HUD plan for W. Baltimore takes revitalization to next level

March 24, 2011|By Shaun Donovan

President Barack Obama has made clear that there is no greater economic policy than one that invests in our children's future and helps America out-educate the world. But that's not possible if we leave a whole generation of children behind in our poorest neighborhoods.

Today, more than 10 million people live in neighborhoods surrounded by disinvestment, failing schools, troubled housing and little opportunity. Research shows that one of the most important factors in determining whether children will do better financially than their parents is not their family's economic status but whether or not they grow up in a high-poverty neighborhood. The fact that we can predict health, economic and educational outcomes of children based on their ZIP Codes is a tragedy.

That is why the Obama administration has been pursuing an interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative that supports local leaders from the public and private sectors working to transform distressed neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income communities with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools that every family needs.

At the center of the administration's initiative is a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization tool called Choice Neighborhoods.

First funded by Congress in 2010, Choice Neighborhoods builds on the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program. With strong bipartisan support from champions like Sen. Barbara Mikulski, HOPE VI has created nearly 86,000 homes in healthy, mixed-income communities in Baltimore and across the nation that were once troubled by distressed public housing. It has done this by leveraging twice the federal investment in additional private development capital and raising the average income of residents by 75 percent or more.

Last week, the Obama administration awarded Choice Neighborhoods planning grants to 17 communities around the country, including Baltimore. With these funds, communities will be able to use proven tools that leverage public and private dollars to transform not just publicly owned housing in poor neighborhoods, as HOPE VI does, but privately owned, federally subsidized housing as well.

Of course, a healthy neighborhood depends on more than successful, stable housing. That's why Choice Neighborhoods requires winners to provide neighborhood children with high-quality educational opportunities and allows communities to use a portion of their award for early childhood education and after-school tutoring.

In Baltimore, you will be able to see this comprehensive approach in action. Spurred by these funds, local partners in West Baltimore will create a transformation plan that not only revitalizes the Pedestal Gardens affordable housing development but also improves the neighborhood's access to public transportation and job centers and attracts the retail businesses that communities need to thrive and create jobs. And with city schools already under promising new leadership, these community development efforts will allow families in the neighborhoods west of Bolton Hill to take advantage of a unique opportunity to ensure a brighter future for their children.

Local leaders recognize that their work to transform housing and improve schools is most effective when localities can align their resources, break down barriers and cut through the red tape. And by bringing together local partners from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, Baltimore's grant helps make that possible.

Indeed, Baltimore represents one powerful example of how the administration's Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is helping government invest smarter and more effectively — so we do more of what works and stop doing what doesn't. This approach recognizes that all of us — government, businesses, schools and communities — are responsible for preparing students in every neighborhood to compete in the 21st century.

As President Obama has said, "If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can't just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community."

To out-educate the rest of the world and win the future, we believe we must — and with these tools, we will.

Shaun Donovan is the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development. His e-mail is

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