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Creating Communities of Opportunity: Choice Neighborhoods Overview

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neighborhood_by Photo Dean

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

Written by Casey Griffith

December 30th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

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Boston Squanders Opportunity to Keep Itself Affordable

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This, my friends, is exhibit A in why we still need good old-fashioned investigative journalism—and journalists who will not just chase national stories, but sit through and sift through the apparently routine functions of local government bodies that otherwise have little oversight. The Boston Globe is reporting that the Boston Redevelopment Authority's board has been rubber stamping the recommendations of staff—without noticing that those include "discounts" for politically connected developers on the fees developers are supposed to pay to support affordable housing. Not only that, but the fees they have collected are not all going to affordable housing as designated. The Globe calculates that what should have been $75 million directed toward building affordable units in the high-rent city, if rules had been applied consistently and funds directed as proposed, has only amounted to $18 million. Ouch. Boston has some impressive measures intended to foster mixed-income housing, something many other cities haven't yet put in place, but implementation is everything. And sometimes implementation requires someone watching who remembers how it's supposed to work. Kudos to the Globe, and to whoever brought the problem it to their attention. photo of Boston skyline by Chris Devers, CC BY-NC-ND.

Written by Rooflines

December 27th, 2013 at 4:45 pm

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The Quest to Create Standards for Affordable Homeownership

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Stakeholder engagement is the heart of any successful community development effort. If you’ve ever worked for a community organization or been involved in a community project, you’ve probably spent a lot of time attending local meetings and public hearings. Face-to-face dialogue is key to building relationships, gathering input, and rallying support for your cause. But, what if you to gather input from hundreds of stakeholders dispersed across a large geographic region? With limited resources and an inability to meet face-to-face, how do you get quality feedback from a wide range of people affected by your project? At Cornerstone Partnership, we’re often spinning our wheels over these questions. As a national peer network for long-term affordable homeownership programs, we have nearly 900 members whom we rely on to tell us what’s happening on the ground, so we can build resources, tools, and programming that makes it easier for our members to do their work better. This spring, we launched a national effort to develop “Stewardship Standards” for the affordable homeownership industry. Our goal was to gain insights into best practices that affordable homeownership programs were undertaking across the country and to translate those insights into standards. We needed to generate large-scale awareness, obtain quality feedback, and build community among our members. The good news is that we had a strong baseline of content—we had been able to assemble content for nearly 60 sample standards and practices from our library of research and tools. The bad news is that that meant we had to get feedback on dense content that encompassed nearly 15 pages of text. While we’re only half way through our project, we’ve tried a range of approaches. Read below about the tools and techniques that we’ve undertaken and get insights into building more, and better online stakeholder participation.    

Written by Rooflines

December 27th, 2013 at 12:00 pm

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Book clubs at West Town library

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By Jason Nosek, library associate

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 »

Written by Webmaster

December 27th, 2013 at 2:51 am

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The Push for Public School

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Confusion, ambivalence and anger all seem to accompany many discussions of public education. High stakes testing, positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS) , wrap around services, isolation rooms, and common core standards all have their advocates—each louder than the last.  What is a parent to think in the middle all of this chaos? Like many issues these days, those motivated by greed seem to be dominating the discussion. CEE-trust and other proponents of charter schools like Michelle Rhee have been getting far more air time than their feeble solutions for public education deserve, while real experts with holistic solutions like Diane Ravitch seem to be pushed to the sidelines.  On Dec. 9, parents, students and teachers in 60 cities across the nation decided to take matters into their own hands—they moved into action to lift up solutions we can all agree on.  

Written by Rooflines

December 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm

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Without Neighborhood Trust, Tech Won’t Work

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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.

John McCarron

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, 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.

More information: Dionne Baux, LISC Chicago Program Officer,, 312-422-9564. Read more about LISC Chicago’s work in Tech.


Written by LISC Chicago

December 23rd, 2013 at 6:00 pm

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From Food to Housing: Sacrificing Quality for Quantity in the Colonias

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In November, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Too Much of Too Little" about recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, in Hidalgo County, Texas, one of the fastest growing and poorest places in the nation. The article highlighted families who are forced to choose between affordable yet unhealthy foods that keep their families fed throughout the month or healthy options that are less affordable and may not feed a family for as long. Low-income Americans dependent upon SNAP are often forced to shop "quantity over quality" in order to stretch paltry food budgets throughout the month. As a result, more and more people who do not have enough food to eat are facing obesity and diabetes at alarming rates. It’s a jarring scenario: those without enough food to properly feed their families are becoming obese. And although it is jarring, it isn't the only factor at play that makes healthy living more challenging for low-income families.

Written by Rooflines

December 23rd, 2013 at 12:00 pm

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Military Coup at Ames (Labor Beat Video)

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     The raids against public neighborhood schools in Chicago continue...beyond the 50 closings announced last spring. On December 18, 2013 Chicago Public Schools voted to convert Ames Middle School into a Marine military high school, a decision already made months before through a process hidden from the Ames parents and community, who were frozen out of important meetings and consultations. Although the charade of last year's "hearings" on school closings was entirely cynical, CPS has now darkened this travesty with new forms of contempt for democracy. 
     Despite this, the Ames school community (and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association which played an important role in mobilizing the fightback) carried out a protracted campaign to try to derail CPS's, Mayor Emanuel's, and one Alderman Maldonado's 'military coup' plot. The pro-neighborhood school coalition even conducted a scientific survey in the school community which showed that 87% did not want the school to go military. 
     LSNA Education Organizer Leticia Barrera said, "We really don't know what is behind their plans, but we are thinking more and more since they are not paying attention to the results of the surveys and those meetings that they didn't attend--we think that it is more like a favor that Alderman Maldonado owns something on the Mayor or vice versa. This not about children's education, this is more about a political game."
     Critical lessons have been learned about how CPS cannot be trusted as it continues its aggression against public education (here in the form of school militarization). Many of those active in the campaign have also been involved in efforts to bring about an elected school board for Chicago (now appointed by the Mayor).
     Speeches and interviews also from Anna Espinosa, parent mentor at Ames School; Christina Torres, President of Logan Square Schools Facilities Council; Jesse Sharkey, Vice President of Chicago Teachers Union; Emma Segura, Ames School parent; Jennifer Velazquez, recent Kelvyn Park HS graduate. 
Length - 11:51

Produced by Labor Beat. Labor Beat is a CAN TV Community Partner, and member of the Evanston Community Media Center. Labor Beat is a non-profit 501(c)(3) member of IBEW 1220. Views are those of the producer Labor Beat. For info: mail@laborbeat.orgwww.laborbeat.org312-226-3330. For other Labor Beat videos, visit YouTube and search "Labor Beat".

On Chicago CAN TV Channel 19, Thursdays 9:30 pm; Fridays 4:30 pm. Labor Beat has regular cable slots in Chicago, Evanston, Rockford, Urbana, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Princeton, NJ; and Rochester, NY. 

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(Put title of DVD, "Military Coup at Ames School" in Description box. Put $15 in Unit Price box. $20 for Canada, and $25 for other countries outside the U.S. NTSC format only.)

Written by Logan Square Neighborhood Association - Latest news

December 21st, 2013 at 6:00 pm

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Sueños for 2014: A Dream Student Resource Update

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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

Written by Logan Square Neighborhood Association - Latest news

December 20th, 2013 at 6:00 pm

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Sprinting to beat key deadline

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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.

Read the full Chicago Tribune story...

Written by LISC Chicago

December 20th, 2013 at 6:00 pm

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