HUD to help Philly area families move to ‘higher opportunity’

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development gathered advocates and public officials today to discuss ways to reduce the concentration of low-income residents in “low-opportunity” neighborhoods.

    HUD is launching a counseling program for people who use the housing subsidy vouchers sometimes called Section 8.

    Around the Philadelphia region, about 89 percent of those who use Section 8 live in places dubbed “low- or minimum-opportunity” towns, according to an analysis commissioned by Building One Pennsylvania and the Southeast Pennsylvania First Suburbs Project.

    Leaders with Building One and First Suburbs are worried about the health of Philadelphia’s inner-ring suburbs. They mapped 237 towns and boroughs, and each municipality is color-coded to show the strength of the area’s schools, neighborhoods and tax base among other indicators.

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    Ridley, Darby, Yeadon and Upper Chichester, which have a lower rating, show up as yellow or orange on the “Municipal Opportunity Index” map.

    Urban-policy watcher David Rusk says HUD’s new program could shift the region’s concentration of people who use Section 8.

    “The efforts will be to encourage people, and help them, move to the blue communities — the Tredyffrins, the Upper and Lower Merions, and the Montgomerys,” said Rusk, a consultant for First Suburbs and Building One.

    Jane Vincent, HUD’s regional administrator in Philadelphia, describes the quandary some people face.

    “The difficulty may be that I’ve never thought about it,” Vincent said. “It may be that I grew up on the next block and mom may still be here and my church is still here, and this is my neighborhood and my community. It may not really occur to me that I should move 20 miles away.”

    Everything from a resident’s unrealistic expectations to landlord discrimination against low-income renters can keep families from making a move out of a familiar neighborhood, said Jennifer O’Neil who directs Quadel, the company that will provide counseling to families who use the voucher.

    “There are preconceived notions about families who are poor, families who live in the inner city, families who have vouchers, any number of things can make someone — a landlord — be concerned about whether they want to lease to that person,” O’Neil said.

    Meetings with Quadel counselors will include in-depth interviews with tenants.

    “What are the things that they need?” O’Neil said. “Do they have to have public transportation? Do they have to have child care? Do they have to have a first-floor apartment? And then we’ll look at the things that they want.”

    Moving families to higher-opportunity homes will require an education for tenants and the officials who administer the region’s housing authorities, Vincent said.

    Quadel’s work includes a review of current ways of doing business to incorporate housing mobility into everyday operations.

    “So this isn’t a set-aside, sort-of boutiquey program only for a few people,” O’Neil said. “It’s the entire housing authority becoming engaged in helping families move to better neighborhoods.”

    HUD is investing $500,000 in the “Moving to Higher Opportunity” program in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Officials hope to help relocate 50 families in the first year.

    The Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Philadelphia housing authorities will share the program.

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