Mikulski Renews Fight for Affordable Housing

By PATRICIA M. MURRET, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barbara Mikulski on Thursday renewed her battle against the Bush administration, which has cut her signature housing program every year since 2003.

"This is not about giving public housing a BOTOX injection, it's about rebuilding communities," said Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

Mikulski created the HOPE VI program in 1992, she has said, with the goal of replacing dilapidated public housing with mixed-income developments connected to schools, retail and community services.

Former Bush administration housing Secretary Mel Martinez, now a U.S. senator from Florida, joined Mikulski in announcing the new, improved reauthorization legislation for the 13-year-old program at a cost of $600 million.

The program would develop communities through public-private partnerships, Mikulski said, and aim to provide adequate community resources to help residents become more self-sufficient.

For the past several years, the Bush administration has cut the $574 million program, and each year Mikulski has fought to restore at least some of the money through Congress.

This year, the Bush administration cut HOPE VI, then demanded a return of the $99 million that Congress appropriated for the project in 2006.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Development halted the program, because its success rate was questionable, and because it was designed to be temporary, spokesman Donna White said.

In 1993, Congress appointed a special commission to explore ways to improve public housing and identified 86,000 public housing units nationwide as "severely distressed," White said. HOPE VI was "a demonstration program," White said.

"The program was never mean to last until eternity," White said. "It was supposed to be a sunset program."

Through HOPE VI and other programs, White said, 152,000 public housing units have since been demolished, and HUD believes it has done its job.

Other HUD concerns, White said, included the amount of time taken by some communities to redevelop, and whether they used the grant in ways that were promised to the residents of public housing.

In some communities, such as Atlanta and Boston, for example, White said, HOPE VI has worked well. In others, it's been less successful.

Between 1993 and 2007, White said, HUD awarded 237 HOPE VI revitalization grants, but only 60 projects have been completed.

"We've had 13 years to see the successes of HOPE VI and the areas where we need change," Mikulski said. "Our reauthorization bill takes HOPE VI into the new century - reformed, refreshed and reinvigorated."

The new HOPE VI legislation will require every HOPE VI grant recipient to demonstrate a comprehensive education reform strategy to turn the community's school into a high-performer, Mikulski said, and provide a relocation plan for residents.

Over time, Maryland has been awarded $130 million in grants for five HOPE VI projects that created new mixed-income communities in inner-city Baltimore: Pleasant View Gardens, The Towns at the Terraces, Heritage Crossing, Broadway Overlook, and Albemarle Square.

"Overall, HOPE VI has provided an almost incalculable benefit to Baltimore City," wrote David Tillman, spokesman for the Baltimore Housing Authority, in an e-mail.

"The program allowed the city to tear down five of the most dangerous concentrations of poverty and crime that surrounded the Inner Harbor, and opened the way for the creation of open, healthy, mixed-income communities," Tillman said.

Baltimore has no pending applications for HOPE VI projects, Tillman said.

Albemarle Square, the last HOPE VI project, still under construction, links the historic Jewish and Italian neighborhoods of East Baltimore in "Jonestown," one of the oldest settlements in the City, and has helped spur revitalization in Inner Harbor East.


The legislation, which reauthorizes the program through 2012 at $600 million, specifically sets five clear goals for HOPE VI:

-- End concentration of the poor in distressed neighborhoods
-- Create healthy, sustainable communities with an emphasis on high-performing schools
-- Create mixed-income communities
-- Develop communities though public-private partnerships
-- Provide adequate supportive resources to help residents achieve self-sufficiency

The legislation also:

1. Connects HOPE VI with local school revitalization

- Requires that every HOPE VI grant recipient establish, in partnership with local schools and the school superintendent, a comprehensive education reform and achievement strategy to turn the school that serves the HOPE VI development into a high-performing school

- In order to receive a HOPE VI grant, proposals must demonstrate a comprehensive strategy for transforming neighborhood schools that serve the HOPE VI development

2. Ensures that grantees make best use of federal dollars

- Grant criteria now includes the strength of local government support for the HOPE VI proposal, including, at a minimum, the signature of the locality's chief executive and financial assistance of at least 5 percent of the HOPE VI grant

- Allows the Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Secretary to conduct site visits to HOPE VI applicants to assist in making funding decisions

- Requires that Public Housing Agencies (PHA) set new performance benchmarks for each component of their HOPE VI project, including benchmarks for:

-- linkages with schools
-- relocation of residents
-- achievement of self-sufficiency

- A PHA's failure to meet benchmarks will result in the HUD Secretary imposing appropriate sanctions, such as the appointment of alternative administrator, imposition of financial penalties or withdrawal of funding

3. Improves relocation and support services for residents

- HOPE VI applications are selected in part based on the effectiveness of the plan for temporary and permanent relocation of existing residents, making sure that residents are fully aware of their relocation choices and are supported throughout the process with case management and counseling

- Applicants are judged on the extent to which their HOPE VI proposal provides effective relocation of existing residents, meaning:

-- residents are fully informed of their choices, and are given the choice to relocate to an area with a lower concentration of poverty

-- residents are offered comprehensive and ongoing supportive services to achieve a successful relocation and self-sufficiency

-- residents are offered the option to return to the newly revitalized HOPE VI development

-- there is minimal impact on children, and relocation is coordinated with school calendars

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