Twenty years ago, dilapidated, high-crime public housing developments populated by impoverished, female-headed households were a powerful symbol of the failures of U.S. social welfare policy. HOPE VI was a key element of a bold effort to transform these public housing communities and demonstrate that housing programs could produce good results for residents and communities. The program provided grants to housing authorities to replace their most distressed developments—those with high crime rates, serious physical decay, and obsolete structures—with new, mixed-income, mixed-tenure communities. In a departure from earlier efforts to “rehabilitate” public housing, HOPE VI sought to move beyond “bricks and mortar” and provided funding for supportive services for residents to help them move toward self-sufficiency and improve their life circumstances.
There is no question that HOPE VI has changed the face of public housing—hundreds of those dilapidated structures have been replaced with attractive new developments, and the program has sparked innovations in financing and management. However, the program has not been a solution for the most vulnerable families—those “hard to house” families with multiple, complex problems that make them ineligible for mixed-income housing or unable to cope with the challenges of negotiating the private market with a Housing Choice Voucher. In many U.S. cities, public housing has served as the housing of last resort for decades, with the poorest and least desirable tenants warehoused in the worst developments. As these developments have been demolished, vulnerable families have often simply been moved from one distressed development to another, and with a concentration of extremely troubled families and a lack of adequate supportive services, these new developments have the potential to become even worse environments than those from where these families started.
This report provides an overview of the Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration and its progress to date, and then focus on one of the major challenges for providers serving vulnerable families: identifying which clients require the full intensive services, and which would benefit from a different approach.