FROM PROJECTS TO PEOPLE:
THE TRANSFORMATION OF PUBLIC HOUSING PHILOSOPHY
B.F.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
IN INNER-CITY DENVER
Susan Leigh Bradley
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Susan Leigh Bradley
has been approved
Bradley, Susan Leigh (M.A., Political Science)
From Projects to People: The Transformation of Public Housing Philosophy in
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Robinson
In the early 1940s, the first Denver public housing project was completed
as part of the New Deal legislation. It was built in an area known as North
Lincoln Park, in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood, an area rich with
Denver history. The modem, scientifically planned project reflected the new
public housing policy created by the New Deal legislation. It evolved from an
idealistic dream of modem, functional housing into a nightmarish reality of crime
and neglect for its inhabitants.
In December 1994, these decayed units, known as Brick City, were tom
down to make way for a new public housing community. This new public housing
project was the physical manifestation of the HOPE (Homeownership
Opportunities for People Everywhere) policies, a shift in public housing policy
first led by Jack Kemp and, later, directed by Henry Cisneros, (former secretaries
of Housing and Urban Development). The low-density, Campus of Learners
project surrounds a Family Learning Center which is the nucleus of the
community. This project has become the prototype for the nation.
The new policies were influenced by holistic principles and focus on
treating all aspects of the individual, the family and the underlying structures that
have made them poor. Although HUD and DHA are optimistic about the project,
there are many concerns to be addressed. The rigid lease requirements, required
classes and a maximum five-year residency limit have been designed by DHA to
empower the tenants. However, there are inherent problems with a policy that is
attempting to empower its public housing residents while at the same time
restricting their personal rights.
A neighborhood Community Development Corporation is building an
alternative low-income housing model and has plans for future housing as well.
Will this be a more successful model in the global Denver economy? Only time
will tell if the physical manifestation of the HOPE VI philosophy will be a new
solution to a very old problem.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood...................2
History of Lincoln Park Project.....................4
The HOPE Programs..................................10
Campus of Learners.................................13
The Family Learning Center.........................15
Interview with Resident............................19
Issues Relevant to U.S. Public Housing Policy......20
Criteria for Evaluation of Low-Income
Additional Concerns and Questions..................27
In the early 1940s, the first Denver public housing project was completed
as part of the New Deal legislation. It was built in an area known as North
Lincoln Park, in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood, an area rich with
Denver history. The modem, fimctional, and scientifically planned project
reflected the new public housing policy created by the New Deal legislation. This
project provided 422 low cost units in two and three story units that, over time,
deteriorated into a nightmarish reality of crime and neglect for the
In December 1994, these decayed units, known as Brick City, were tom
down to make way for the redevelopment of the public housing community. This
new public housing policy was the product of a shift in public housing policy first
led by Jack Kemp and, later, directed by Henry Cisneros, (former Secretaries of
Housing and Urban Development). The new model was comprised of only 206
units, approximately half the number of the original project. There is also a new
five-story building on the site that contains 75 units for senior citizens, although
they are not participants in the Campus of Learners nor are they are a part of the
project that is the focus of this paper. The new model was designed
to blend with the surrounding neighborhood an architectural philosophy consistent
with the shift in public housing policy. The project, which is called a campus,
surrounds a Family Learning Center, the nucleus of the community and
of the new policy. The center contains child care services, job training facilities,
computers, and classrooms, and it is the physical manifestation of the new housing
While these new policies were influenced by holistic principles, they were
based on some of the same ideas contained in the original public housing
programs. Why should the new model succeed, when the old model did not? Will
the focus on the whole person and family be the answer to public housing
problems in the United States?
La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood
The La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood was known formerly as Auraria.
It was settled by gold seekers in 1858 and was the first city in the region. The
original settlers came from Auraria City, Georgia; ironically, the word Auraria is
Latin for gold. The main artery of Auraria, Santa Fe Drive, dates back to the
early 1800s when it was used as a wagon trail for settlers traveling from the east
and south to the Great West. By the 1880s, the neighborhood was referred to as
the near Westside and it consisted mainly of railroad workers and their families.
