instrumental gains, such as access to employment or information about schools, services, or other resources, generate no clear benefits (Chaskin and Joseph, 2011, 2010; Fraser and Nelson, 2008; Kleit, 2011; Tach, 2009).
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Multiple case studies find that residents tend to interact with their neighbors based on perceived