Housing Assistance and Supportive Services in Memphis. LESSONS FOR SERVING VULNERABLE PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENTS

01/05/2013

As described above, Memphis is in some respects an unusual city. The city covers a large area and the population is relatively sparse. In addition, the city has recently attracted several substantial new sources of funding for development, planning, anti-poverty, and anti-violence initiatives. At the same time, Memphis shares many challenges and opportunities with other cities throughout the country, and many of the lessons outlined in this document will apply more broadly to urban areas around the country.

Over the past 20 years, public housing transformation has meant a shift away from hard units of deeply-subsidized housing to HCVs. Hundreds of thousands of distressed public housing units have been demolished under the HOPE VI program and other initiatives, meaning that there are now about twice as many voucher households as public housing households (Turner and Kingsley 2010). The Urban Institute's research on HOPE VI relocatees in a number of cities has documented that residents who receive HCVs move to better quality housing in safer neighborhoods, but that these neighborhoods are still largely high-poverty and predominantly minority (c.f. Popkin, Levy and Buron 2009; Turner, Popkin, and Rawlings 2009). Further, these former public housing residents often face many challenges, including physical and mental health problems, disability, and unemployment. Low-touch case-management programs tend not to be sufficient to meet the needs of these vulnerable residents; more intensive models have shown promising results for adults (Popkin et al. 2010; Popkin et al. 2012), so high-touch case management and neighborhood-based initiatives are promising options for addressing these populations in other cities as well. Delivering services to a widely-scattered population is extremely challenging—while the geography and transportation system in Memphis may make the scale and urgency of the challenge greater than in some other cities, there is no question that the problem is widespread. The Chicago Family Case Management Demonstration showed that it was possible to provide intensive, wrap around services to vulnerable families at a relatively low cost (Popkin et al. 2010b), but even this relatively low cost may be out of reach for most housing authorities, especially for agencies coping with reductions in federal funding.

Finally, there is increased emphasis on place-based efforts as a promising strategy to address entrenched poverty and chronic disadvantage. The federal Choice and Promise Neighborhood initiatives are the most prominent, but there are also numerous other efforts, including SC2, the Byrne Criminal Justice Initiative, and numerous smaller, localized efforts such as the many programs serving Memphis communities. For all of these efforts, large and small, coordination is critical to increase effectiveness and avoid service duplication. Groups involved in these efforts would benefit from establishing regular meetings and other strategies to create communities of practice both locally and nationally. Supporting a community of practice seems like a natural role for private foundations, many of which have community change as a key focus. To help support local, community-based efforts, federal agencies could potentially reach out to philanthropic partners. The benefits of such a strategy could be great for both local communities and vulnerable families.

 

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