This first Denver housing project, built in the 1940s, primarily sheltered low
In the early 1950s, as a result of both the Highway Act, and new, post
WWH housing, many of the middle and upper class residents (mostly whites) fled
from the city to the suburbs. The population of the La Alma/Lincoln Park
neighborhood grew to be predominately Hispanic. Unemployment and poverty
rates grew in the community, and neighborhood businesses deteriorated as
investors abandoned the area to invest in the growing, downtown Denver nearby
or to move out, into the suburbs where many of their customers had gone
(NEWSED, 1997). The most historic part of the surrounding area was demolished
when the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) cleared land for a new
project. This project was part of DURAs plan to bring upscale redevelopment
into the city. Their philosophy was to attract more people into the downtown area
through redevelopment and revitalization. The lower-income La Alma/Lincoln
Park neighborhood was situated on the site where DURA planned to build a
university complex. In March of 1973, DURA cleared the land for a project,
called the urban Auraria Higher Education Campus; a campus which now has
become the most popular in Colorado with more than 32,000 students enrolled
Although city officials viewed the redevelopment of the neighborhood into
the Auraria campus as a very positive move for the community, it had a negative
effect on the La Alma/Lincoln Park community. When the DURA project razed
approximately one-third of the neighborhoods housing, it displaced hundreds of
people. Additionally, this section of the neighborhood was where the most stable,
middle-class residents lived, farther eliminating the economic base for the
community, and adding to the destructive trend of disinvestment in the area. This
disinvestment increased the poverty in the area, resulted in a lack of services and
employment for the residents, and contributed to a growing trend of poverty in
In response to the changes in the neighborhood several small community
groups came together to form the for-profit, Near Westside Economic
Development (NEWSED). This organization was formed in 1973 and, later, it
formally became a non-profit community development corporation. The goal of
NEWSED CDC has been "to promote and develop economic and community
programs and projects that raise the income, educational and political levels of
West Denver residents" (NEWSED, 1997, p. 1). Together with members of the
Santa Fe Drive Redevelopment Corporation (SFDRC) merchant association,
NEWSED CDC has been extremely successful in bringing community sensitive
business and investment back into the neighborhood. By combining their efforts,
the two groups have attracted approximately $5.5 million of public support from
the City of Denver which has effectively leveraged an additional $1.4 million in
private sector reinvestment into the area; as a result, 95 new businesses have
opened in the community since 1979, 42 of those opened in the last 4 years.
Presently, architects, thriving businesses, and art galleries have been
attracted to Santa Fe Drive. The Santa Fe strip is now recognized as one of the art
districts in Denver and many art galleries participate in the monthly Gallery Walk
sponsored by the Denver art community. This commercial reinvestment has had a
positive affect on the neighborhood. It enabled the community residents and the
Denver Housing Authority (DHA) to be in an ideal situation to apply for the
federal grant money available for a new project to replace the fifty year old,
rundown Lincoln Park housing project.
History of the Lincoln Park Project
The Lincoln Park project of the 1940s was the first public housing
project built in Denver. The concept of public housing was bom during the latter
part of the New Deal, as expressed in the National Recovery Act of 1933 and the
United States Housing Act of 1937. The purpose of these Acts was "to alleviate
present and recurring unemployment and to remedy the unsafe and insanitary
housing conditions and acute shortage of decent, safe and sanitary dwellings for
families of low income" (Bratt, 1989, p. 336). One goal of the New Deal policies
was to provide housing and shelter for the underprivileged. A second goal was to
eliminate dilapidated areas by razing entire neighborhoods and to create jobs by
stimulating the building industry (Marcuse, 1995, p. 242).
From the beginning, the La Alma/Lincoln Project was intended to be only
temporary housing for the deserving poor or the "submerged middle class"
(Friedman, 1968, as quoted in Bratt, p. 57). The proposed housing was designed
for traditional families composed of a mother, father, and children (Marcuse,
1995, p. 246). It was not until 1964 that single people and single parents under 65
were permitted to live in any public housing projects (DHA). Tenants have always
had to pay some sort of rent; public housing is not for those who cannot pay at all
(Bratt, 1989, p. 57). In accordance with such a model, the original North Lincoln
Park project was to be a temporary stop on the way to private housing. For many,
this temporary stop became permanent, and many families spent years in the public
In August 1940, 346 apartment units that were considered unsanitary and
unfit for habitation, were razed in Denver to provide the land for the North Lincoln
Park housing project. The project was to provide new and modem shelter for
low-income families, families who were temporarily down on their luck. This
public housing project was designed to be a brief stop on the way to the middle
class and home ownership. According to the New Deal policies, the new project
would treat the residents with dignity, because they no longer had to live in the
slums. The clean and safe surroundings would provide the families an opportunity
to break the cycle of poverty.
The architect of this development was Temple Hoyne Buell, one of the
most notable architects in Denver at that time. He designed the project in the
modeme style, an idealistic style that focused on function rather than form; that is,
the house (project) is conceptualized as a machine not a home as envisioned by Le
Corbusier, known as the father of the modernism architectural movement (Le
Corbusier, 1931 in Conrads, 1964). The modeme style was the preferred style of
the day in new architecture. The functional theory of modernism, applied to
housing, was to house the most people in the most functional way without
consideration for the environment in which the human occupants would live.
Modeme dwellings incorporate all of the requisite functional items but extras, such
as traditional interior architectural mouldings or details, were considered
nonessential. Similarly, there was no ornamental decoration on the exterior of the
Le Corbusier (1986/1931) maintained that a house was to be used as a
"machine for living". To Le Corbusier, the House-Machine is "the
mass-production house, healthy, physically and morally too, and beautiful in the
same way that the working tools and instruments which accompany our existence
are beautiful" (Le Corbusier, 1931, as quoted in Conrads, 1964, p. 62). The style
did not focus on the occupants and their lives, it only provides for the basic
functions. According to Le Corbusier, nothing should be included in either the
architecture or the details that was not strictly utilitarian, as a machine would be.
Because of the sparseness of design and decoration that are inherent in the
modeme style, this style was attractive for use in public housing developments
nationwide because of the low design and construction costs.
