The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (Public Law 105-276) represents the legal codification of a decade-long effort by the Federal Government to eradicate “severely distressed” public housing in the United States, and the conclusion of a much longer effort by planners, politicians, and police bureaus to erode its presence and credibility. In 1990, the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act (Public Law 101-625) established the Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE) program, which created a financial model for the demolition of “distressed” public housing and the construction of new housing, in which public dollars would be awarded to private contractors for construction. The 1992 report of the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing, formed in 1989, surveyed American public housing and set a goal of eradicating severely distressed public housing by 2000. In 1992, Public Law 102-389 was approved, creating Hope VI, the program that freed public dollars to be awarded to contractors for the mass demolition, partial reconstruction, and overall transformation of the country’s public housing.
The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, approved October 21 1998, legally advanced many of the values embedded in the HOPE VI program, including the deregulation of public housing agencies, the facilitation of mixed-income communities in public housing, and the rights to reject and evict applicants and tenants of public housing based on drug or alcohol abuse. HOPE VI aspired to distribute the poverty that had become concentrated in US public housing complexes by bulldozing severely distressed units, constructing new developments with integrated commercial and residential functions as well as mixed middle- and low-income residents. The planning style for these communities, based on principles of New Urbanism, was heavily influenced by Oscar Newman’s theory of “Defensible Space.” When implemented, these units would be constructed as row homes, duplexes, and single family homes, spatial configurations that supposedly emphasized security and cleanliness, opposing the iconicity of the apartment tower that had come to symbolize public housing in the United States. Central to HOPE VI were incentives for public housing residents to become homeowners, facilitating a gradual transition away from publicly-owned housing in the US.
Hope VI enabled the demolition of hundreds of thousands of public housing units. While some units were replaced in mixed-use developments built by private contractors, many other displaced residents switched to the Section 8 voucher programs, through which they could look for housing on the private market. Famously, the Faircloth Amendment to The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (section 9(g)(3)(A)) stated that the Department of Housing and Urban Development could not fund the construction of new public housing units without demolishing an equal amount of existing units, placing a finite cap on public housing.