Housing Options

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Women’s Development Corporation (WDC) is a Providence, RI-based non-profit organization which develops and manages scattered-site housing for low income families with children, persons with physical or mental challenges, and elderly households. This short film was produced by DMRLab in 2011to support WDC’s efforts to meet the needs of those at the edge of homelessness. It focuses on the goals of WDC and the experiences of former and current residents. This short film is part of a larger ongoing project that has the title, “Housing Options After Pruitt–Igoe.”

Initiated by four young professional women, three of whom were trained as architects, in 1979 following participatory design meetings with low-income women residing in the city center, WDC evolved to become one of the largest developers of housing in the state of RI. Recognizing the success of development relies on the ongoing success of units; hence, the founders created a second corporation, Housing Opportunities, for property management.

Housing Options After Pruitt–Igoe: Dispersal Policy and Scattered-site Projects

The dominant model of public housing in the US was the high-rise, high-density project until the 1960s. Perhaps the most famous of these projects, Pruitt-Igoe – designed by Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth and built in the early 1950s in St. Louis, Missouri – was demolished in the 1970s. The highly publicized and broadcast demolition of the first of the 33 blocks on March 16, 1972 by the federal government became an icon in housing policy debates.

Within architectural circles, the spectacle of the demolition was glorified as the end of Modernism and the beginning of Post-Modernism, most memorably by Charles Jenks in The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, and much quoted via Jenks in seminal books, such as The Condition of Postmodernity by David Harvey. According to the chain of authority established by repeated comments, the failure of Pruitt-Igoe was in its design. Katharine Bristol’s “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” of 1991 (JAE) and the recent documentary film “The Myth of Pruitt-Igoe” of 2011 by Chad Freidrichs aim to “debunk” the myth by showing how the project’s operation was plagued by a number of political, economic and social contextual factors – such as the white flight to the suburbs enabled by mortgages underwritten by the federal government, the lack of maintenance and managerial failure. The “myth” served the architecture discipline trying to legitimize its new direction.

Racial discrimination in federally assisted housing programs lead as early as the 1960s to legal measures, such as the Fair Housing Act of 1968, to end high-rise public housing developments and create scattered-site public housing. In the past 30 years, many medium and large public housing authorities (PHAs) have actively developed scattered-site housing, as an alternative to large projects that concentrate poverty and problems. The impact of dispersal policy has been limited. Scattered site housing generated its own “myth” of property value decline.