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Affordable Housing , Community Development , Supportive Housing

Making Public Housing Work for Families

9 September 2014

Nancy von Euler, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation program director

In 2008, The Fairfield County’s Community Foundation embarked on an effort to improve the success of families living in public housing in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The work was inspired and supported by a new donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation, the Bridgeport Public Housing Resident Support Fund (BPHRSF) that was established to benefit Bridgeport public housing residents.

The Community Foundation started with a service delivery approach, designing and then funding a program which we named Stable Families. The program provides intensive case management and support services to high risk families in Bridgeport public housing and was intended to take an early intervention approach to eviction; getting at the underlying issues that can make a family vulnerable to eviction before families actually found themselves in the eviction process. New Reach (formerly New Haven Home Recovery) was selected to operate the program through a competitive bid process and the program opened in the fall of 2009.
As we carefully monitored program implementation and outcome data we saw that there was both good news and suggestions that we could do better. In the first 21 months the program had served 118 families at risk for eviction, achieved a 99% eviction prevention rate, and helped 75% of those families to maintain or increase their income. However, we were concerned that the program was almost exclusively serving families already in the eviction pipeline and that we were not having success engaging families with young children. Furthermore, we were quickly realizing that we were not going to be able to achieve positive, long-term outcomes for families as long as those families continued to live in highly unstable public housing environments. We needed to find a way to have positive community level outcomes, in addition to positive family-level outcomes.

In August 2011, inspired by our desire to have a greater impact, the Community Foundation and our partners began a year-long planning process to develop a strategy for addressing these broader issues in one of Bridgeport’s public housing neighborhoods. The partners chose to focus on the P.T. Barnum Apartments, a public housing project located in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. P.T. Barnum is currently home to more than 1,180 individuals in 352 families. Ninety-three percent of these families are single, female-headed households. The average income for a family of 4 is less than $15,000.  While P.T. is a neighborhood of distinct disadvantage, the neighborhood also has significant assets that can be leveraged, including: a new youth recreational facility, a new community health center, a supermarket, and thriving small businesses.

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The PT Partners’ design includes three critical components:

  1. A multi-partner supportive services model designed to help families create and access a system of care that builds on family strengths, and takes a multi-generational, integrated, and coordinated approach.
  2. A family engagement center that provides a gathering space for families with young children where they can connect to each other, participate in activities, and access child developmental and maternal depression screenings and referrals provided by a master’s level clinician from Bridgeport Hospital’s Child First program.
  3. A community “collective impact” effort that deeply engages residents with other community stakeholders and partners to identify and prioritize community issues, craft solutions, and evaluate the impact of those solutions.

PT Partners was built on the conviction that public housing residents can and should be the drivers of positive, sustainable change in their community and throughout the planning and implementation of the initiative residents have played an increasingly important role in shaping the project.
Last year, The Yale Consultation Center provided a pro bono community readiness assessment using a tool developed by the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research. During this assessment process residents were co-researchers, working side by side with planning partners and the Yale researcher. The assessment provided an indication of the community’s readiness to make change around a key issue, which residents defined as transforming P.T. Barnum into a community of opportunity. The results of the assessment provide a roadmap for driving community change based on the community’s stage of readiness.

As we have continued to engage residents we have learned that safety is their highest priority concern and that safety reaches beyond safety from crime, violence and vandalism. Residents have told us that safety means housing authority policies and practices that are clear, consistent, predictable and fair. Safety means having a home that is well maintained and free from pests and hazards. Safety means that all the institutions with which they interact: schools, police, healthcare; treat them with empathy and respect.

It has been clear from our conversations that this is where our work starts. Developing the willingness and readiness of residents to help transform P.T. Barnum from a community of disadvantage to a community of opportunity requires re-building individual and institutional relationships and trust. To shift the community dynamic, PT Partners must begin by influencing the individual attitudes and behaviors that shape communities and systems.


This blog was originally posted here.

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