In accordance with the theory of modernism, it is the exterior building
material that provides interest and decoration for the building. Therefore, the
exterior of North Lincoln Park was constructed with the use of plain bricks with
no architectural detail or mouldings. The only decoration on the buildings was the
arrangement of the bricks in different sizes and patterns to create exterior details
and decorations. Visually this lack of decoration had a negative affect on the
exterior of the building, and the complex was given the unflattering nickname of
Brick City. The project cost between $1.4 million and $1.6 million, or
approximately $3,700.00 a unit; the rent assessed per unit was between $17.50 and
$18.75 a month, depending on the floor plan. The housing was marketed as:
"Fireproof homessanitary scientifically plannednew-clean and wholesome"
Many of the promises made by project administrators to residents were
broken. Although in the beginning, the rents covered operating costs, there was
no policy to establish reserves for the replacement of major systems and
equipment (Lane, 1995 in Fannie Mae, p. 868). The infrastructure of the projects
fell into disrepair with no budgeted funds for repair. The scientifically planned
spaces translated into overcrowded, austere, sterile environments and the
inhabitants treated them as such. The high density "machines for living" were not
homes, therefore, residents did not feel that they had a personal stake in the
interior or exterior upkeep and appearance. The amenities were sparse and
institutional. Typically, floors were constructed of commercial tile. The kitchen
and the bathroom were cramped spaces, with little closed storage, such as
cabinets, instead open shelving was provided. Appliances were small and minimal.
Although this project was not designed as the high-rises of Chicago and St. Louis
were, they still reflect what was the norm in public housing policy and design and
its reception by residents.. In a 1960 Esquire magazine article titled Fifth Avenue
Uptown, James Baldwin wrote about the projects where he had lived in Harlem,
The projects in Harlem are hated...and are hideous, there being a law, apparently
respected throughout the world, that public housing shall be as cheerless as a
prison (Sinisi, 1997).
By 1973, Denvers units were infested with rats and cockroaches, and
funds were allocated for them to be remodeled. It is likely that
the availability of these funds were related to community pressure arising from the
demolition making way for the new college campus across the street. The
remodeling budget was $3.39 million or $8,150 per unit. The updating included
new shelves in the kitchen, a new steam heating system, as well as electrical and
plumbing work and interior painting (Rocky Mountain News. 1973). Although the
apartments were renovated, the basic, functional, and sterile environment
remained, and the units became dilapidated very quickly with new infestations of
rats and roaches as well as poverty, gangs, criminals, and despair. The La
Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood was affected by disinvestment especially
following the Auraria campus redevelopment project, and the public housing
project suffered even more greatly. By the time the units were razed in December
1994, occupancy was much less than 100%.
The consequences of disinvestment in the neighborhood were varied. Not
only was the North Lincoln Park public housing project neglected but, in
general, the neighborhood became terribly rundown. Many houses fell into
disrepair, which resulted in a high rate of vacancy in the area. This process
allowed the crime rate, drug trade, and gang activity to rise drastically and to
continue somewhat unchecked. These problems furthered the commercial
disinvestment and sent those residents who still lived in the neighborhood and in
the project inside their homes where they felt safer.
These problems have been magnified in a Denver economy that currently,
is experiencing hypergrowth. Denver is taking on the characteristics of a
global city (Robinson, 1996b), and the results of this growth have had a
detrimental effect on the lower-class, and neighborhoods such as La Alma/Lincoln
Park continue to be negatively altered. Frequently, the jobs available for
undereducated, unskilled workers in a global economy are service industry jobs.
These jobs are often part-time or temporary with minimum pay; opportunities for
advancement are few, and benefits are rarely provided (Piton Foundation, 1994).
Because the jobs produce a large number of working poor, the demand for public
housing has increased. This demand for housing will continue to grow as Denvers
role in the global economy grows. This demand in Denver has become an
increasing problem because, like the North Lincoln Park public housing project,
much of the other public housing in Denver is in disrepair. Staff of DHA are
attempting to respond to this crisis, and its newest project, the North Lincoln Park
public housing project, has become a prototype for other public housing projects in
The HOPE Programs
In August of 1995, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Henry
Cisneros, challenged public housing officials and citizens of the U.S. to implement
HOPE VI, officially labeled Revitalization of Severely Distressed Public Housing
(Life on Capital Hill, p.5); it was a new model of public housing as a learning
center. Cisneros' goal was to "reconnect the threads that tie home to education
and education to work" (Ludzadder, 1996). The new HOPE VI plan is based on
holistic-based policies that grew out of Jack Kemp's leadership when he was
Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bush
Jack Kemp has been the force behind this paradigm shift in public housing.
He recognized that there were underlying structures that if recognized could help
people in poverty change their conditions and build a better world for themselves.
It was his belief that if government policies could "empower the poor," millions of
previously poor people could move from the lower class into the middle class
(Frum, 1994, p. 39). The program he created was the HOPE program
(Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere). He
saw this program as the cornerstone of what he described as a new war
on poverty, a reflection of his philosophy that it was the debilitating and
disempowering system, not the values of the poor, that were to blame for the
growing poor population (Frum, 1994; Kemp 1990a, 1990b). In his view, the
system was creating dysfunctional values in the poor because it didnt allow them
to be responsible for their own lives and communities. Therefore, his goal was to
address those problems that he felt kept people in poverty. These problems were
to be solved by participation in broad-based services such as: (a) a Family
Self-sufficiency program, which includes job training and education; (b) Shelter
Plus Care, which provides money on a state or local level for supportive services
to those who need them, and (c) Resident Management, a program where residents
have greater control over the housing projects in which they live (Weicher, 1996).
