Tuesday, May 29, 2001
Public housing viewed as safer
UC survey finds higher job rate
By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer
More residents in Cincinnati's public housing say they feel safe where they live, and more residents are working today than six years ago, a University of Cincinnati study concludes.
Still, most residents say they want to move.
More than 60 percent of the 300 or so residents UC researchers interviewed by telephone last year said they plan to move within five years. They said they consider the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority a stepping stone to home ownership or renting in the private market.
The six-year UC study, conducted by phone annually since 1995, has included opinions of a total about 1,900 public housing residents throughout Hamilton County. In some ways, the study disputes some stereotypes about government-funded housing.
Ninety percent of the residents interviewed in 2000 said they feel safe on neighborhood streets, up from 78 percent in 1995. Housing officials attribute that to better enforcement of rules and improved crime prevention measures such as fences, lighting and more policing. Other factors are declines in numbers of serious crimes, better landscaping and fewer problem families.
The study includes residents who live in apartment units and in scattered single-family housing. It does not include homes subsidized under the federal Section 8 program.
Veronica Newell feels safer today than in 1999, when she moved from public housing in Millvale into a CMHA home in Colerain Township.
I do feel safer here, said Ms. Newell, a 33-year-old home day-care provider.
The area is much cleaner. On the street that I live on, yes, I feel that crime is
down. And the neighbors work together. If a car pulls up in my driveway and my neighbors knew I wasn't home, they would pay attention to that car. They go as far as writing down the license plate number. They'll even try to describe the person.
However, some residents say crime remains a problem.
Alejandro Coleman said a break-in at a neighbor's apartment in Millvale last month has him keeping a closer eye on his apartment.
I feel it's a gamble each time I leave because sometimes there are people who may hang outside and they watch when you leave, said Mr. Coleman, a professional model and a full-time student at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College.
Since the break-in, he is considering some safety measures, because I already felt like I couldn't leave my home when I first moved there.
The study also found that residents are more likely to hold jobs than six years ago.
Employment among residents rose from 24 percent to 33 percent between 1995-2000. In that period, residents' average income rose 36 percent, from $7,400 to $10,100.
Donald Troendle, executive director of the CMHA, said the employment statistics are misleading because 40 percent of the residents are senior citizens.
He attributes the rise in employment to support services such as summer and after-school programs for children, changes in the welfare-to-work initiatives and minimum-wage increases.
But this progress is in danger, he said.
After-school and summer programs, as well as job training and off-duty police programs are in jeopardy under President Bush's proposed budget, which would cut $1.5 million from the Public Housing Drug Elimination Fund to CMHA. Another $4 million the agency uses for capital improvements also may be cut under the proposed budget, Mr. Troendle said.
Those two programs are not included in the promise of compassionate conservatism, said Mr. Troendle, who has led the CMHA since 1994.
And it's really unfortunate, because these are the kinds of things that families and elderly people expect in their neighborhoods.
CMHA is the nation's 17th-largest public housing authority, with 17,000 residents.
Since 1994, the housing authority, which is a public agency providing low-income housing throughout Hamilton County, has spent more than $140 million to renovate the 7,000 residential units and property management offices.
David Varady, co-author of the study and professor of planning at UC, said the success at CMHA is part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve the overall effectiveness of public housing by eliminating mismanagement and social problems.
HUD is putting pressure on different housing authorities around the country to improve management and is giving them more flexibility in devising solutions that are appropriate for their development, Mr. Varady said.
The study's margin of error was 2.3 percent. The study was conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at UC.
I don't think people realize the improvements that have been made in public housing, Mr. Varady said. A lot of people have moved to the suburbs, and what they know of public housing is from the metro page and the 11 o'clock news. The positive stories don't get in the newspaper.
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