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Plan Offers Classes At Housing Projects

The Clinton administration proposed converting public housing projects into “learning campuses” where tenants would take courses or participate in job training as a condition of living there.

The idea is to replicate a college environment of living in dormitories while pursuing a degree, Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros said Tuesday. Unlike college, classes would be offered to all residents, from toddlers to the elderly, through day-care or life-enrichment programs.

“You will be there as long as you are in training, and as long as you are moving toward getting a job,” Cisneros told reporters. “I don’t know what excuse a person might have for not signing up for courses that might improve their lives.”

The program would be funded through the $1.5 billion HOPE VI program, which seeks innovative ways of revitalizing distressed public housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is asking 32 cities that receive HOPE VI money to incorporate the educational program into their plans for the funds, which already have been appropriated.

Cities would be free to structure the program as they wish. They could opt to work with nearby colleges, vocational schools or public schools, or set up the programs on-site.

“These are not going to be recipe-book, one-size-fits-all strategies,” Cisneros said. “It’ll depend upon what bidders we get. Show us what you can do, and we’ll try to match you and improve your plan with resources.”

It was not clear how the concept would be received in Congress, which is looking to cut HUD’s annual appropriation by about $4 billion.

Cisneros said cities such as Atlanta, Boston and Denver have expressed interest in the program, as has East St. Louis, Ill., which doesn’t receive HOPE VI money.

He also said he would like to see the program implemented in Chicago, where HUD has taken over public housing operations, and Washington, D.C., which has a new public housing director.

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