These HOPE programs continued to shape HUD policies after the Clinton
administration took office and HUD was headed by Henry Cisneros. It was these
philosophies of addressing the needs of the whole person and family, that became
the centerpiece of what is now called HOPE VI.
This new public housing philosophy is based on a holistic model that
connects government assistance to education, thus supplying educational and job
opportunities to the residents of public housing and their families. Behind the
theory is the idea that this environment will enhance the residents' well-being
which, in turn, produces greater social benefit to the community at large and helps
to eliminate poverty. The program includes job and job skills training (Le., both on
and off the public housing campus), life and relationship skills training, and
educational support for school age children (interview A. Barros, Campus of
Learners Coordinator, DHA, 11-4-97). The ultimate goal of the policy is to move
people who are reliant on the government and public housing into owner-occupied
housing where they can create new, stable lives in the mainstream community.
Government programs will help with the down payment and financing, however,
financing, however, the potential buyers must have the financial ability to pay the
mortgage. Once the families have moved into homeownership, the goals of public
housing have been achieved.
This policy is cutting edge and HUD is implementing it at a time when it is
most needed, especially with the recent welfare policy changes. Additionally,
there are many public and private sector community collaborators (such as
business leaders who volunteer to teach classes and who share varied
responsibilities) who will provide support to the residents and families of the
project. TCI, Denvers cable company, for example, provided the computer
infrastructure to link the project up with the college campus across the street.
Other services that the collaborators will provide include developing and
implementing lifeskills courses, career assessment and planning, job search, and
In response to the opportunities that Cisneros offered through the HOPE
VI program, DHA staff submitted a proposal to HUD for a Denver Campus of
Learners and Family Learning Center in October of 1995. The timing of this new
model was perfect for this Denver public housing project. When Cisneros
appealed to housing authorities across the nation to facilitate a learning
environment in their public housing developments, Denvers public housing
projects in general were in desperate need of change. The focus was placed on
the high vacancy, dilapidated North Lincoln Park project as the recipient of the
first Campus of Learners in Denver. The funding for the housing project was
approved before the Family Learning Center, but both were eventually approved.
In September, 1996, HUD officials designated the DHA and the Denver Campus
of Learners as a national prototype (DHA, 1997). The projects rules and
regulations were to be very stringent and average rents were to be approximately
30% of monthly income. A lottery was held to select interested, qualified
applicants for the available units, and new residents began to take occupancy in
late April, 1997.
The purpose of the initiative is to enable families to live in a safe, crime
free housing environment that surrounds a Family Learning Center where they
can participate in amenities such as job training, child care, and support services.
The project is called a Campus of Learners; the purpose is to create a college
campus atmosphere that is connected to the Community College of Denver, which
is located across the street via computers in the Family Learning Center. The
residents are allowed to live on the campus for a maximum of 5 years; however,
during those 5 years they must meet specific educational requirements to remain a
resident. These requirements are an integral part of public housing policies that
were introduced in 1988, and they reflect the contemporary philosophy in public
housing, just as the original North Lincoln Park project reflected the Zeitgeist of
Campus of Learners
On the campus, the housing units surround a Family Learning Center that is
the heart of the project. There are 206 housing units, a much lower density than in
the first project, ridding the area of overcrowding. The mix of floor plan options
includes 114 row and 17 detached houses that are built in the neo-Victorian style.
The architects of the project, Barker-Rinker-Seacat and Partners (1996), feel that
this style ties the houses to the surrounding La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood.
This philosophy reflects the architectural theories of New Urbanism, a current
urban planning movement. The architecture of North Lincoln Park was influenced
by the New Urbanism belief that there is a strong correlation between the physical
form of a neighborhood and its strength as a community (Gindroz, 4-26-98). The
New Urbanists focus on the communitys physical infrastructure because they
believe that community design can create or influence certain social patterns
(Fulton 9-96). Houses designed with front porches, bays, balconies and front yards
are supposed to encourage neighbor interaction and therefore, community
involvement (Calthrope). The building facades should be varied and
human-scaled, and should enhance the streetscape and face the street (Calthrope).
Most importantly, when dealing with public housing, the architecture should avoid
the institutional character found in public housing projects of the past, a
characteristic that also reflects the theory within the HOPE VI policy that any new
housing should be architecturally consistent with the housing that surrounds it.
This homogeneous architecture is designed so that the residents of the public
housing will feel that their housing is an integral part of the neighborhood.
Within the complex, 16 of the units are handicap accessible, and 71 can be
adapted for a handicapped person. The houses surround a court for parking.
Many of the these homes have a front porch that feces the auto courtyard, and all
have a backyard with an attached storage unit in the rear of the home. The
common areas are landscaped, and there is grass between the units as well as a
large, grass park-like section. The housing units are neither sparse nor minimally
finished and, basically, they look like the interior of any new market-rate house.
All homes are wired for cable and computers, although neither feature is free to the
resident. The goal of the design of the complex is to deinstitutionalize public
housing and to respect the residents, not to demean them, as public housing has in
the past. The overall cost of the North Lincoln project was $19.1 million; each unit
cost approximately $77,700.00. HUD financed both the housing and Family
Learning Center. Most of the residents took occupancy by June 1997.
