HOPE VI Demolished Happy Hill

“They took one of the old notorious housing projects, and they leveled it and rebuilt it as “Mixed Income Housing”. It’s called “Hope Six,” and it’s supposed to… sort of rejuvenate everything. It certainly looks a lot better.”           -Paul Schwartzman


British rock veteran P.J. Harvey recently released her new album titled, The HOPE 6 Demolition Project. Harvey traveled to war-torn Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington D.C. to find material for the Hope Six Demolition Project. While in D.C. she had a Washington Post reporter drive her around some of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods. Washington Post reporter Paul Schwartzman unwittingly provided the quote which Harvey used as the intro for her video, Community of Hope, the first single off her new album. PJ Harvey’s latest album is giving some much-needed attention to HOPE VI. It’s not everyday that a major rock star makes a largely unknown federal housing program the subject of their music. Perhaps it takes a foreigner to point out what we are ignoring right in front of our eyes. And lets not kid ourselves, when it comes to policies that disproportionately hurt African-Americans, most of us are too busy to care.

HOPE VI is a federal housing program that the Housing and Urban Development department (HUD) devised in the early 1990s. The logic of HOPE VI is that high concentrations of poor people lead to bad neighborhoods. If only poor people were living side-by-side with wealthier neighbors, this would help them out of the cycle of poverty and dependence. HUD refers to this as “poverty deconcentration.” No mention of systemic racism and other factors that lead to poverty, the individual alone is to blame.

HOPE VI was supposed to get rid of the most severely distressed public housing units and replace them with mixed-income housing. But critics of HOPE VI have pointed out that it is little more than the continuation of failed urban renewal polices of the 50s and 60s, often called negro removal. Instead of getting rid of the worst public housing, typically HOPE VI is used to redevelop public housing near affluent neighborhoods.

HUD has little regard for poor communities of color, where black and brown folks have often formed meaningful friendships and bonds. Neighborhoods are torn down in the name of progress. Residents don’t have a right to return. Instead they face a cumbersome and often unfair bureaucratic process to be re-admitted to their revamped neighborhood. The vast majority of residents of neighborhoods demolished by HOPE VI never return to their old neighborhoods. At best they receive Section 8 vouchers and are forced to find housing wherever they can find it. Poor people aren’t helped by HOPE VI as supporters claim, instead they are pushed to another neighborhood, another section of town.

HOPE VI is racist public policy. Don’t let the fact that many black leaders support it obscure that basic fact. Poor people of color are not the problem as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously claimed way back in 1965, they are the victims. You want to help poor people, give them jobs and the resources that they need to succeed. Don’t tear down their neighborhoods and kick them out in the name of supposedly helping them.

Here in Winston, Happy Hill Gardens, public housing built in the 1950s, was demolished with a HOPE VI grant by the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem in the early 2000s. HAWS has embraced HOPE VI with both arms. HAWS doesn’t much care for poor black people, that’s why they’ve earned the respect of Congresswoman Virginia Foxx. Despite being Winston-Salem’s oldest African American neighborhood it was torn down and replaced with lower density apartments, townhouses and detached homes. The redevelopment/gentrification of Happy Hill helped facilitate affluent development in the Southeast Gateway adjacent to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Salem.

We just think of this sort of thing as normal, as a non-event. PJ Harvey reminds us how messed up HOPE VI actually is. Winston shouldn’t progress and modernize at the expense of  poor black folks. PJ Harvey’s take on poverty and inequality in D.C. and a solution that is worse that the problem should resonate here in Winston.





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