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«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»

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Contrary to these optimistic assumptions, the vast bulk of evidence shows little interaction across income or racial groups in mixed developments or neighborhoods. Policies of social mix are different from support for social mixing or social inclusion (Lees, Butler, and Bridge, 2012). In mixed housing, the middle class stigmatizes and avoids the poor who in turn feel disrespected and withdraw from community life, keeping a low profile, protecting their privacy from heightened surveillance, and worrying about losing eligibility by getting into unexpected trouble. Without exceptional conditions, integrated neighborhoods produce interracial friendships of a superficial quality at best (Britton, 2011). Withdrawal and isolation may just as easily result. Low-income residents in three 76 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Mixing Policies: Expectations and Achievements mixed-income developments in Chicago felt that, while the stigma associated with living in public housing was reduced, they experienced new stigmas, heightened scrutiny, and negative responses from higher income residents (Joseph and Chaskin, 2010; McCormick, Joseph, and Chaskin, 2012).

On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, little social mixing occurs among higher and lower income people in redeveloped mixed communities. In London, for example, gentrifiers in new housing built along the Thames River had little interaction with the previous residents (Davidson, 2010).

Of course, we have long known that physical proximity alone does not guarantee good social relations. In fact, forcing diverse groups into close proximity may provoke avoidance and invidious distinctions, if not conflict (Chamboredon and Lemaire, 1970; Elias and Scotson, 1994; Gans, 1961;

Goodchild and Cole, 2001). As Putnam (2007) and others discovered, rather than contribute to trust and community participation, ethnic diversity may produce discord. Keller et al. rightly remark that living with people who have different lifestyles and types of households can as easily produce conflict as understanding.

Mixed-income housing is also supposed to do more than just build intergroup relations, however.

It should reduce poverty. Spatial mobility—escaping the “neighborhood effects” of concentrated poverty and the spatial mismatch isolating the poor from jobs—was supposed to increase social mobility (Haveman, 2013). This assumption was a foundation of MTO (Sampson, 2012). In theory, the social mix would give low-income residents access to middle-income resources, such as job contacts and information and mainstream norms and values. Even if low-income residents do not develop friendships with residents of other income classes, they can benefit from passive observation of respectable behavior. Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber (2007) offered a helpful list of ways that mixed-income neighborhoods are supposed to help poor families. Their evidence suggests that low-income residents may enjoy a higher quality of life through greater informal social control and access to higher quality services, but not that social interaction, networks, or role models will improve the socioeconomic status of low-income residents. Levy, McDade, and Bertumen’s article confirms the conclusion that mixed-income housing is not an efficient way to reduce poverty.

Obviously a more direct way to reduce poverty with housing policy would be to make low-income housing subsidies universal. If means-tested housing vouchers were distributed like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), we could certainly improve the standard of living of poor families. That is not going to happen any time soon.

Kearns et al. argue that middle-income groups can only transmit desirable values, norms, and resources to lower income groups if the income gap among residents is not too large. On even the more spatially integrated estate in their study, however, cross-class social interaction was scarce and the community did not connect the way it previously had. The authors report that managers and others responsible for mixed-income housing found the social and economic impacts wanting, yet they still adhered to the overall philosophy of mixing. The informants did feel that local amenities and infrastructure—schools, shops, family centers, and recreation facilities—had improved, thanks to the additional resources that redevelopment brought. Resident involvement in community governance was limited, however.

The singular emphasis on spatial mixing downplays the specific needs and interests of low-income tenants (Berry, 2005). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandates

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participation of residents in policymaking, but the extent and mechanism for that participation is vague. One study of a HOPE VI project in Phoenix, Arizona, found that the participation of dispersed tenants in planning the redevelopment was minimal, and that in the wake of demolition, an organization was needed to protect their rights to involvement in making the new place (Lucio and Wolfersteig, 2012). Rebuilding community takes more than coresidence.

Although many assumptions underlying social mixing policies are erroneous, spatial proximity still enables social relations. Thoughtful design of common spaces—lobbies, laundry rooms, elevators, benches, and pathways—can increase the probability of chance encounters and the formation of informal relations in the neighborhood (Kleit, 2005). Local facilities and public spaces, such as parks, libraries, and recreation facilities, are strong predictors of trust, norms, and reciprocity— social capital—among neighbors (Curley, 2010). Formal institutions can encourage or dissuade friendships and neighboring. One study of a mixed-income housing community in Boston found that the private management company discouraged interaction through rules, social signaling, and explicit communication (Graves, 2010). Conversely, the community center, the local school, the management office, local coffee shops, and so on provided spaces in which to conduct more purposive interaction and build formal associations. Keller et al. remark on the diminished sense of community among the low-income residents who returned to the HOPE VI mixed-income development in Tacoma because of the layout of common areas. Levy, McDade, and Bertumen suggest that, to increase participation in community across income lines, it helps to give people common places and a reason to cooperate in them. Those reasons may be children, old age, or other demographics or lifestyles (Varady et al., 2005), or they may unite around practical community affairs.





Keller et al. remind us that a common concern like crime prevention or institutions like churches, senior activities, and community centers can unite neighbors across class and ethnic lines.

Contemporary Housing Policy Having discussed how community building in mixed housing matters, I turn finally to contemporary American housing policy. One might have thought that the Obama Administration would have seen the bottom line of the HOPE VI and MTO evaluations and concluded enough is enough.

Instead, confirming the orthodoxy, HUD forged full steam ahead into the Choice Neighborhoods (Choice) initiative. The Choice initiative is presented as the new and improved successor to HOPE VI. Choice neighborhoods are supposed to reknit new housing into broader communities.