The Family Learning Center
The focus of the policy and, therefore, of the community, is the main
educational facility called the Family Learning Center, which is located in the
center of the North Lincoln project. Because lack of education is one of the major
stumbling blocks of low income individuals who rely on government assistance, the
Learning Center is intended to be the beginning of a change in the lives of the
project residents. The center contains a classroom/laboratory, informational and
technical resources (i.e., such as computers), and a student union. The facility will
provide before and after school programs for school age children, with an
emphasis on middle school age children. Also, during the after school programs,
family living and relationship skills will be taught. During the hours of 8:00 a.m. to
3:00 p.m., programs and classes are offered with a focus on the adult residents.
These programs include employment training, educational and life skills training,
and emotional and financial counseling. The Resource Center is also open during
that time, as is the job and education opportunity information center. Unlicensed
child-care is available at this time for parents while they are involved in Family
Learning Center programs. Children who are school age, but who may be off from
class, will participate in programs at the center between noon and 4:30 p.m.
Evening classes are available for adults who work dining the day
(Barker-Rinker-Seacat & Partners, 1996). These proactive educational courses
are designed to provide the low income residents and their families a foundation
from which to build a successful self-sufficient, personal, professional, and
The job training and retraining that is provided by the Learning Center
is especially important in a post-industrial, global economy. In this global
environment, technology becomes increasingly important and this focus on
specialized knowledge creates the need for a highly educated and trained
workforce (Reich, 1991). Additionally, businesses often will pay more for
educated workers not necessarily because of their increased knowledge, but
because they are less likely to goof off and are more likely to give it their all
(Bowles and Gintis in Henwood, 1996, p.3). Therefore, uneducated and unskilled
workers can easily be left behind in a global economy and be forever dependent on
Residents of the project must sign contracts and commit to participating
in their community. These contracts contain restrictions on residents actions as
well as educational requirements. They must attend three life skills classes
monthly. Classes include interview skills and preparation, parenting classes, and
even cooking classes. It is assumed by DHA staff that many residents may not
have even basic skills. Anthony Barros, the first Coordinator of the Campus of
Learners, believes that if broad training is provided, then the residents can be
expected to have gained a particular skill, whether it be in the home or in the
workplace (interview, November 4,1997). Also, residents must perform two
hours of community service a month. Support groups meet twice a month and
focus on personal areas such as self-esteem building. The self-sufficiency classes
are centered around issues such as home buying, saving money, and additional
employment and educational programs. These classes and services are the physical
manifestation of the theories upon which the HOPE VI policies are based.
Also involved with the Campus of Learners program are community
partners. They include Warren Village, the Community College of Denver, the
Mayor's office, and the Denver Public Schools. They provide: technical assistance,
educational assessment, job searches and matching, and orientation for new
students (DHA, 1997). As with the lifeskills and self-sufficiency programs,
residents must take part in a variety of the community partners programs, and their
participation is a requirement of the lease agreement. The theory is based on the
belief that participation in the variety of classes exposes the residents to many
different aspects of life, making them better equipped to work effectively within
their new opportunities, creating success for the individual as well as the family.
The new housing project is available to all DHA residents, and former
Brick City residents were given priority; however, they had to be eligible, and
willing to comply with the rigid lease conditions. Several requirements determine
the eligibility of a prospective resident: (a) no member of the family
cah be a gang member, (b) they must have a favorable history of paying their rent
to DitA, and (c) every resident over 16 must either work or be in school full-time
The time limit on residency at the project is four years, with an extension of one
There are many requirements of the lease, and all must be met. An example
of requirements are as follows:
1. adult residents must be employed or be enrolled in school, or both;
2. during the first two weeks of residency, and once every three months
thereafter, they must meet with a staff member to set personal
goals, and they must agree that their progress, as well as the
progress of the family, be tracked and evaluated by a case worker;
3. they must attend at least three classes a month at the learning center
and meet with a staff member at least once a month,
4. they must file a monthly report that tracks their progress and their
involvement in work, academics, and volunteer activities; and
5. there is a no drug policy, this includes alcohol.
(DHA, 1997) Staff of the DHA set these requirements, using the HOPE VI
philosophy as a guideline, because they feel this is a way to ensure that residents
are personally progressing. The goal of this progression is for the residents to find
good jobs that will provide them with a more stable and successful life. Ideally,
this success will help them to move into home ownership at the end of their lease
term (DHA, 1997).
The Project Coordinator, Barros, has adopted a "Three strikes you're out"
policy (interview November 4,1997). Strikes include not attending classes, not
turning in paperwork on time, or not paying rent on time. Barros is very strict in
the enforcement of this policy and, as of the date of this author's interview with
him, three families were going to have to move out of the community (interview
March, 1998). Barros believes that he must enforce these conditions in order to
conditions in order to keep the housing safe and effective and to attain the goals
set forth in the policy so that the people who want to be successful have the
opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, that means that some will fell by the wayside.
Interview with Resident
When this author first visited the project in late April, 1997, she met Kathy
and her children, who were one of the first ten families to move into the housing
project (interview, April 28,1997). They lived in the original North Lincoln Park
project and moved out about 3 years before it was demolished. She and her family
loved their new home. However, she was hopeful they would only live there a
year and a half or two at the most, as she saw the project as a temporary stop on
her way to home ownership. Her plans included buying a house in the Baker
neighborhood where she grew up, and moving her family back to that
neighborhood. She felt that her family would benefit from the programs available
to them at the Family Learning Center and was optimistic that they could move
beyond public housing.
