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The history of public housing in the United States is complicated, with good intentions to assist low-income individuals and families often being inadequately planned and implemented. The large public housing developments of the 1950s concentrated and isolated low-income residents in distressed urban areas. The HOPE VI program, enacted in 1992, de-concentrated poverty through the use of mixed-income buildings but failed to address associated issues of poverty. A new initiative, Choice Neighborhoods, aims to strengthen low-income areas by creating neighborhoods of opportunity.
The Choice Neighborhoods program was introduced in 2010 as a response to the HOPE VI program. The Choice Neighborhoods vision is to redevelop public housing projects while also transforming the neighborhoods surrounding the housing developments. It targets three areas: housing, people, and neighborhood. Creating quality affordable housing, providing strong supportive and relocation services, and supporting economic development are the main goals of the initiative. Choice Neighborhoods also requires collaboration between different community agents, including local government, non-profit organizations, private developers, community members, and schools. It aims to give residents more voice in the decision-making process in order for them to feel comfortable with the changes in their neighborhoods.
A common phrase in discussions surrounding Choice Neighborhoods is “communities of opportunity”. The overall goal of Choice Neighborhoods is to move beyond housing in order to create sustainable neighborhoods that will benefit all aspects of a resident’s life. While safe, affordable, and quality housing is a large factor in improving one’s life, it doesn’t address additional needs of employment, education, healthy food, and transportation, among others. A community of opportunity is one in which all the resources needed in everyday life are in the area in which a person lives.
The Choice Neighborhoods initiative builds on the successes of HOPE VI but works to expand on the limitations of the program. The goals of HOPE VI aimed to de-concentrate poverty, alter the shape and design of buildings, provide supportive services to residents, maintain high standards of personal responsibility for residents, and establish partnerships between public and private sectors. Public housing complexes were demolished and mixed-income buildings with New Urbanism design style were built in their places.
The HOPE VI program has garnered mixed responses from residents and researchers. Building design and quality have improved, and the mixed-income developments and reduction of units has positively contributed to the de-concentration of poverty. Supportive and relocation services were often not organized at sites, leaving many residents without case workers and assistance. There has also been difficulty in moving middle-income residents into the mixed-income communities because of the lack of quality amenities in the area.
HOPE VI succeeded in de-concentrating poverty in a low-income area but did not facilitate the growth of that community through economic development or community collaboration. As a result, the neighborhoods continue to be undesirable to people of all income levels and community leaders struggle to make them strong and vibrant. Choice Neighborhoods plans to address this failure of the HOPE VI program by requiring strong neighborhood collaboration and allowing private and public partnerships to create economic growth.
Overall, the Choice Neighborhoods project aims to revitalize all aspects of distressed neighborhoods in order to strengthen communities and make them more desirable for all people. When a community is strong and vibrant, it draws people of all income levels and races. Everyone wants to live in a neighborhood with quality schools, a nearby hospital, ample transportation options, employment opportunities, engaged civic leaders, green space, a commercial district, healthy food options, and community safety. Healthy neighborhoods with the above qualities are often the types of communities that are integrated because all people want the same things in a community. Therefore, developing strong neighborhoods of opportunity is the first step in becoming an integrated community.
Choice Neighborhoods is a promising next phase in public housing, learning from previous federal housing programs and adjusting to address the full set of needs of low-income people. Many cities that have already received Choice Neighborhood funds are using the grant to support programs and housing developments that were previously planned. Others are working with public and private groups and residents to create a comprehensive plan of neighborhood revitalization. These preliminary results of the Choice Neighborhoods initiative are encouraging. Hopefully, ongoing collaboration among people and groups who are invested in a community will lead to the development of sustainable neighborhoods of opportunity.
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
Chicago History Book Club: Please join us at the West Town Branch at 6:30pm Tuesday, Jan. 7 as we discuss the best-selling work “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” by Erik Larson.
