The seventeen-page color brochure published in 1999 by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development under secretary Andrew Cuomo describes how the Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere Program, or HOPE VI, is transforming public housing across America. Under HOPE VI, the country’s most severely distressed public housing developments — a total of almost one hundred thousand units or about 6 percent of the nation’s public housing stock — would be demolished and transformed into mixed-use, mixed-income developments built by private contractors. Strategies advocated, such as the federal contracting of development to the private sector or the conversion of public housing to private property for sale to tenants, represent a further acceleration of political and economic trends in which the public sector would be largely privatized.
While the brochure focuses on market economics as the engine fueling a new crop of public housing, it includes numerous explicit and implicit references to safety, security, and policing. The brochure advertises the elements of “defensible space,” inspired by Oscar Newman’s principles of secure design, present in Hope VI developments. The authors describe reinforcing defensible design strategies with community policing and foot patrol. Youth are guided away from “the streets” and towards positive alternatives.
Hope VI advocated the demolition and destruction of severely distressed public housing, displacing residents to pave a blank slate upon which private developers could construct mixed-use housing projects with the aid of government funds. By inviting young professionals to live alongside the urban poor, the program paved the way for the gentrification of many US cities. The effort to transform the urban poor from renters into homeowners on the private market also foreshadows the subprime mortgage crisis a decade later.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Charlotte, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2019).