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Since the late 1980s, led by William Julius Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, scholars have been writing about the social problems caused by the concentration in residential communities of high levels of poverty. Even before Wilson’s book, government policy, which previously had resulted in racially and economically segregated communities, had begun to shift towards de-concentration. The consent decree in Hills v Gautreaux, and the HOPE VI and Moving to Opportunity Programs all pointed towards de-concentration of poverty. Commentators have suggested both benign and not-so-benign reasons for the policy shift.

There were a variety of quite hopeful goals promoted by advocates of the policy changes. While some of the desired outcomes of these programs have been met, I argue in this paper that the programs, on the whole, have not been successful in achieving their intended purposes. Moreover, I argue that due to the destruction of existing communities the costs of these programs, particularly the HOPE VI program, far outweigh their benefits. I point out some of the benefits derived from existing communities and some of the costs of forced relocations from them.

I do not argue here for a return to policies leading to high concentration poor communities and certainly not for policies leading to dysfunctional communities. I argue instead for a policy that promotes voluntary relocation of residents in such communities with all appropriate governmental support; for a policy that results in the production of more decent and affordable units throughout the economy; and mostly for the commitment to improve existing communities so that they are places where lower income residents may live with dignity and pride.

Publication Citation

De-concentrating Poverty: De-constructing a Theory and the Failure of Hope, in COMMUNITY, HOME, AND IDENTITY (Michael Diamond & Terry Turnipseed, eds., Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate 2012)