, Volume 88, Issue 3, pp 417-435

“Weathering” HOPE VI: The Importance of Evaluating the Population Health Impact of Public Housing Demolition and Displacement

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Abstract

HOPE VI has funded the demolition of public housing developments across the United States and created in their place mixed-income communities that are often inaccessible to the majority of former tenants. This recent uprooting of low-income, urban, and predominantly African American communities raises concern about the health impacts of the HOPE VI program for a population that already shoulders an enormous burden of excess morbidity and mortality. In this paper, we rely on existing literature about HOPE VI relocation to evaluate the program from the perspective of weathering—a biosocial process hypothesized by Geronimus to underlie early health deterioration and excess mortality observed among African Americans. Relying on the weathering framework, we consider the effects of HOPE VI relocation on the material context of urban poverty, autonomous institutions that are health protective, and on the broader discourse surrounding urban poverty. We conclude that relocated HOPE VI residents have experienced few improvements to the living conditions and economic realities that are likely sources of stress and illness among this population. Additionally, we find that relocated residents must contend with these material realities, without the health-protective, community-based social resources that they often rely on in public housing. Finally, we conclude that by disregarding the significance of health-protective autonomous institutions and by obscuring the structural context that gave rise to racially segregated public housing projects, the discourse surrounding HOPE VI is likely to reinforce health-demoting stereotypes of low-income urban African American communities. Given the potential for urban and housing policies to negatively affect the health of an already vulnerable population, we argue that a health-equity perspective is a critical component of future policy conversations.