The goals of the participating partnerships extend far beyond housing, aiming to improve the life chances of residents and community members and to reestablish the neighborhood “as a community of choice”—that is, attractive to the middle class.3 The White House Office of Urban Affairs touts the Choice initiative as providing “local leaders with flexible funds to transform high-poverty neighborhoods with distressed public housing into sustainable communities with mixed-income housing, safe streets, and economic opportunity. Choice Neighborhoods is one of the signature programs of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which supports innovative, holistic strategies that bring the right partners together to help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.” See http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/01/10/ building-neighborhoods-opportunity.

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Choice has three core goals.

1. Housing. Replace distressed public and assisted housing with high-quality mixed-income housing that is well managed and responsive to the needs of the surrounding neighborhood.

2. People. Improve educational outcomes and intergenerational mobility for youth.

3. Neighborhood. Create the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods to offer the kinds of amenities and assets, including safety, good schools, and commercial activity, that are supposedly important to families’ choices about their community.

The dozen or so Choice neighborhoods already selected for implementation are not simply rebuilding or rehabilitating public housing and adding considerable numbers of new mixed-income units.

They are also introducing or improving neighborhood services—health clinics, childcare centers, schools, police, recreation facilities, even commercial districts—and providing better transportation connections to employers. To create synergy, some of these sites are leveraging Promise Neighborhood funds too, stitching together small pots of money from the Department of Education, HUD, and other agency silos to intensify cooperation within small confined areas. Some 42 Choice planning grants were also distributed. In December 2012, HUD awarded $231 million in Choice implementation grants. Not all the lead agencies were housing authorities; some were community development corporations eager to build new workforce units. Planning groups include a wide range of “stakeholders”—local leaders, residents, public housing authorities, cities, schools, police, business owners, nonprofits, and even private developers. Their plans go beyond subsidized or mixed housing to improve collective neighborhood assets.

It is hard to remember that, back in the depths of the “Great Recession,” candidate Obama pointed to the isolation of the inner-city poor and, in a nod to Wilson (2012/1987), promised Promise Neighborhoods “to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 cities across the country.” Today, Promise Neighborhoods, like Choice neighborhoods, are “a small item tucked away in the discretionary budget of the Department of Education” (Tough, 2012). Both programs are now subsumed under the administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, an interagency “place-based approach to help neighborhoods in distress transform themselves into neighborhoods of opportunity.” Starved for funds by the depressed economy and a recalcitrant Congress, President Obama’s urban policy is in fact found less in the federal agencies than concealed in the macroeconomic stimulus and infrastructural investments (Silver, 2010). That neo-Keynesian intervention may be coming to an end. In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt inaugurated the American public housing program with the aim of reducing unemployment as well as blight. In early 2013, President Obama relaunched his appeal for renewing America’s public school buildings, roads, and bridges, on which American cities—and jobs—rely. If public works of this magnitude are funded in this time of fiscal austerity, they would do a lot more to reduce poverty than the construction of mixed-income housing.

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Author Hilary Silver is a professor of sociology and urban studies and of public policy at Brown University, where she is also Director of the Urban Studies Program.

References Allport, Gordon. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Berry, Ellen. 2005. “Divided Over Diversity: Political Discourse in a Chicago Neighborhood,” City & Community 4 (2): 143–170.

Bridge, Gary, Tim Butler, and Loretta Lees, eds. 2012. Mixed Communities: Gentrification by Stealth?

Bristol, United Kingdom: Policy Press.

Briggs, Xavier de Souza, Susan Popkin, and John Goering. 2010. Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment To Fight Ghetto Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Britton, Marcus. 2011. “Close Together but Worlds Apart? Residential Integration and Interethnic Friendship in Houston,” City & Community 10 (2): 182–204.

Buron, Larry, Christopher Hayes, and Chantal Hailey. 2013. An Improved Living Environment, but….

Long-Term Outcomes for CHA Residents Brief 3. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Chamboredon, Jean-Claude, and Madeleine Lemaire. 1970. “Proximite Spatial et Distance Sociale:

Les Grands Ensembles et Leur Peuplement,” Revue Francaise de Sociologie 11: 3–33.

Chaskin, Robert, and Mark L. Joseph. 2011. “Social Interaction in Mixed-Income Developments:

Relational Expectations and Emerging Reality,” Journal of Urban Affairs 33 (2): 209–237.

Chaskin, Robert J., and Mark L. Joseph. 2010. “Building Community in Mixed-Income Developments: Assumptions, Approaches, and Early Experiences,” Urban Affairs Review 45 (3): 299–335.

Clampet-Lundquist, Susan. 2004. “HOPE VI Relocation: Moving to New Neighborhoods and Building New Ties,” Housing Policy Debate 15 (2): 415–447.

Curley, Alexandra. 2010. “Neighborhood Institutions, Facilities, and Public Space: A Missing Link for HOPE VI Residents’ Development of Social Capital?” Cityscape 12 (1): 33–54.

Davidson, Mark. 2010. “Love Thy Neighbor? Interpreting Social Mixing in London’s Gentrification Frontiers,” Environment and Planning A 42 (3): 524–544.

Elias, Norbert, and John L. Scotson. 1994. The Established and the Outsiders. London, United Kingdom: SAGE Publications.

Ellen, Ingrid. 2000. Sharing America’s Neighborhoods: The Prospects for Stable Racial Integration.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ellen, Ingrid, Keren Horn, and Katherine O’Regan. 2012. “Pathways to Integration: Examining Changes in the Prevalence of Racially Integrated Neighborhoods,” Cityscape 14 (3): 33–54.

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Galster, George. 2007. “Neighborhood Social Mix As a Goal of Housing Policy: A Theoretical Analysis,” European Journal of Housing Policy 7 (1): 19–43.



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