By Brian E. Clark
In the 1960s, the term public housing became synony- mous in many parts of the country with violence, urban blight and decay. The notorious Cabrini-Green project on Chicago’s Near North Side, once home to 15,000 people living in mid- and high-rise apartments, was relatively isolated from the surrounding community
and plagued by drugs and gang warfare.
In the 1990s, Cabrini Green was entirely demolished
and replaced with mixed-income housing under HUD’s
HOPE VI based on a New Urbanism model, with some
units reserved for public housing. Since the inception of
the HOPE VI program in 1993 and its demise in 2010,
more than 260 grants awarded around the country form
a total of roughly $6.2 billion. The grants were used to
demolish 96,200 public housing units and build 107,800
new or renovated housing units, of which 56,800 were to
be affordable to the lowest-income households. The new
and renovated buildings were designed to be less dense.
Following in its footsteps, HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods
Initiative (CNI) is building on HOPE VI, leveraging
smaller grants to improve not only blighted projects, but
the surrounding neighborhoods. During fiscal year 2016,
CNI had a budget of $125 million. For the 2017 fiscal
year, President Obama has requested $200 million from
Congress, an increase of $75 million.
HUD officials say CNI uses a comprehensive approach
that involves local leaders, residents and other stakeholders,
such as public housing authorities, cities, schools, police,
business owners, nonprofits and private developers — who
are required to come up with a Transformation Plan.
CNI also ensures, they say, that current public and assisted
housing residents will be able to benefit from this transformation by preserving affordable housing or providing
residents with the choice to move to affordable and accessible housing in other neighborhoods.
The Revitalization of Public Housing
The Westlawn public housing project in Milwaukee, Wis.,
was built to LEED standards and contains mostly
townhomes and multifamily apartments.