Posts

UI Evaluates Public Housing in Taunton, MA

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Assistant

HOPE VI is a public housing program administered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Under HOPE VI, severely distressed public housing is demolished and redeveloped into new, mixed-use housing that typically is less densely populated. Attempts are also made to better integrate these new developments into adjacent neighborhoods.

A significant challenge for residents occurs as demolition displaces them into other locations or neighborhoods for, at minimum, the amount of time necessary to demolish the antiquated housing in which they lived, and to construct new housing facilities.

When the HOPE VI process was begun at Fairfax Gardens, a public housing site in Taunton, MA that had become notorious for criminal and drug activity, the Urban Initiative was chosen as the independent evaluator of the redevelopment effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

June 4, 2012: Dilapidated, barracks-style housing at Fairfax Gardens, a few days before demolition.

June 4, 2012: Dilapidated, barracks-style housing at Fairfax Gardens, a few days before demolition.

As part of our evaluation, the Urban Initiative was required by HUD to interview a random selection of twenty-five heads of household who formerly resided at Fairfax Gardens, which was overseen by the Taunton Housing Authority (THA). I interviewed most of these heads of household in 2013 to learn about their displacement and relocation issues, which may include concerns about family relationships, integration of relocated residents into new neighborhoods, employment and income issues, material hardships, health issues, and children’s education.

One year later, I am in the midst of a follow-up round of interviews with the same respondents. My colleague, graduate research assistant Katya Starostina, will this year conduct the interviews of Spanish-speaking heads of household.

March 27, 2013: Following demolition and site grading, the first new structures appear on site.

March 27, 2013: Following demolition and site grading, the first new structures appear on site.

Most of the displaced residents were placed by THA in Section 8 housing. This year, many respondents report that they remain in Section 8 apartments. However, there are exceptions: some families have moved back to brand-new units at Fairfax Gardens (now renamed “Bristol Commons”). A few former residents have even successfully transitioned from public to private housing.

While it is too soon to make our data tell the full story of Fairfax Gardens, these photos show the great progress that has been made on the construction site since 2012. It is my hope that this redevelopment effort will result in better outcomes for citizens of Taunton who are challenged by income and housing issues.

April 4, 2014: Residents are returning to well-designed public housing at the renamed "Bristol Commons."

April 4, 2014: Residents are returning to well-designed public housing at the renamed “Bristol Commons.”

Jeff McCormick Visits to Discuss the Gateway Cities

Michael McCarthy, Research Assistant, UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

            This morning, Jeff McCormick, founder of venture capitalist firm Saturn Partners, announced his candidacy for governor in Massachusetts. The announcement comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following the race, and especially not to us at the Urban Initiative. In the mid January, Mr. McCormick visited New Bedford, including a stop at our satellite office at the Quest Center. With a refreshing sense of curiosity, he asked us about the unique challenges facing the SouthCoast Gateway Cities of New Bedford and Fall River, which we cover extensively on our SCUIP page.

Although his background is in financing high tech business ventures around Boston, Mr. McCormick is cognizant that those industries may not take hold in and revive New Bedford, a city with a degree attainment rate less than half the state average (21.1% to 46.7% according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey). To that point, we discussed the true obstacles that are holding back New Bedford – the need for systemic educational reform compassionate to the changing population and the creation of new jobs in the form of small business or skilled labor – and what a governor could do to alleviate them.

Mr. McCormick quickly dismissed the typical political practice of attacking large problems, like those plaguing the Gateway Cities, with a top-down pointed plan. Instead, he recognized that “a perfect plan doesn’t exist” and in order to foster growth in the Gateway Cities a successful government must “treat everything like it’s unique…and acknowledge the nuances of each city.” He outlined addressing the issues facing Massachusetts’ smaller cities with a method similar to investing in a fledgling company with unfamiliar product – go to the experts in that field, listen to what they had to say, and inform himself on the particulars of the situation before implementing an action plan.

In this regard, Mr. McCormick’s approach is familiar to the one favored by our current businessman-turned-governor. This type governance, one that relies on local experts and best practices, will be essential in the next administration if we hope to address the complex issues holding our Gateway Cities back from realizing their true potential as 21st century cities. With that in mind, the Urban Initiative would like to invite all other Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates to visit us and discuss their plans for the future of the Gateway Cities.