«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»
Finally, regarding neighborhood life, the literature makes clear that simply ensuring that residents of different class backgrounds live in proximity to one another is not sufficient to ensure either community cohesion or the kinds of effective social network benefits for lower income residents for which mixed-income policies had hoped. Some basic tools for enhancing communication and access among residents (many of which are being experimented with in sites across the country) may help in this regard. These tools might include something as simple as a neighborhood directory listing residents’ contact information and some information about them (employment, interests), periodic newsletters with profiles of residents focusing on their professional training and achievements, or providing free developmentwide wireless Internet access to encourage people to access information that is available on the web. They might also include occasional social events focusing on creating opportunities for networking. These kinds of interventions are sometimes difficult to pull off, however, given the ways in which residents tend to sort into or out of particular groups
Cityscape 93Fraser, Chaskin, and Bazuin
and activities based on their interests and perceptions of who such efforts are geared toward, and in light of cross-class tensions that have been generated in many of these contexts (Chaskin and Joseph, 2012, 2010).
Beyond these efforts, greater intentionality and investment might focus around amenities, organizational infrastructure, and neighborhood spaces. One example is the community garden, numerous examples of which have sprouted up across the country. In the John Henry Hale HOPE VI development in Nashville, the Farm in the City not only attracts people from different income groups to interact but provides participants with fresh fruits and vegetables that would otherwise cost a great deal of money at the grocery store. Broader economic development could also be promoted (partially contingent on the specific economic context) by building mixed-use spaces with, for example, retail on the bottom levels of buildings and apartments above. This type of development is typically lacking in HOPE VI sites, missing an opportunity to create spaces of sociability, employment opportunities, and service provision typically needed in any community. It might be possible to incentivize these kinds of spaces, in part, by providing small business grants for local entrepreneurs and leasing them space at below market rates if they meet certain social obligations, such as supplying the community with fresh fruits and vegetables or hiring a certain number of residents.
Cultivating these kinds of places and projects—gardens, stores, coffee shops, and recreational facilities—could potentially help move mixed-income developments from being largely residential complexes to vibrant neighborhoods that provide activity space for instrumental exchange and casual interaction. The creation of these kinds of collective amenities may still fall short of promoting an inclusive and vibrant neighborhood life, however, if the fundamental tensions we noted previously—around perceptions of crime, safety and disorder, and the ways in which different groups choose to occupy and appropriate space for different activities—continue to exist between public housing residents and homeowners (Chaskin and Joseph, 2012). Here, addressing the issues of governance and participation is important. Some interventions to promote solidarity and community between and within income groups might include shaping inclusive neighborhood associations that promote the broad participation of residents across incomes and housing tenure and that operate beyond the purview of individual homeowners’ associations. Clear expectations for participation, funding for community members to run and operate a variety of outreach and engagement activities, and effective technical assistance to residents to train officers and engage in community organizing and community building activities would strengthen this agenda and help shape more effective associations. These ambitions are, however, hard to implement in practice, particularly in the context of significant inequality (Briggs, 1998; Chaskin, 2005). Simply creating mechanisms for inclusive participation does not ensure their success, and it is important to explicitly take into account social difference and unequal access by guaranteeing representation of marginalized social groups (Young, 2000).
Conclusion High-quality, mixed-income housing has some potential to improve living conditions and a range of outcomes for low-income populations who have heretofore been functionally restricted to class-segregated neighborhoods of limited opportunity. The literature is clear, however, that the improvements associated with mixed-income living have been limited. We have proposed some 94 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Making Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Work for Low-Income Households changes to mixed-income development practice, highlighting the intersection between mixed-income neighborhoods and opportunities around homeownership, social-service provision, and employment and neighborhood life. We are hopeful that effective implementation of such changes can improve outcomes so that low-income populations are better served by mixed-income housing programs.
Beyond these technical adjustments to mixed-income housing policies and practices, we raise the possibility of a more wholesale revisioning of housing and work that might be achieved through a combination of three significant changes: a living wage, a guaranteed income, and adequate provision of affordable housing. Many people in HOPE VI public housing have decent jobs, many after completing training programs to which they gained access through HOPE VI-affiliated services.
Even with their successes, they do not make enough money to leave public housing, let alone purchase their own house (see Bazuin, Oakley, and Fraser, 2012; and Popkin et al., 2010 for additional details). HOPE VI essentially trains people to be members of the working poor. This problem is a symptom of a longstanding problem whereby increases in the cost of housing nationwide have far outstripped increases in wages. This problem has been particularly acute for people at the lower end of the income spectrum. The concept of the living wage—that people who work full time should earn enough to pay for their basic needs—is instructive here. It is possible that the government could transform the minimum wage into a living wage, but it will likely face considerable opposition. Rather, an effective living wage would require a social change about the value of work.
An alternative could be some sort of guaranteed income, perhaps implemented through an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Regardless, for increases in wages to reduce the need for public housing effectively, a commitment to expand the pool of affordable housing options is also needed. A considerable shortage of affordable housing exists, in part, because lower priced housing has much less profit potential for developers, mortgage brokers, and banks. Government could make significant strides toward filling that shortage through inclusionary zoning and other policy options that incentivize the construction of affordable housing.
Although briefly stated, the broader vision we have begun to outline here underscores the extent to which mixed-income housing approaches to poverty alleviation and neighborhood redevelopment are conservative approaches that do little to address the broader structural conditions under which many working people still do not earn enough money to make autonomous choices about important aspects of their lives or to meet basic needs. Poverty is related to housing, and the concentration of poor people in marginalized neighborhoods is deeply problematic. To solve this problem, we need to shape policies that can support workers to earn a living wage and that emphasize a broader policy focus on the kinds of structural barriers that public housing residents and other low-income populations face, including the need for significant institutional investment in education, access to technology, and issues of discrimination. These kinds of concerns obviously move well beyond the purview of housing authority responsibility and capacity, and they suggest an emphasis on policies operating at different levels and across different spheres of action. Mixed-income neighborhoods are not a panacea. At worst, they may exacerbate inequality and operate as a veiled mechanism for gentrification that disproportionately benefits the middle-income households and relocates—and resegregates—the poor. At best, they are a potentially useful but limited option in the face of complicated problems that American society has yet to find the political will to tackle more comprehensively.
Acknowledgments The authors thank Edward Goetz and Deirdre Oakley for coming to Vanderbilt University and providing conceptual insights. They also acknowledge Emily Lample for her assistance and Elizabeth Reeves Covington for her thoughtful editorial comments.
Authors James C. Fraser is an associate professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University.
Robert J. Chaskin is an associate professor and the Deputy Dean for Strategic Initiatives in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.
Joshua Theodore Bazuin is a postdoctoral fellow at the Vanderbilt Institute of Energy and the Environment at Vanderbilt University.
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