Lottery jackpot is a spot in public housing

Craig LeMoult Feb 7, 2012

David Brancaccio: Now to a special kind of lottery in New Haven, Connecticut.
The prize isn’t cash, but it’s something awfully valuable: a place to live. Winners will get to move into a brand new public housing community.

Craig LeMoult was there as people lined up to apply.

Craig LeMoult: Richard Estrada says winning this lottery would mean a lot to him.

Richard Estrada: A great deal. Because I got two little boys, one is autistic. So I need a larger space for him.

Estrada’s not the stereotypical public housing tenant. He’s got a good job, running maintenance for the city’s police stations. But it’s still tough to make ends meet.

Estrada:  Everything’s counted for on my part. So, you know. Hopefully, hopefully it goes well.

If it does go well, he’ll get to live in a brand new public housing community —  not a project.

Karen Dubois: We’ve given up that word.

That’s Karen Dubois Walton, the housing authority’s director. That change is more than just semantics. These are individual homes with front and back yards. This lottery is for the city’s working poor. The idea is to get people with different incomes living together.

Dubois: It stabilizes communities. It is helpful for communities to see and benefit from people getting up and going to work every day.

The federal government funds hundreds of mixed income communities like this around the country. New Haven is using some money for this development that would have otherwise supported housing vouchers. People can use vouchers to help pay rent at apartments around the city.

Bob Ellickson, who teaches property law at Yale, says these mixed income communities are way better than the old model of clustering the poorest people in massive projects.

Bob Ellickson:  But I think inferior to portable housing vouchers which are much more flexible and provide aid to twice more families than these projects do, and also can be targeted to the families that are most in need.

Federal housing officials say rent vouchers can only do so much. This project is a brand new development with built-in social services, like job training. Add in the lottery to mix things up economically, and, they say, you may have created a community that can make some progress against poverty.

In Connecticut, I’m Craig LeMoult for Marketplace.

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