By November, 1997, Kathys family was one of the families who were
required to vacate the project. They had broken the 3 strikes-youre-out policy.
Another family was required to move out in March 1998 (interview A. Barros,
3-98). The mother had been working as a prostitute and although she had gotten a
legitimate job and was trying to straighten her life out, she too had broken the
3-strikes-youre-out policy. The strict policies do not work for all families, and
unfortunately, some are left behind.
Issues Relevant to U.S. Public Housing Policies
If the ambitions of the HOPE VI policy, and thus the project, go as
planned, the concept of public housing projects could be changed in Colorado and
across the U.S. Public housing might be thought of as a place where the poor
could receive help to get an education or job training. But, can these ideals be
fulfilled? If an administration has a proactive policy toward public housing,
inherent in that policy will be a theory or set of theories that are based on ideals. A
new policy would not be proposed if the policymakers did not think the new policy
would address and correct the ills of the present system? Will this public housing
policy, and its physical manifestation, be any different than previous policies?
Additionally, are there inherent problems with a policy that is attempting to
empower its public housing residents while at the same time restricting their
personal freedoms and rights? These appear to be incongruent philosophies.
The history of public housing in Denver does not give cause for optimism.
When the first North Lincoln Park project was built, the expectations were also
very high. In 1940, Wendell Hedgcock, Technical Director of the DHA, stated
that "The housing program is developing splendidly and Denver's project should
rank with the finest in the nation" (The Denver Post, 1940). However, the project
about which he was so hopeful soon became a cesspool of impoverishment and
crime. Similarly, in a DHA report in 1955, the authors emphasized that public
housing had been and would be a stepping stone to private housing; ideally, to
home ownership. These ambitious projects foiled, so why should the new North
Lincoln Park project of the 1990s have a different outcome? Although the authors
of this new policy maintain that the new programs are different than what was
offered in the past, what will prevent the new project from ending up in the same
situation 50 years from now?
Criteria for Evaluation of Low-Income Housing Policies
Public housing policy scholar Rachel Bratt (1989, p. 318) presented three
criteria for the development or evaluation of a low-income housing policy. The
criteria are as follows:
1. Does the housing program demonstrate a long-term commitment to
providing affordable, decent housing?
2. Does it contribute to the well-being of residents by empowering
them and giving them control of their situation?
3. Will it produce social and community benefits?
Although Bratt evaluates public homing in general, this author will utilize these
criteria in analyzing North Lincoln Park and the DHA specifically.
The first criteria involves a long term commitment to affordable, decent
housing. Currently, Denver public housing projects are, as a general rule,
impoverished, high-density, rundown, and crime ridden. Staff of DHA believe
that they are attempting to solve some of the long term housing needs by helping
neighborhoods such as La Alma/Lincoln Park and Curtis Park gather together
as a community and apply for available HUD grant money to rebuild their public
The commitment that DHA has to the Campus of Learners must be
consistent and long-term, however, or the goals of the new project will be lost.
The responsibility of the DHA is to provide administration to the Campus
(including the manager), and to provide adult and child assessment, case
management, and program coordination (DHA, 1997). As national and local
leadership changes, and money and support become less available, some of these
programs may suffer and either be eliminated or altered. Also, they must commit
to the long term upkeep of the technological equipment that will be located in the
Learning Center. Computers become obsolete quickly, and no individual will
benefit from learning on such equipment. Although there are collaborators who
will work with DHA and the Campus, they have committed to provide job training
and program development, not equipment. Additionally, there have been changes
in the computers that were originally promised. Tony Hernandez, HUD regional
representative, stated that "Each of the family townhomes at North Lincoln Park
will have a computer in it linked to the Auraria campus and the Learning Center
(The Denver Post as quoted in Callahan, 1996). This promise has now been
withdrawn and there are computers at the campus Learning Center only, and those
computers are available to residents only if they are taking and computer class and
while they are in the computer class. Money has already become an issue and,
presently, there are no commitments from the private sector for computer upkeep
and upgrades when necessary. When this author visited in March 1998, Barros
had just received a donation of antiquated computers from a Denver business.
They were so old he couldnt even find software for them.
Although this author is not advocating the way building materials were
used in the previous project, there should be concern over the longevity of the
architecture and the project infrastructure. Often, the building materials that are
used currently in housing are not as durable and long-lasting as they have been in
the past. Budget constraints are partially to blame for this. These units will need
constant upkeep and in 20-30 years, they will need major renovation. Although
maintenance funds are budgeted for the complex, as these units age, increasing
amounts of money will be needed to maintain them at an acceptable level.
Additionally, a number of public housing projects are being built across the nation
during this same time frame. This means that all the housing projects may become
outdated simultaneously and require a huge influx of money to keep them from
deterioration. As history has proven, the federal government is often unwilling to
budget more money to public housing, and this decay could be a disastrous
problem for housing authorities across the country in 20-30 years. This issue
needs further exploration by housing authorities before they build new public
housing. There are numerous building materials available now that are long-lasting
and specifically suited for particular environments. Traditional materials may not
be the best solution for U.S. public housing projects. This concern about project
architecture longevity should become an issue in future public housing policy.
