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Yokohoma Conference, July 2014

Shomon Shamsuddin and Larry Vale presented two papers at the International Sociological Association conference in Yokohama, Japan–one centered on the redevelopment of Boston’s Orchard Park public housing, and the other focused on clarifying the fuzzy concept of mixed-income housing.

Paper 1. Hoping for More: Renewing and Redeveloping Public Housing Without Marginalizing Low-Income Residents.
The conventional narrative of public housing in the United States claims that the entire endeavor was a complete failure because it concentrated poverty, and that the HOPE VI redevelopment program offered a viable solution by replacing public housing with mixed-income communities. In turn, many scholars argue that HOPE VI itself also failed because it displaced low-income residents and enabled state-sponsored gentrification, which prevented the urban poor from returning to their neighborhoods. Such a view underscores the similarities between public housing renewal and the previous generation of urban renewal that created much of public housing in the first place. In this paper, we examine a case of public housing redevelopment in Boston that runs counter to this conventional narrative and scholarly criticism. The Orchard Park public housing project was redeveloped into Orchard Gardens, a housing development that continues to be occupied by a community in which extremely low-income residents form a significant majority. This constitutes an uncommon and understudied variant on the usual practice that deserves greater scrutiny. The study is based on in-depth interviews with a ten-percent sample of household heads, conducted before redevelopment was announced, and a comparable series of interviews conducted several years after redevelopment was completed. Prior to redevelopment, residents expressed a strong sense of community and a surprisingly high level of satisfaction with their homes, despite serious concerns about crime and violence. After redevelopment, residents were pleased with the physical and social improvements, but still expressed a longing for their former community. The interviews show the complicated relationship that public housing tenants have with their old and renewed environment. The Orchard Park to Orchard Gardens transformation demonstrates the overlooked possibility of using a redevelopment process to improve the design, security, and management of a community while preserving its availability to low-income households.

Paper 2. All Mixed Up: Defining Mixed-Income in Public Housing Redevelopment.
Since the 1980s, politicians, government officials, and real estate developers have popularized the strategy of building mixed-income housing to replace troubled public housing projects in the United States. Although the term is used to describe a growing number of developments, “mixed-income” has never been officially or consistently defined. Drawing upon efforts to construct a database of income-mixing in projects completed under the HOPE VI program since 1993, as well as on other initiatives, this paper investigates selected public housing sites that have been redeveloped into so-called mixed-income housing in order to understand what qualifies as mixed-income and to develop a more analytically precise way of describing these projects. We reveal that the mixed-income label is applied to a wide range of income mixes, from projects that try to minimize the presence of low-income housing (less than 1/3 of total units), to projects that attempt to preserve a substantial majority of units for low-income households. In addition, we develop a new way of identifying and categorizing mixed-income developments in terms of how income mixing is implemented: 1) mixing in a few low-income residents into a mostly high-income project or vice versa, 2) mixing together roughly equal proportions of low-income and high-income families into a single project, 3) mixing in new high-income residents around low-income residents living in an existing project, and 4) mixing in low-income residents by spreading them out into a larger neighborhood, rather than a project. The categories reflect divergent ideological positions about both the physical and social place that low-income people should have in mixed-income communities, and by extension, the role of public housing in American society. Although mixed-income developments can be a useful tool to insert affordable housing into tight housing markets, we argue that these developments are too often used to displace formerly all low-income communities.