Public Housing History in the HOPE VI Era
This panel investigates new methods of expanding the history of public housing into the present as panelists discuss how we can see the effects of decades of public housing policy in modern-day preservation and redevelopment efforts in four cities across the country: Richmond, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Columbus, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee. What effect does the history of racial segregation have upon recent public housing policy? How do the actual physical locations of public housing affect the meaning of the programs for residents and the public? In what ways did public housing lead to other beneficial urban renewal projects? These questions will continue to increase in importance as historians continue along the spatial turn currently building in our discipline.
With her paper “Reframing Public Housing in Richmond, Virginia: Segregation, Resistance, and the Future of Redevelopment,” Amy Howard historicizes the advocacy efforts of tenant-led coalition Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Massive Eviction (RePHRAME). Howard investigates the resident response to HOPE VI redevelopment policies for the city, tracing the distrust between residents and the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority back to the original creation of segregated housing in the 1940s and 1950s, and the decades of mismanagement that followed.
In “From High-Rise Projects to HOPE VI Vouchers: Race and Space in Baltimore Public Housing,” Sara Patenaude draws comparisons between the discourse surrounding the original placement of public housing projects in Baltimore with the later struggles over the development of HOPE VI scattered-site housing. Bringing the debates between city planners, government officials, and public housing residents into the forefront, Patenaude argues that race and space remain deeply entwined even as the form of public housing changes.
Patrick Potyondy takes an innovative approach to studying the history of public housing, presenting visualizations of geographic and discursive analysis to understand the role of residents and the public in shaping how public housing is remembered and preserved. In “Preserving and Visualizing Public Housing: New Deal Public Housing and the National Register of Historic Places,” he presents a study of public housing projects listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as his analysis of written documents on the topic of public housing, Potyondy brings important questions about contemporary politics of preservation and memory.
Elizabeth Milnarik’s paper, “Islands of Prosperity in a Slum Sea, the Impact of Public Housing on Urban Renewal in Memphis, Tennessee,” explores an under-discussed outcome of some public housing and urban renewal programs. Lauderdale Courts and Dixie Homes, the first two federal housing projects, located in Memphis, attracted post-World War II urban renewal funding that blossomed in the late 20th century. Milnarik argues that elimination of downtown slums in Memphis helped create a healthy center from which other substantial building projects were able to emerge.
Through these four papers, the relationship between race, space, and preservation of public housing is explored in depth. By putting these histories in conversation with one another, the panelists open space for new understandings of public housing today.