Words and images are two of the most important factors that determine people’s perception of public housing communities and its residents. Public housing as a concept and place carries a stigma and conjures negative images because of the harmful words and images used to discuss and visualize it.
For these reasons, and others, we need to change the narrative around public housing; the words we use to describe the communities and residents and the images we use to exhibit them. Too often, when media report about public housing, they lead with disaster or despair. Historically, this narrative has led to damaging, harmful policies. For decades, the dominate narrative has centered around the dangers of living in public housing, the drugs and crime that plague these communities, and the impact of concentrated poverty. Those conversations resulted in alternative programs and policies that impacted thousands of residents in public housing communities across the country. Programs like Hope VI/Choice Neighborhoods Initivative, and Moving to Opportunity have had as many failures as successes. New York City Housing Authority, the largest authority in the country, manages the last of the traditional housing stock that was built in the early- to mid 1900s, and is currently the focus of an onslaught by the media for a variety of reasons. This negative attention transcends operational and capital management and engulfs the communities and residents in the rhetoric. We want to disrupt the general conversation around public housing about the deleterious effects of concentrating people of low-income and divert it toward one of family, community, and hope. To do that we will need to go behind, beyond and across these developments to engage with residents, amplify their stories and unify the communities.