The second criteria is whether residents are empowered and have a sense
of well-being and control over their situation. This was an important component
of Kemp's first HOPE program: poor people should have control over their lives
and communities. The residents at the new North Lincoln Park housing project
however, have strict requirements that they must fulfill every month and rules they
must follow. Even having a beer after work is forbidden under the no drugs
policy in place. The rules are very strict, no decisions are made by the residents
about their own lives or their community. If they do not fulfill their requirements
or if they break one of the many rules, they get a strike. Three strikes and you're
out. There is a problem with a policy that attempts to empower its public housing
residents while at the same time restricting their individual rights and freedoms.
The concepts are conflicting and therefore a positive outcome is at risk.
Additionally, there should be concern over the control the tenants have over the
project and their community as a whole.
Bratt (1986) suggested that an important aspect of a successful policy is
tenant participation and management. Although she realized that tenant
management may not work in all situations, she encouraged, at the least, tenant
management coiporations within these communities. Also, resident participation
or management was essential to the empowerment of public housing residents in
Kemp's policy (Weicher, 1996), however, the residents at North Lincoln Park
have the basic tenant committee found at all DHA projects, they do not have
control over their management, and they surrender many of their rights according
to their lease while they live at the project. There also is no housing committee.
This is not the optimal situation, according to Bratt or Kemp.
According to Bratt and other scholars (Robinson 1996a), ideally,
community members, and any community organizations such as CDCs, should play
a role in developing public housing in their own neighborhood in order to give the
community control of their situation. This process increases awareness and pride
for the project in the area. The NEWSED CDC was not involved in the decision
making process with DHA on the North Lincoln Park project however, even
though they are proactive neighborhood developers and have accumulated capital,
energy, and talent, three very important and powerful attributes in a CDC
(Robinson 1996a, 1649-1650). Additionally, as the largest commercial landowner
in the neighborhood, NEWSED has been a catalyst in attracting private sector
reinvestment to the area. This should have earned them the right to have some
influence with DHA. Also, DHA staff did not closely listen to the thoughts of the
La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood. There were meetings that DHA held with the
community, but the citizens felt that DHA just gave them lip service. This may
be characteristic of DHA, as the Lincoln Park neighborhood felt that DHA also
would not listen to them, although City Council assured them that neighborhood
concerns would not be ignored (Rocky Mountain News, 1992). Veronica Barela,
Executive Director of NEWSED CDC, feels that DHA has been totally
uncooperative and uninterested in what the Westside community perceives as their
concerns and needs (interview March 19,1997). Rose Herrera, a member of a La
Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood organizing group said that the group had put
together a Bill of Rights that they submitted to DHA back in the early stages of
project planning (interview October 28,1998). DHA initially appeared to agree to
the demands of the Bill of Rights which included issues such as relocation,
community voice in regards to potential retail businesses, and community jobs.
The community asked that no less than 25 percent of the jobs created by the new
construction go to neighborhood workers. The contractor E.B. LaFore did not
hire community workers citing job inexperience as the reason (interview, Herrera,
Finally, the third criteria is related to the social and community benefits
derived from the program. This criteria addresses neighborhood stability and
concern about displacement of the former residents. The new North Lincoln Park
program may increase community stability by setting an example within the
Westside community in regard to the benefits that education and gainful
employment have on the participating individuals and families. At a
speech in Boston, Cisneros spoke about Latino homeownership and said that it
"allows families to create a legacy for their children and strengthens
neighborhoods" (HUD, 1996a). In his article, titled "Tackling Poverty"
Kemp (1990b) stated that "We must give every person the opportunity to achieve
their full capacity because if we don't, it denies society of the enrichment of each
person's unique talents and potential". Also, the community benefits by
transitioning residents out of public housing into their own homes, which not only
opens space for a new tenant, but also raises the educational and self-sufficiency
level in La Alma/Lincoln Park. This process benefits Denver, the region, and the
Concern about displacement is an issue at the new project, however, as
previously there were 422 units, and now there are only 206. In July, 1996, HUD
eliminated the stipulation that required one-for-one replacement of every unit
demolished (McKee, 1997). Although rental vouchers are given to the displaced
residents, this can be a real problem in cities like Denver where private-market
vacancies are low. Even prior to this change, the waiting lists for public housing
were long, and "It took forever for the poor to obtain adequate accommodations"
(Reich, 1983, p. 217). However, the removal of the one-for-one rule made it
easier to implement the lower density HOPE VI projects. Previous tenants of
North Lincoln Park were given the first chance at the new townhomes. After that,
qualified tenants were selected by a lottery. Obviously, all the previous tenants did
not choose to move back to the project. Some moved on to other projects, some
bought homes, and others simply did not want to comply with the rules and
requirements of the lease.
Additional Concern and Questions
There are additional concerns and questions in regard to the policy and the
program as implemented in the Denver area. First, it is an admirable goal to
move 131 families from public assistance to owner occupied homes within 5 years.
But, is it feasible?
In Denver, the real estate market is growing at an incredible rate of speed.
Even if the market slows, it has been projected that tens of thousands of
transplants will move into the area in the next few years with no end in sight. A
hyper-market is created by this influx, pricing even the middle class out of homes
they could have easily afforded 10 years ago.
