A study by Claire Smrekar and Lydia Bentley focuses on the social environments of affordable and public housing as they relate to schools, with both HOPE VI and Section 8 programs being examined.
HOPE VI is the newest generation of public housing policy aimed at meshing public housing with local context. It consists of mixed income housing communities in an attempt to prevent concentrated poverty and to develop community resources, including schools. HOPE VI requires a detailed plan of improvements that will be made to schools adjacent to or within HOPE VI communities, and school performance is directly linked to economic development within a community.
Section 8, on the other hand, focuses only on the housing aspect of a community. The program provides vouchers to residents living in public housing so that they may choose their residence from any number of places with the voucher covering some or all of their rent.
Urban poverty is often seen as a cyclical problem in that poverty and crime are highly correlated, crime discourages investment, which further increases poverty within a neighborhood. The crime created by this can make public space unsafe and preclude the development of social networks, as I noted in my last post, a discussion of David Kennedy's Don't Shoot.
The research notes that the social environment of a community can have a large effect on parenting techniques, which, in turn, can have an extraordinarily large effect on a child's educational motivation. They relate this to the development of social capital within a neighborhood, and note that strong communities with civic organization, youth groups, and churches often contain strong social networks. These social networks serve as couriers of employment or educational opportunities, community news and gatherings, and information about community services.
The study notes that two similar programs, the Gautreaux Project in Chicago, and the Moving to Opportunity Program, on a national level, have tested this theory. The two programs had opposite results. When Gautreaux was implemented, it was shown that the quality of live for residents, especially that of children, improved. However, when Moving to Opportunity was put into place, significantly less quality of live improvement was shown, and almost no educational improvement in children was noticed.
The study examines the Section 8 community first, three out of eight parents who lived in the community noted that they were unemployed, and the average occupancy time was noted to be two years.
Residents noted that the move in process was smooth, but that maintenance services were often unresponsive (sometimes, to the point of enticing residents to move), and that crime was perceived as high. Interestingly, all residents noted that the areas of the community they lived in were safer, and that other parts of the community were the areas with the crime problem. Despite the fact that the physical size of the neighborhood was not excessive, a social gulf was perceived to exist between residents. Many residents thought that the nearby HOPE VI community was safer and quieter.
In the HOPE VI community all residents were employed, and the average occupancy time was noted to be three years. Employment is a condition for living in a HOPE VI community, as the study notes, as are education and a clean criminal record.
Residents of this community noted that there was a set of regulations put in place to prevent dependence and to insure community well being. These involved such things as inspections, removal from the community for nonpayment of utilities, and requiring residents to pay maintenance fees for tasks they could have accomplished themselves.
The study notes that the HOPE VI community was more personal and empathetic throughout the housing application process and while connecting residents with social services.
The HOPE VI community was perceived by all margins as extremely safe, with all residents allowing children to play outside (some with supervision, however), and several residents being unafraid to go outdoors after dark. Many residents noted that the social network within the community was key to providing most of this safety.
While many residents of the HOPE VI community did not discuss development of close relations with neighbors, it was noted that the level of social interaction was significantly higher than in the Section 8 neighborhood, and community events were organized to promote this.
Overall, the study notes that HOPE VI communities have higher social networking potential over Section 8 communities, and that these social ties generated a stronger community which could work more effectively for the benefit of its residents. However, correlations between this community development and the strength of the nearby school were not directly measured, for undisclosed reasons.