From Ghetto To White Picket Fence

roberts playing on lawn skirley with grandson CBS

There's nothing unusual about American families moving from the city to the suburbs as soon as they can.

But with some of the moves these days there comes the extra baggage of controversy, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

"I always said I would move in my house with the white picket fence," said Shirley Hudnall. "I used to ride by and say, 'One day I'm going to move in there.'"

Hudnall now lives in that neighborhood she used to dream about -- an apartment in a middle-class section of suburban Baltimore - with a white picket fence. It's a world away from the mean streets of her old home.

"It was a difference, quite a difference," she said. "There were a lot of drugs on the corner. There were a lot of gunshots at night, during the day -- a lot of traffic."

For seven years Hudnall and her son Bryant lived in public housing in Baltimore's inner city.

They were trapped in that neighborhood by health problems that prevented Hudnall from getting a job. So when the Department of Housing and Urban Development offered her a slot in a test program called "Moving to Opportunity," she jumped at it.

"It was most important for my son. I wanted a better life for him," she says.

HUD has signed up nearly 2,000 poor families in five different cities. The idea is to help them make a successful move to a better neighborhood. Non-profit organizations provide counseling, training people for life outside the projects, even teaching them basic housekeeping skills.

HUD wants to tear down the old approach to public housing, which concentrated poor families in one area. High-rise projects are being replaced by mixed income homes. By seeding disadvantaged people in prosperous neighborhoods, HUD hopes to immerse them in an environment of opportunity -- and break the cycle of poverty.

"I think there's no doubt that this is the right direction we have to move in. We've tried the alternative -- it does not work. You can't have high concentrations of poverty and expect a good outcome," said Andrew Cuomo, secretary of HUD.

The program provoked outrage when it was proposed in 1994. Some residents of the Baltimore suburbs complained that low-income city families were being dumped on them. Harvard professor Howard Husock calls the HUD program government intrusion of the worst kind.

"That is social engineering," said Husock. "It says, 'Well, we think some people ought to live here because it would be good for them, or it would be good for some other people to have them as neighbors.'"

Other critics complain that "Moving to Opportunity" helps only a select few and that the program's $70 million would be better spent fixing the problems of the inner city -- such as crime and education.

But for the participants, the benefits are obvious. Most say they feel safer, have seen improvements in their children's behavior and a decrease in urban-related ailments lie asthma.

Hudnall calls it the opportunity of a lifetime, to play with her grandson in the safety of her backyard and dream of doing even better. She hopes to start her own business.

"I'm not giving up my dreams and my goals, because God has been truly good to me."

The move to suburbia is not for everybody. Some participants complained the change was socially isolating and hard on the kids who missed their friends. A small percentage dropped out of the program. But the vast majority are finding that the new address gives them a new lease on life. The study will be completed 2004.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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