LAWMAKERS HAVE GIVEN initial reauthorization to HOPE VI, the federal government's major funding source for rebuilding dilapidated public housing. The House Financial Services Committee recently voted to renew funding for the program, which was scheduled to expire in September. The bill increased funding from the current level of $100 million to $800 million annually from 2008 to 2015.
In 1992 Congress created HOPE VI to revitalize public housing and improve troubled neighborhoods. The Bush administration advocates letting the program expire, saying it has fulfilled its mission of addressing the needs of the 100,000 most distressed units of substandard housing. Housing advocates dispute that position.
“We've taken out some of the most dangerous, egregious examples of public housing,” says Henry Cisneros, who was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the first years after HOPE VI was authorized and now heads CityView, an affordable housing development company. “Unfortunately, there is more that needs to be done. We used to fund about 12 to 15 communities a year at the $35 to $50 million level. They can't do anything like that anymore and that's what the need is.”
The bill requires projects to replace units within 12 months of demolition, to build one new housing unit for every one demolished, and to use green building standards.
The one-to-one replacement requirement is a valuable tool, as long as the units don't all have to be on the site of the ones that are demolished, Cisneros says.
“There's always been the critique that the flaw in HOPE VI was that in reducing density on site, we came out with fewer units,” he says. “This is a workable approach. It's challenging because it's very hard to build units in other areas because of objections, but it's not impossible. Insisting that the units be replaced on site defeats the purpose of redevelopment.”
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