The average price of a single-family home in Denver as of August 1, 1998
was $191,449 (Denver Multiple Listing Service, August 1, 1998). To qualify for a
mortgage loan of $191,000, the household income must be approximately $63,000
per year. Many of the neighborhoods that people in the new programs will want to
buy and move into, are quickly being gentrified. In Baker, one of the Westside
neighborhoods, the average selling price of a 900 to 1,000 square foot and one to
two bedroom house is now approximately $90,000 which requires a qualifying
gross income of about $29,700 and very few debts (interview J. Bradley, broker,
The La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood is also feeing the issue of
gentrification. Just east of the neighborhood, new, multi-story lofts are being sold
approximately $200,000 and up. The communities that many of these public
housing residents want to stay in are too expensive now, and these are some of the
lowest priced neighborhoods in Denver. The reality for these residents is that the
surrounding communities may well be running out of housing that is affordable and
available. For those who want to stay in the neighborhood, this may be an obstacle
to the success of the program, and its participants.
Fortunately, this problem of homeownership opportunities is being
addressed by several neighborhood groups. At the North Lincoln Park
project, monthly homeownership classes are offered which are designed to put
participants on a 1 year track to the purchase of a home (interview, R. Nicolosi,
DHA, September 1997). DHA also offers a matching fund program available
through the self-sufficiency homeowners class to help residents save for a down
payment. The neighborhood CDC, NEWSED, also offers homeownership
counseling and workshops through a collaboration with local lending institutions,
public and private partners, and three nonprofit housing organizations. This
NEWSED program is called Barrio Aztlan, and it provides comprehensive pre and
post purchase counseling to participants. Approximately 30 families have been
placed in homes with the help of NEWSED in 1998. Also, both Barrio Aztlan and
DHA offer down payment assistance. Even with such programs however, many of
these new homeowners are having to move out of the city limits to find housing
that they can afford.
Even if the problems of affordable housing are ignored, will the salaries of
these individuals in public housing supply them with sufficient money to support
themselves without assistance, especially since many single parents are responsible
for the support? The service sector jobs that most will be trained for are not high
paying jobs. In Denver, these jobs tend to be in the near minimum wage paying
entertainment and tourist sectors of the economy (Judd, 1986). In this postmodern
economy, a high school diploma from a public school does not prepare graduates
for higher qualification jobs (Wacquant, 1995, p. 423). Even a degree from a
community college may be insufficient to assure one of gainful employment.
Although DHA reports that it is helping the residents of North Lincoln Park
because it has the highest rate of employment of any Denver housing project, and
that 22 of its residents are enrolled in higher education (interview, Barros,
November 4,1997), there are problems.
J.G. has been a resident at the new North Lincoln Park housing project
since it opened. She is a nurses assistant, has two children and is taking two
classes at Metro State College, which is located across the street from her home.
She has also been participating in DHAs home ownership program as a part of her
required self-sufficiency classes. The day of our interview she found out that she
must go off all government assistance by February 1999, for one year, to be able to
keep the money that she has earned through her self-sufficiency homeowners
classes. This has added stress to her life and she fears that she will have to take an
incomplete in both her fell classes. Additionally, she is going to have to make
changes in her educational future to become self-sufficient by February 1999.
Im real stressed right now because I ah...have to work to meet my
financial needs...so...right now Im thinking of dropping school and getting
my nursing boards and some experience and go back to school later. Its
too much for me right now, plus study and get self-sufficient...too
(interview, 11-20-98). It appears that at least for some residents the demands of
family, school, work and self-sufficiency are too ambitious. The goals of the North
Lincoln Park program are perhaps at odds. It cannot be denied that these
educational programs of North Lincoln Park may be worthwhile and perhaps a
stepping stone to further education, but are they realistic in their goal to get
residents completely off public assistance and into home ownership within 4 to 5
In December 1994, the old North Lincoln Park housing project known as
Brick City, was tom down to make way for the redevelopment of the public
housing project. The new project is the physical manifestations of the theories
found in the new public housing policy known as HOPE VI. This new paradigm
was the product of a shift in public housing policy first led by Jack Kemp and,
later, directed by Henry Cisneros, (former Secretaries of Housing and Urban
Development). The ambition of the new HOPE VI model of public housing is that
it will solve the problems of chronic poverty and the ills that accompany it. The
purpose of the initiative is to enable families to live in a safe, crime free housing
environment that surrounds a Family Learning Center where they can participate in
amenities such as job training, child care, and support services. The goal of the
required, structured programs is to produce accomplished, well-rounded people,
who are self-confident, self-sufficient citizens that can become an attribute to their
There are however, fundamental problems in a policy that attempts to
empower residents while purposefully restricting their personal rights and
freedoms. Additionally, resident participation or management which was essential
to the empowerment of public housing residents in Kemp's original philosophy
(Weicher, 1996), is missing from the HOPE VI program as implemented in
Denver. Many would say empowerment is critical to the future of residents
success (Bratt 1986; Kemp in Weicher 1996). Furthermore, is it a realistic goal to
expect families to become educated and self-sufficient in 4 to 5 years? With the
expectations, and conversely, the constraints and requirements put on the residents
while they live in the project, how will they manage and control their lives upon
relocation? Is HOPE VI the paradigm that will change how we think about public
housing, or, is it just another set of idealistic policies that are unrealistic when put
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