Over the past two decades, policymakers have sought to transform public and assisted housing from a symbol of the failures of social welfare policy into a catalyst for revitalizing neighborhoods and helping residents improve their life chances. Public housing residents face numerous barriers to self-sufficiency: low educational attainment, poor mental and physical health, limited access to social networks that facilitate job access, and physical isolation from opportunity. Different federal initiatives have attempted to help residents overcome these barriers—by relocating residents to higher-opportunity areas, offering alternative rent structures, and replacing distressed developments with new mixed income housing (Turner, Popkin, and Rawlings 2009).
Evidence from evaluations of the largest federal initiatives suggests that increasing public housing residents' geographic access to opportunity improved their quality of life—but was not enough to help them overcome their multiple personal and structural barriers to self-sufficiency (Popkin, Levy and Buron 2009; Briggs, Popkin, and Goering 2010; Comey, Popkin, and Franks 2012). The $6 billion HOPE VI program, which funded the demolition and revitalization of hundreds of distressed public housing communities across the nation, had as a core goal of improving residents' quality of life and helping them move toward self-sufficiency. However, the program included only modest funding for community supportive services. Generally, these services have focused on workforce efforts and been limited in size and scope (Popkin et al. 2004) (For additional information on the evidence base for effective service provision to HOPE VI relocatees and housing assistance recipients in general, see companion document, Best Practices for Serving High-Needs Populations.)
Population, Geography, and Housing Assistance Migration in Memphis
The geographic distribution of HUD-assisted households in Memphis has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. Since the 1990s, Memphis has redeveloped five properties with HOPE VI grants; the city now has only one remaining traditional family public housing development (Foote Homes). Like other large city housing authorities, the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) now relies heavily on vouchers and assisted households are dispersed throughout the city. However, most MHA housing choice voucher (HCV) recipients still live in very poor and predominantly African American neighborhoods.
By population, Memphis is a large city, with 646,889 residents as of the 2010 census. It also has an unusually large geographical footprint (315 square miles) and low population density for a city of its size (2,053.3 persons per square mile). Memphis residents have become more geographically dispersed in recent decades as the city has incorporated surrounding areas, though the total population has changed little since the 1960s. Memphis' increased size presents a challenge for service delivery because of high poverty and need and the extremely limited public transportation system.
Unemployment in Memphis is high; the 2011 American Community Survey showed unemployment among those over 16 years old and in the labor force was at 14.5 percent, compared to 10.6 percent in Tennessee and 10.3 nationally. Memphis also has a high poverty rate; approximately 22.6 percent of families living or having recently lived below the poverty level in 2010, compared to 13.7 statewide and 11.7 percent nationwide. Child poverty is extremely high in Memphis, with 42.1 percent of all Memphis children living in households in poverty, compared to 26.3 percent statewide and 22.5 percent nationwide.
The majority of Memphis residents are African American. In 2011, an estimated 62.4 percent of residents were African American/black and 29.6 percent were Caucasian/white. Just over 7 percent were Hispanic/Latino (only 4.0 percent of Latinos/Hispanics are African American/black while 34.2 percent are Caucasian/white).
Maps 1 and 2 in appendix B respectively illustrate the geographic dispersion of poverty level and the percentage of residents who are African American/black (non-Hispanic) by census tract.
HOPE VI and Housing Assistance in Memphis
Over the past 20 years, numerous public housing authorities have used HOPE VI grants to demolish some of the most dilapidated and dangerous public housing developments in the country and rehouse residents in new units in mixed income developments and in the private market with Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs or vouchers). The Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) has received five HOPE VI grants since 1995, the most recent in 2010 (for the Cleaborn Homes housing development). In 2011, the MHA received a Choice Neighborhoods Planning grant (the successor program to HOPE VI) for the Foote Homes, its last remaining family public housing development. In 2012, the MHA applied for an implementation grant to conduct work designed during the planning grant, but was not selected.
Our project has focused on households receiving MHA housing assistance, and in particular, those relocated from public housing developments in the most recent three HOPE VI relocations, including Cleaborn Homes (relocations in 2010), Dixie Homes (2008), and Lamar Terrace (2003). Residents relocated from these distressed public housing developments are particularly high need; those who were most able moved elsewhere as conditions deteriorated. In addition, relocation may have removed access to services, resources, and transportation networks that these residents relied on previously. MHA provided case management, relocation, and post-relocation services through Memphis HOPE, an independent non-profit that is part of Urban Strategies' national service network for housing redevelopment initiatives. Memphis HOPE was created in 2006, funded by the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis. Figure 1 (below) shows the original locations of the last three developments for which MHA received HOPE VI grants (and from which it relocated residents) as well as the location of Foote Homes.
Historically, low-income Memphis residents have received services through individual government programs or funding sources, including funds flowing from federal sources (e.g., Medicare, TANF, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly food stamps) and local community organizations, many of which are small faith-based entities. Memphis also has had an unusually large number of community development corporations (CDCs) (over 30 incorporated and over 100 including those not formally incorporated), most with few resources or staff. In recent years, the city and the community organizations within it have attracted and dedicated substantial new resources and sources of funds, many with sweeping and ambitious mandates. Several of the larger and most ambitious efforts set in motion since 2010 are place-based, with the aim of organizing and growing existing resources and services, creating new neighborhood- or housing-based services and resources, spurring neighborhood economic development, and fostering community.
One of these new place-based efforts is Agape's Powerlines Community New initiative, which is based out of apartment buildings in poor and distressed neighborhoods. Powerlines' goal is to coordinate, provide, and leverage community resources for neighborhood residents. Another is Memphis Community LIFT, which grew out of a longer-term community planning process. LIFT is focused on specific clusters of neighborhoods identified in the planning process, where it will work to foster neighborhood-level economic development and revitalization. On a city-wide level, the Mayor's office has obtained several new sources of funding. This includes substantial federal and private funding awards for strategies and implementation regarding local business revitalization, reduction of gun violence (particularly among youth), and prevention of teen pregnancy.
(For a detailed summary of new and continuing local efforts, see the assessment memo included as appendix C.)