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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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82 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Making Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Work for Low-Income Households James C. Fraser Vanderbilt University Robert J. Chaskin University of Chicago Joshua Theodore Bazuin Vanderbilt University Abstract Mixed-income housing policies such as Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE VI, are an outcome of historical processes that have limited the scope of subsidized public housing in America, leading to disinvestment in government housing programs in favor of reinvestment in market-based solutions. The underlying assumption has been that reinvestment deconcentrates poverty and addresses other perceived failures of traditional public housing. Although they provide some benefits to lower income residents, such initiatives have not produced many of the outcomes for which their advocates had hoped. The goal of this article is to reinvigorate the conversation about how, and if, mixed-income housing policies can be implemented in ways that work with and for the benefit of lowincome populations. The article draws on literature about public housing and mixedincome development to posit ways that mixed-income initiatives might be combined with other programmatic efforts to foster upward trajectories for those experiencing poverty and to create public housing environments where people can thrive in all aspects of their lives. In the final section, we reimagine mixed-income housing in ways that could result in more inclusive communities—a reimagination that we suggest may better meet the original goals of such programs without dismissing the inherent limitations of solving entrenched poverty.





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Introduction The goal of this article is to reinvigorate the conversation about how, and if, mixed-income housing policies can be implemented in ways that work with and for the benefit of low-income populations.

In part, this effort is motivated by the more critical treatments of mixed-income development that fundamentally challenge this agenda toward city building as incapable of achieving both place-based and people-based goals. These critiques suggest that, rather than achieving balanced development that effectively addresses the problems of concentrated urban poverty, mixed-income development schemes are more properly seen as veiled efforts at gentrification, appropriating inner-city neighborhoods with renewed market value for development that disproportionately benefits capital interests and the middle class. In light of these critiques, we ask: Can the twin goals of improving neighborhood conditions and assuring opportunities for low-income people be simultaneously realized?

How can mixed-income initiatives be combined with other policy instruments to address poverty in a more holistic manner? What types of community are possible in a mixed-income environment?

In cities across the United States, public housing developments and entire neighborhoods have been sites for mixed-income and mixed-tenure initiatives aimed at transforming urban areas. Proponents of these policies frame mixed-income housing as a route toward building better neighborhoods that will promote poverty amelioration by supplying low-income, “workforce,”1 and higher income housing products to attract socioeconomic mix (Cisneros and Engdahl, 2009). Alternatively, opponents frame mixed-income housing development as a tool for gentrification founded on the displacement of low-income populations from target neighborhoods under the banner of poverty deconcentration (Bridge, Butler, and Lees, 2012; Lees, 2008). A third position is that many mixed-income initiatives might create some neighborhood change and provide some response to urban poverty but that its effects are more modest than either the gentrification-oriented critics or poverty-deconcentration champions suggest (Fraser, DeFilippis, and Bazuin, 2012). These multiple perspectives on the promise and limitations of mixed-income development strategies arise in part because mixed-income policies and programs, although grounded in a recognition of the deleterious effect of concentrated urban poverty and operating from a set of broad assumptions about the potential benefits of income diversity and neighborhood restructuring, lack a coherent intervention model built from a clear theory of change. Instead, they pull together elements of initiatives (neighborhood planning, architectural design, social-service provision, and “community building” strategies) that seek to materialize certain spatial and social imaginaries of what neighborhoods and public housing developments ought to be.

These contemporary imaginaries are based on ideas about how the built environment might engender certain forms of sociality and how certain forms of sociality might produce locality in line with the dominant political-economic mode (that is, welfare capitalism and post-welfare capitalism) and assumptions about civil society (that is, regarding neighborly interaction and associational engagement). Whereas public housing began by housing a “submerged middle-class” of families who were still connected to the formal economy (Friedman, 1966: 646), since the 1960s it has Workforce housing typically refers to properties that are priced for households earning 80 to 120 percent of the Area Median Income for a city or county.

84 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Making Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Work for Low-Income Households transformed into a place where incomes are low or nonexistent, rendering it out of sync with the dominant American culture that stresses employment as a prerequisite for exercising citizenship rights such as access to subsidized housing. It is not surprising that the sociological theory of concentrated poverty leading to social pathology (for example, Kasarda, 1990; Wilson, 1987) has been applied to housing policies, most notably the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Opportunity and Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) programs. Deconcentrating poverty is a central component of both these policies. Although both programs seek to relocate households to higher income neighborhoods, the HOPE VI program has also razed 254 public housing developments and rebuilt them as mixed-income communities.

Research to date has not provided much evidence that living in a mixed-income environment alone propels people out of poverty and into the workforce (Chaskin et al., 2012) or breaks down social barriers (Brophy and Smith, 1997; Buron et al., 2002; Chaskin and Joseph, 2011, 2010;

Graves, 2010; Kleit and Manzo, 2006; Tach, 2009). Employment or participation in an educational program has nonetheless become a requirement for working-age adults to gain entry to these new developments (Popkin, Levy, and Buron, 2009).

This article draws on literature about public housing and mixed-income development to posit ways that mixed-income initiatives might be combined with other programmatic efforts to foster upward trajectories for those experiencing poverty and to create public housing environments where people can thrive in all aspects of their lives. Since its inception, public housing has been proffered as some version of a safety net or, more negatively, as housing of last resort (Henderson, 1995). The ideological frames that lie behind these orientations present poverty as a temporary and individual issue, the remedy for which is acquiring the requisite skills to reenter the workforce and move back into private-sector housing. We think this individualist focus is a mistake. Structural factors—from the shifting nature of economic opportunity (and constraint) under global capitalism to the enduring effects of racism and racial inequality and the uneven distribution of quality public goods like education—fundamentally shape individuals’ experiences of poverty and their access to avenues out of it.

In its early incarnation, the government designed public housing to provide a safety net for people who were made (temporarily) surplus by the capitalist system (Vale, 2000). Today, the housing safety net relies largely on market actors and public-private partnerships. Most people who receive housing subsidies are part of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides the private sector with guaranteed rents for workers with insufficient wages to move into the private sector without state support (Vale and Freemark, 2012). As Nguyen, Rohe, and Cowan (2012: 461) pointed out, project-based public housing developments have faced “substantial cutbacks of federal funds for housing and the adoption of neoliberal housing policies, [with] many local public housing agencies [turning] to social entrepreneurs to maintain their existing housing.” In recent times, the most significant transformation in the delivery of public housing is the HOPE VI program. Descriptions of the program may be found elsewhere (Abravanel, Levy, and McFarland, 2009), but a brief summary is that it aims to accomplish four primary goals: to (1) improve housing conditions by providing reinvestment in the public housing stock; (2) provide safe, decent housing for people who cannot provide it for themselves; (3) move people away from dependence and toward independence by facilitating entry into private job and housing markets; and (4) stabilize

–  –  –

and improve the neighborhoods in which HOPE VI complexes are located. To accomplish these goals, the HOPE VI model has relied heavily on developing public-private partnerships for financing, management, and other aspects of the program.

Many observers in academic and policy circles consider HOPE VI a success; public-private partnerships have been forged, blighted housing has been replaced with attractive mixed-income developments, and poverty has been reduced at the redeveloped sites (Cisneros and Engdahl, 2009).



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