The Role of Community Based Organizations in Public Housing Redevelopment Planning
Public housing residents have experienced decades of systemic disinvestment resulting in environmental health and public safety problems, as well as isolation from viable transportation, services, and economic opportunities. The disinvestment has resulted in unemployment and chronic poverty, which is of great concern. In response, new models of intervention were designed to change communities of concentrated poverty. One model is mixed income redevelopment (MIR), which transforms sites of concentrated poverty into mixed income housing and improves amenities and access to services. Large-scale change initiatives ideally engage citizens of the local community in providing input for program planning, policies and local decisions. This research analyzed the Choice Neighborhoods model, which coordinates policies and leverages investments for social planning and community development through a public, private and non-profit collaboration. The study occurred in two neighborhoods that participated in a Resident Advisory Council (RAC) collaboration aimed at improving public housing resident participation in the formal planning process. The key question of the study was: how do Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and residents experience their engagement in a formal community council planning process?
The study was a phenomenological case study that reported on the process of engaging CBOs and residents in two urban neighborhoods in the western United States that were planning for MIR. The case study process occurred between 2007 and 2013. The data were collected and triangulated from multiple sources including participant observation, field notes, artifacts (emails, memos, minutes, records of the process, photographs, and local newspaper media), and 24 hours of semi-structured interview data. The multiple sources of data provided context for understanding the essence of CBO leadership, participation and influence in the context of redevelopment. The sampling frame for qualitative interviews included 39 resident participants and 17 professionals who were involved in the RAC. All participants were invited through three rounds of phone calls for residents and/or emails for professionals, which resulted in 45% of the RAC participating in an in-depth interview (N = 25). All resident participants were given a gift card incentive. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using the constant comparative method.
The study findings of CBO and resident experiences of the RAC process included the need to develop public support and involvement that is collaborative to create neighborhood change. Study participants reported the roles they viewed as important to the community change process including: a) being engaged by attending meetings, dialoging, and reviewing goal attainment, b) maintaining relationships and organizing pressure, and c) evaluating change efforts. The neighborhoods had different commitments to historic community engagement processes, which resulted in different communication processes and tactics such as using alternative means of leveraging power that combined social planning, the RAC process, and community organizing tactics.
Blended models of community practice that take into account community history, CBO and planning process culture, and the timing of the planning are likely to improve resident engagement in both the process and outcomes of redevelopment. The RAC process required ongoing community action to promote social change.