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Public housing and welfare services : a comparative review of community experiences, 1947-1963 Brown, James Secord

Abstract

Public housing, after a long delay, has become an accepted feature in the urban renewal plans of many Canadian cities, notably Vancouver which is now building (1963) its fourth unit. On the subject of welfare services in relation to public housing, however, there are two divergent approaches. One is that by their very nature, housing projects should be understood as a welfare service with appropriate provisions (which range very widely from, e.g., minimum social assistance liaison to a highly developed community program). The other is that public housing should be a purely managerial or real-estate operation, the tenants being completely "left alone" apart from standard management provisions. The rent and eligibility principles of Canadian public housing are different from those which govern United States projects; but the decisive trend of American experience makes it timely to examine it for the light it can throw on the issues above stated. British developments in the direction of integrating social services to local community development are also highly relevant. The present study is an intensive review of the most relevant recent literature, including reports of surveys and demonstration services, and the recommendations of local and national committees of housing administrators, planners, social workers, and citizens. A major statement of this latter kind was adopted as a general point of reference. Various methods of classifying the detailed references were eventually brought together under three heads: (1) the welfare services required by public housing tenants; (2) the issues of community relationships of several kinds, and (3) administrative implications. Before developing a final chapter on needs and methods of coordination, meetings were held with housing, city planning, and Community Chest representatives. The extent to which low-income families require welfare services, and the type of welfare services which are appropriate, are classified by several surveys. "Problem" families and "normal" families need to be understood, as well as distinguished in provisions made for them. It is clear that relocation and rehousing sever neighbourhood ties for adults and children, and that resettlement problems cannot be solved without examination of the extent to which existing districts are properly equipped as neighbourhoods. "Community building" involves social as well as physical facilities; and the need may not be confined to the housing project. Administration must, likewise, be distinguished at several levels of responsibility. The coordination of community services is such a major and complex issue that comparative experience is marshalled (in a concluding chapter), distinguishing five principal methods of coordinations which are further illustrated by examples from several American cities. Examples are used throughout to illuminate special as well as general programs which have been evolved in recent years to meet welfare, recreational, "self-help", educational, and other "community building" needs. In sum, a concentration of low-income families in high-density public housing projects creates neighbourhood stress and family welfare needs, requiring a wide range of community services. Even if rehousing is not solely a low-income program, however, urban renewal makes clearer the common goals of housing, family rehabilitation, and neighbourhood development. In conclusion, the relation of this to some current Vancouver proposals for "area coordination" service is reviewed.

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