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Keep Hope VI Alive

March 29, 2005

When he retired March 18, Hartford Housing Authority Executive Director John Wardlaw was rightly praised for demolishing most of the city's federally funded, dilapidated public housing projects and replacing them with attractive residential neighborhoods.

This was a Herculean task but a necessary one. Mr. Wardlaw, who knows public housing as well as anyone, said the projects had become unlivable. He called them "concentration camps for the poor" and "incubators for social ills."

His work turned night to day in the former Stowe Village, Bellevue Square, Charter Oak Terrace and Rice Heights projects. Dutch Point is going through the same transformation. Unfortunately, the principal tool Mr. Wardlaw used to accomplish this near-miracle might be cut by the federal government.

President Bush's budget proposal would eliminate funding for the Hope VI program next year, and require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to recapture the $143 million allocated to the program this year.

Hope VI should not be eliminated. It is necessary, and it works.

Launched in 1992 following a national study of "severely distressed" housing projects, Hope VI helped local authorities remove and replace dysfunctional housing.

A joint study of Hope VI last year by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution concluded that the program "has achieved substantial success; it has demolished some of the most distressed and destructive housing environments, replaced them with much higher-quality housing and, in many cases, with mixed-income communities."

Instead of an incubator for social ills, Hope VI created an incubator for new ideas in public housing. Through Hope VI, HUD essentially deregulated public housing and gave local authorities considerable leeway. They responded with new approaches to management, finance, income mixing and, especially, design. Many Hope VI projects are beautiful examples of new urbanism.

As the 2004 study says, there were also some problems with the program, most significantly that residents of the old projects didn't always benefit from the redevelopment. But this and other problems are being addressed.

As long as there are still hopeless public housing projects in this country - and there are - Hope VI should stay in business.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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