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By Stefanie DeLucaWASHINGTON-Social sciensts andpolicy makers have long understoodthe harmful eects that living in highpoverty neighborhoods can haveon children and adults. Numerousstudies underscore the links betweenneighborhood disadvantage and ahost of social problems, includinghigh school dropout, infant mortality,cognive dicules, teenagechildbearing and exposure to violence.These studies show that familiesliving in high poverty neighborhoodsface burdens beyond their individualresource constraints in nding jobs,staying safe and raising children. Aerfalling during the decade of the 1990s,both the number of neighborhoodsof extreme concentrated poverty andthe number of people living in suchneighborhoods rose during the pastdecade, such that 10 percent of poorpeople now live in extremely highpoverty neighborhoods.Starng in the 1990s, the federalgovernment signicantly reshapedhousing policy to address the problemof concentrated poverty. Recognizingthat public housing projects werecreang the very environments theywere designed to eliminate, Congressauthorized the HOPE VI program in1992. This program provided funding todemolish public housing complexes, inmany cases replacing them with mixedincome communies. While these newcommunies were intended to reducepoverty concentraon by encouragingmiddle class and poor families to sharethe same neighborhood, the HOPEVI program did not give residents aright to return to the redevelopedcommunity, and failed to provide one-for-one replacement of public housingunits. This contributed to a reduconthe naon’s supply of public housing,and also meant that many of theoriginal tenants would not be part of the newly developed community.The families who did not or could notreturn to public housing aer HOPEVI joined the millions of poor familiesalready parcipang in the Departmentof Housing and Urban Development’sHousing Choice Voucher (HCV)program. HCV (formerly Secon 8)is the largest housing program in thecountry, subsidizing over 2.2 millionhouseholds, twice the number servedby tradional public housing projects.The voucher program provides tenantswith a rent subsidy which they canuse to lease any private-market unitrenng at or lower than 40-50 percentof the metropolitan area median rent.Because vouchers are not aachedto specic developments, the HCVprogram should theorecally work todeconcentrate poverty by allowingpoor families to move to more auentneighborhoods than they wouldotherwise be able to aord.Yet despite this potenal, voucherholders usually struggle to move outof poor neighborhoods -on the whole,they are no more likely to relocate tolow-poverty communies than poorrenters who do not receive federalhousing assistance. There are alsosignicant racial dierences in theprogram. Minority voucher usersare even less likely than whites tomove to beer communies, and theproporon of voucher recipients insuch neighborhoods shrinks whenrecipients are mostly black andunassisted households are mostlywhite. In sum, the HCV program fallsshort of its full potenal to facilitatemoves by low-income families out of poor neighborhoods.A mul-year study of family dynamicsand housing mobility that weconducted in Mobile, Alabama helpsexplain why the program doesn’t workas designed.While the story of housing andsegregaon is well known in larger“rust belt” cies in the Northeast andMidwest, less is known about howthese processes play out in smallercies, and cies in the South. Almost aquarter of the HCV households in theMobile area live in the highest povertyneighborhoods. Between 2009 and2012, we talked with more than 100low income African American familiesacross Mobile about the places theyhad lived in the past, their reasonsfor moving, and their neighborhoodcharacteriscs, children, nances, andfamily dynamics.
HUD VOUCHER PROGRAM FAILS TO RELOCATEFAMILIES FROM POOR NEIGHBORHOODS
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