Academic journal article Cityscape

Race, Segregation, and Choice: Race and Ethnicity in Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Applicant Neighborhoods, 2010-2012

Academic journal article Cityscape

Race, Segregation, and Choice: Race and Ethnicity in Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Applicant Neighborhoods, 2010-2012

Article excerpt


In 2009, the Obama Administration proposed a new program aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods marked by high poverty and severely distressed housing. Named the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (hereafter, Choice), this program would act as a successor to the long-running Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) Program. Choice is part of the Obama Administration's Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), a series of coordinated, place-based neighborhood revitalization programs extending across multiple federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Choice is administered by HUD and addresses the housing and built environment component of the NRI. Although the U.S. Congress has yet to authorize Choice, it has appropriated funds for the program each year since fiscal year (FY) 2010.

Like funding for HOPE VI, Choice funds are distributed through competitive grants. This investment is intended to leverage additional public and private resources and investment to plan for and subsequently reshape these areas into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods in which individuals and families will choose to live. Employing an approach used during the first 3 years of HOPE VI, Choice provides two types of grants: Planning Grants and Implementation Grants.1 Planning Grants provide comparatively modest funds for developing Transformation Plans to guide neighborhood revitalization, and Implementation Grants provide larger sums to facilitate implementation of a Transformation Plan. This article focuses on neighborhoods for which Planning Grant applications have been made. Drawing from a more comprehensive report on the demographic, economic, and housing characteristics of the first three Planning Grant applicant cohorts (FYs 2010, 2011, and 2012), this article highlights one vital characteristic of applicant neighborhoods: their racial and ethnic composition.

Choice, again like HOPE VI, has the core mission to deconcentrate poverty. Exceeding a minimum rate for poverty or extremely low-income households, along with the presence of distressed, subsidized housing, is the key threshold neighborhoods must pass to apply for a Planning Grant. The racial and ethnic composition of these neighborhoods is not an essential consideration in applying for or receiving a grant. Yet recent federal low-income housing policies, whether intended or not, have had significant and disproportionate effects on racial and ethnic minorities (Goetz, 2013; Popkin et al., 2004). Examining the racial and ethnic characteristics of Choice applicant neighborhoods illuminates the potential of Choice to affect low-income minority groups, and, given the results presented in the following sections, recommends caution in creating and implementing revitalization plans.

Choice also offers a fascinating window onto high-poverty urban neighborhoods across the United States. Unlike the characteristics of HOPE VI, the demographics of Choice neighborhoods are not constrained by the groups served by the public housing program. Rather than focusing on individual public housing properties, Choice allows for local groups to identify entire neighborhoods that they deem to be in need of revitalization. Thus, Choice applicant neighborhoods represent a sample of high-poverty, distressed neighborhoods in U.S. cities. They offer an opportunity to explore the other characteristics of these neighborhoods and possibly identify similarities and trends.

One clear trend that emerged throughout the broader research from which this article is drawn is that the neighborhoods identified in applications for Choice Planning Grants are highly racially and ethnically segregated. With the exception of a small number of mixed neighborhoods, most neighborhoods have majority minority populations with concentrations far exceeding national averages. …

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