If you cannot join us this time, please stop by the branch to pick up our next book, "There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America" by Alex Kotlowitz.
Adult Book Discussion Group: Please join us as we discuss "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes at 6:30pm Thursday, Jan. 23.Read more »
Technology, by itself, will not trigger a turnaround of struggling neighborhoods.
Nor will Big Data … which might be useful to corporations with “data-mining” departments, but remains too dense and inaccessible for use by community groups.
So when the next “shiny object” is announced by Silicon Valley, be it crowd-sourcing software or a new wireless gizmo, give it a one-handed clap. To make some truly productive noise, experts say, put that tech in the hands of neighborhood residents who are both organized and trained to use it effectively.
It’s this second ingredient – direct, in-person citizen engagement of the kind orchestrated by LISC Chicago – that too often has been missing when it comes to technology’s role in community development.
“There are a lot of shiny new toys out there, but technology cannot substitute for trust,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, at the annual Urban Forum of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs. “It’s neighborhood strategies that matter.”
Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, speaking at the annual Urban Forum of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs.
UIC Photo Services
Vasquez spoke Dec. 5 to some 300 tech-savvy attendees at a Forum panel titled “Creating Informed Communities.”
LISC Chicago is, of course, deeply involved in spreading digital expertise in the city’s more challenged neighborhoods (see Neighborhoods Apply ‘Civic Tech’). It turns out that academicians and public-sector practitioners are coming to a similar conclusion – that techno-tools, for all their flash and promise, are just tools. It’s the users that matter.
“The Valley doesn’t understand what’s going on in cities,” explained panelist John Tolva, former chief technology officer for the City of Chicago. “The ‘app’ economy and ecosystem are pretty disconnected from ordinary matters. They don’t understand that we’re solving real problems here, Medieval problems.”
Others on the panel, moderated by public radio’s Natalie Moore, were Tim Wisniewski, director of civic technology for the City of Philadelphia, and Brian Kelly, MD, a senior executive for Quintiles, a national firm that helps drug companies test new medications by recruiting and monitoring patients who use them.
Tech and trust
It was Kelly who voiced the strongest appreciation for tech’s ability to promote trust within communities. Trust is key in drug effectiveness research, Kelly said. Patients typically are leery when first approached about connecting digitally with far-flung groups of strangers impacted by the same chronic illness.
“People want community,” said Kelly. “Once patients engage in a digital community for their disease, when they find information and find other people with similar issues, that engenders trust … and with trust comes a willingness to participate” in clinical trials.
Other panelists more or less agreed with Vasquez that techno-advances, in and of themselves, do not “move the neighborhood needle,” unless folks who live there learn to manipulate – and ultimately trust – the processes involved. They also need to know that their input matters.
“This is the big question for cities as we move toward the notion of open data, of transparency, of access for everyone,” Vasquez said. “It’s not transparent if regular citizens can’t use it. It’s not transparent if decision-making is still not transparent.”
“People aren’t screaming for technology,” she continued. “People are screaming to have public services they believe in. People are screaming for jobs, for solutions to the foreclosure issue, for ‘Where do I send my kids to a good school?’”
So just salting a neighborhood with wireless access points, say, or iPads, does not by itself create community or improve the quality of life.
“Technology has to be subordinated to the public good,” Vasquez argued. “At LISC we do it with community organizing – having residents be part of what their issue is, be part of solving the problem. And then, and only then, is technology the right fit. That’s where civic tech comes in. We start with civic, then add the tech.”
Trouble is, she later added, too many foundations, corporate givers and government programs get tunnel vision on next-gen hardware, software or databases.
“At the end of the day it’s a resource question. If you start with people first, with citizen engagement processes that are true, then we need to support the local organizations doing the organizing and doing the training at the local computer centers. That means upping the game in terms of the resources we have to work with to create this better world.”
