Does Social Mixing Work? A JUA Blog Review of Integrating the Inner City

By David Varady

Robert J. Chaskin and Mark L. Joseph. Integrating the Inner City: The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Most previous American public housing research has concentrated either on the history of public housing or on the consequences of demolishing projects and relocating residents. Instead, Robert Chaskin and Mark Joseph focus Integrating the Inner City on how mixed-income public housing reform (HOPE VI) is actually playing out in three communities in Chicago.

Implementing HOPE VI has proven far more difficult to implement than expected. First, development teams at the three sites experienced substantial logistic, legal, and economic obstacles in recruiting low-income renters and middle-income homeowners. Although the CHA issued bold statements about its general screening policy including a work requirement, drug testing, criminal background checks, and credit checks, working groups at the three sites modified these requirements leading to the admission of “borderline” families with social problems. Second, “each of the efforts [to foster self-sufficiency] encountered substantial impediments in application and resident response, and most have fallen short of (often) modest expectations.” (p.123)  Finally there was little social interaction across incomes and tenures. In fact because of the imposition of strict behavioral rules (e.g. with regard to playing loud music on the street and in cars), mixing actually increased racial and class tensions.

I agree with the authors that it is unrealistic to assume that middle income owners can serve as role models for poor renters. I disagree, however, with their assertion that the CHA’s Public Housing Transformation Plan failed because managers imposed overly stringent rules on former public housing residents. If we want the poor to successfully participate in the market economy and to achieve self-sufficiency, I believe that it is reasonable to expect former public housing residents to learn to follow the same types of rules in subsidized mixed-income developments that apply in market-rate low-income rental housing.

The preceding raises the question: can public housing transformation occur without social mixing? Larry Vale says (2015) “Yes,” based on his research on the Commonwealth Development in Boston.  Commonwealth’s success, however, was due to a private management firm’s tight screening and their strict enforcement of behavioral rules, but it is questionable whether the Commonwealth model can be adopted and successfully replicated elsewhere.

Despite my differences with Chaskin and Josephs over their conclusions, I strongly endorse Integrating the Inner City. Six years of fieldwork have produced a stellar product.

A longer version of this book review appears in the Summer 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Reference:

Vale, Lawrence. 2015. “Myth #6 Mixed-income redevelopment is the only way to fix failed public housing.” Pp. 139-53 in Public Housing Myths: Perception, Reality and Social Policy, edited by Nicholas Dagen Bloom, Fritz Umbach, and Lawrence Vale. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

David Varady is Professor of Planning in the School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati. He is also Book Review Editor of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

 

 

 

 

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