La Crosse, Wisconsin’s scholarship-driven neighborhood revitalization

When poor families are relocated to wealthier neighborhoods — say, through HUD’s housing voucher program — is that the most efficient way of fighting inequality across the U.S.?

What transpires in the impoverished neighborhoods they leave behind?

One long-term project in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is aiming to tackle poverty from the other direction. “We’re doing the opposite. We’re trying to attract market-rate homes … into [high-poverty] neighborhoods,” says Jerilyn Dinsmoor, executive director of the nonprofit La Crosse Promise. “That way, we’re not leaving vacant homes and forgetting about a community.

La Crosse Promise is now offering $25,000 and $50,000 college scholarships to up to 30 families who move to two of La Crosse’s struggling neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

In order to qualify, a family must agree to invest enough money into a home to raise the home value well above market rate (specifically, by putting $50,000 worth of renovations into a home assessed at under $150,000, or paying $150,000 in construction costs on a brand-new home).

The deployment of place-based scholarships links La Crosse, a city of 52,000 where 23 percent live in poverty, with dozens of so-called “promise programs” across the country.

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