UIC Urban Forum panelists in community tech (l-r) Moderator Natalie Moore, John Tolva, Tim Wisniewski, Susana Vasquez and Brian Kelly.
Vasquez cited one of the white papers prepared as background for the Urban Forum by Professor Jane Fountain of the University of Massachusetts. In Connecting Technologies to Citizenship, she augers for a strategy of “co-production” in which grassroots efforts are coupled with technical resources provided from outside the neighborhood.
“The close contact necessary to understand specific neighborhoods and their challenges,” writes Fountain, “while inefficient because it is labor intensive, is vital to progress … Technology alone will not build engagement or trust … Effective co-production requires face-to-face interaction at the neighborhood level to closely engage with what citizens need in their specific context.”
Fountain’s findings square with another Forum paper that summarized recent research on the Chicago experience. Former UIC professor Karen Mossberger, now director of the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University, compared Chicago neighborhoods with the highest and lowest use of the Internet. Not surprisingly, the low-use neighborhoods tended to be the city’s low-income, high-unemployment neighborhoods. In Chicago the digital divide is no illusion.
But her before-and-after study of neighborhoods that participated in LISC’s Smart Communities program found that “between 2008 and 2011, broadband at home, and Internet use for information on jobs, health and transportation experienced a statistically significant increase.” That Smart Communities work was cited in the Chicago Technology Plan (Initiatives 4 and 5) as a model for spreading digital skills to all Chicago neighborhoods. In other words, the digital divide can be bridged.
Mobile v. PCs?
Other portions of the discussion proved anything but academic. Tim Wisniewski described how Philadelphia uses 311-style apps, such as technical.ly/philly/, to troubleshoot civic problems, from “finding volunteers for manning a swimming pool that had been abandoned for five years” to “getting computers donated to the local community center.”
There was also a nuts-and-bolts dissection of the relative merits of mobile devices versus PCs, texting versus email. Tolva observed that “some of the coolest work” in digital, as far as cities are concerned, is being done for mobile. Example: bus and train tracking apps.
But Vasquez noted there are trade-offs, and that both mobile devices and desktop computers need to be mastered. She said that three times as many people approached by LISC affiliates about health insurance enrollment said they’d prefer to be texted rather than e-mailed with follow-up info. And yet, “You can’t very easily fill out a job application on your iPhone … or do your homework. There has to be a diversity” of technologies that everyone can use.
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Free Deferred Action Services at LSNA
If you are a Deferred Action candidate and have not applied for DACA call Marcelo Ferrer at LSNA at 773 384-4370. LSNA offers Free DACA services for young dreamers thanks to a partnership with Erie Neighborhood House.
Dreaming of College
If you don't qualify for DACA or recently qualified and live in Illinois you can apply for a college scholarship through the Illinois Dream Fund. In 2013, the Dream Fund was able to award $100,000 to 35 undocumented youth to attend two/four year institutions. As of December 20th, 2013, the Fund will launch the online application for new candidates and year two recipients of the Illinois Dream Fund.
This opportunity is open to undocumented and "DACAmented" high school seniors as well as current undergraduates attending or planning to attend an accredited non-profit public/private institution in or outside Illinois. Students must possess a 2.5 GPA+ and the requirements of the Illinois Dream Act. Deadline is March 1, 2014
For two hours on a frigid December evening, Tracelli Rockford stood on a bridge outside a CTA train station in East Garfield Park, her cheeks and lips so cold she struggled to form words.
The health organizer with the nonprofit Garfield Park Community Council, is one of the roughly 1,500 paid helpers in Illinois seeking to assist people in signing up for new health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Along with about a dozen others at CTA platforms scattered throughout the city, Rockford battled the bitter cold to hand out information-filled brochures printed in English and Spanish.
With just days left before the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for health coverage that will kick in Jan. 1, community groups, insurance companies and the state and federal governments are redoubling their efforts to spur uninsured Americans to seek coverage as the health law known as Obamacare races toward its first major deadline.