Hope for public housing

The Baltimore Sun

Alphonso R. Jackson took credit for improving public housing when he announced his resignation last week as secretary of housing and urban development. But, in fact, the Bush administration has attempted to starve the once-promising Hope VI program aimed at urban poverty. Members of Congress, including Maryland's Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, have kept it on life support, and now a more ambitious revitalization deserves passage.

Since 1992, Hope VI has used more than $6 billion in federal funds to help alleviate concentrated poverty by replacing dilapidated public housing projects with mixed-income development. The program offered chances at homeownership and other opportunities to boost the economic fortunes of neighborhoods and their residents.

But too often, low-income residents have seen their homes destroyed but not replaced. And while many families have been able to use vouchers to resettle in better neighborhoods, others have found their housing options limited. In Baltimore, complexes such as Pleasant View Gardens and the Terraces replaced crime-ridden projects, but there were fewer new units and some displaced families no longer qualified.

Nationally, the Hope VI revitalization effort led to a net loss of 43,000 public housing units between 1992 and 2006, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute. And many of the more than 1 million public housing units remaining have fallen into disrepair for lack of federal investment.

But Congress is considering new versions of Hope VI with significant and necessary changes that deserve support. In January, the House passed a bill that would mostly require one-for-one replacement of demolished units. It would also give residents more of a voice in planning and provide more support services to those who relocate.

Senator Mikulski is pushing a bill that would give housing authorities more leeway to decide whether to replace demolished units and tries to link access to new units to improved school performance of resident children. The House version, which also offers displaced residents better opportunities to occupy new housing, is generally preferable, but the differences between the bills are hardly irreconcilable.

After years of neglect, what's most important is to restore viability to Hope VI and offer better public housing options.

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