Neighborhood redevelopment efforts aimed at mitigating concentrations of poverty create inevitable disruption in the lives of young people, particularly through the demolition of physical and social communities. Throughout history, urban housing policy in the United States has significantly contributed to racially concentrated areas of poverty in public housing due to a deeply rooted history of disinvestment, racial discrimination, and segregation. The mixed income housing program is a contemporary policy solution to reduce the problems in public housing. Largely financed by HUD, the mixed income model is a form of state-sponsored gentrification, aiming to increase investment in historically disinvested areas and to socially and economically “mix” residents across racial and economic lines. For youth, the impact is significant, yet research on the model rarely includes the voices and experiences of young people themselves. The research question asks, how do young people define and describe a mixed income housing neighborhood redevelopment?
This paper reports on the qualitative findings of a larger mixed methods dissertation study on the impact of a HOPE VI redevelopment in the South Lincoln public housing neighborhood in Denver, CO. The project involved a community-engaged partnership model based on long-term community relationships. Due to the dispersal of all residents caused by the redevelopment, snowball sampling was utilized for a total sample of 18 young people who were living in the neighborhood at the time of redevelopment. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore individual experiences of neighborhood redevelopment, transcribed verbatim, and coded through constructivist grounded theory analysis. NVivo was also used to assist with data analysis.
Three main themes regarding the participants’ experience of the South Lincoln transition emerged from the data: 1) gentrification as a process driven by the presence and preferences of whiteness, 2) the loss of home and 3) a paradox of crime and safety. First, all but one participant identified the tenets of gentrification, many suggesting a process driven by racial dynamics. Next, the experience led to the feelings of loss of home reflecting the intersection of nostalgia, identity, and emotional security. Ultimately, the transition caused many participants to identify overall decreases in crime, while noting an increased precarity in the personal safety of themselves or others in the new neighborhood.
Conclusions and Implications:
Generally, participants’ reports illustrated a process of state-sponsored gentrification that has been studied extensively in adults, but rarely in young people. In addition, the findings highlighted the role of race in poverty deconcentration policy and processes. Young people in this study not only questioned their belonging, but more importantly were left feeling disposable or precariously positioned. Including racial dynamics of power and privilege in the theoretical framing of mixed income housing and state-sponsored gentrification is critical. Additionally, the findings provide an urgent call to social workers to not only understand the impact of mixed income housing on young people for practice, but to interrogate mixed income theory and policy so that we are not reinforcing the trauma and harm of decades of community redevelopment.