In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will award $65 million in grants to local governments and other organizations through its new Choice Neighborhoods initiative. The HUD Choice Neighborhood grants will support efforts to transform distressed neighborhoods into mixed-income communities by linking housing improvements with services, schools, public assets, transportation and access to jobs.

The Choice Neighborhoods initiative is designed to supplement HUD’s HOPE VI program, which aims to turn neighborhoods with distressed public housing into revitalized mixed-income communities. Where HOPE VI focuses primarily on housing improvements, the Choice initiative will finance social services, transportation, schools and access to jobs. “We have seen remarkable success under our HOPE VI program over the last 17 years,” said HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez. “But, even some of the best HOPE VI projects are islands of hope surrounded by a sea of need. By coupling this round of HOPE VI funding with the first awards in our Choice Neighborhoods initiative, we’re transitioning toward investing in strategies to address interconnected challenges — housing decay, crime, lack of educational prospects and economic connections — that keep families and communities in severe distress.”

Last year, Richmond, Va., and a collaborative of community organizations, including nonprofit Communities in Schools of Richmond, began working toward some of the goals of the Choice Neighborhoods program when they formed the East End Achievement Zone (EEAZ) initiative. The EEAZ has honed in on improving the area around Woodville Elementary School in the city’s East End neighborhood. The school of 562 students has undergone a five-year period of successful reforms, although educational, health and safety risks prevail for children living in the area, according to Communities in Schools.

In June, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones held a series of public design workshops to revitalize the East End and Nine Mile Road corridor of the city. Public input from the meetings helped the city develop proposals for design, housing and business opportunities, as well as policy and management recommendations for revitalization that will be used in the city’s Choice Neighborhoods grant application. “Our long-term goal is to end generational poverty, improve children’s achievement in school, and provide young people and their parents with opportunities associated with neighborhoods with greater resources,” Jones said in a June statement.

The Choice Neighborhoods competitive program will award grants to public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofits and for-profit developers that apply jointly with a public entity and demonstrate how they can link housing revitalization with education reform and early childhood education. Two types of grants are available through the Choice program. HUD expects to award 12 to 15 planning grants of up to $250,000 each, and two to four implementation grants of up to $31 million each.

Applications for HUD’s Choice Neighborhood grants are due at the end of November. Read more information on applying for the grants and download the grant applications.

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