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Voucher holders’ locational choices in Orange County and elsewhere may be constrained to a limited number of relatively similar neighborhoods. In other words, moving would not change outcomes dramatically. Such an interpretation about the lack of differences between Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) movers and nonmovers is consistent with the results comparing mover-only outcomes before and after their residential relocation. Although there were improvements in the neighborhood poverty rate and school quality, they were quite small. As such, it is reasonable to suggest these marginal changes likely have no discernible positive effects on the lives of voucher holders or their children.
Context matters, as Basolo makes clear. The relevant context could include the dynamics of the housing market and the administrative capacities of the agencies delivering assistance and services to families. Basolo’s measured views on this subject are highly welcomed, given the outsized hopes that many of us have for voucher-based programs.
The burden for HCVP administrators is to work on opening up new neighborhoods that offer more opportunities to voucher holders, although doing so is a tall order for LHAs that have struggled in the past convincing landlords to accept voucher recipients.
Skobba and Goetz articulate a point that is also not emphasized enough in studies of housing mobility. “For very low-income households, residential mobility is more often an exercise in improvisation than planned.” Their corrective is necessary for scholars and policymakers who too often
construct housing policy based on a search procedure that resembles a middle-class flowchart:
check the classified ads, make an appointment, visit a few places, choose a home. Such searches are typically portrayed as an emotionally unremarkable activity, except for the motivation to flee one’s existing neighborhood. Whereas, in reality, the attachments that low-income households have to one another and to their community mitigates against any such smooth linear process.
The findings from our study suggest that very low-income households use different, often unconventional, strategies to find housing. The process prioritizes convenience and necessity rather than being a choice among housing units that match a predetermined set of criteria. The reason for this is probably twofold. First, forced moves often leave little time to conduct a thorough housing search. Second, the affordability problems that our study families faced put market rentals out of reach.… The experiences of the participants in our study suggest that very low-income households rely on personal relationships, rather than a formal housing search process, to find a place to live.
One general and consistent theme in the articles is that the move to a low-poverty neighborhood does not necessarily produce higher levels of satisfaction for movers—whether the movers are
voucher holders or nonvoucher holders. This point sounds nearly heretical in today’s discourse, given the core policy assumption that poor neighborhoods are places to leave—and quickly. The trouble with this view is that a limit exists in terms of a society’s capacity to use “exit” as social policy. Skobba and Goetz are clear on this issue.
Forced relocation out of communities and into opportunity neighborhoods is especially insensitive to the necessary social supports that low-income families construct and maintain. This insensitivity is especially true of programs in which displacement and relocation are typically the only intervention experienced by needy families, a fact that has been true of most public housing redevelopment efforts.
At some point, realistic housing policy would suggest that we adopt a neighborhood-level focus in which low-income families are given the services necessary to live comfortably and safely in their existing area. In our silo-based approach to social policy, however, such nonhousing matters can easily be shuttled off to the next agency or scholarly conference. This result would be a pity, because as the three articles intimate, if the problems are complex, such that multiple factors are brought together, then it seems that the solutions might necessarily need to be organized in such a manner as well.
Acknowledgments The author thanks the editors for helpful comments.
Author Sudhir Venkatesh is the Williams B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University.
214 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Cityscape Mixed-Income Symposium Summary and Response: Implications for Antipoverty Policy Mark L. Joseph Case Western Reserve University I commend symposium guest editors James C. Fraser, Deirdre Oakley, and Diane K. Levy for initiating and compiling this collection of symposium articles on the timely topic of poverty deconcentration and mixed-income development. As these articles were being finalized, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that three additional cities would receive Choice Neighborhoods implementation grants of about $30 million, joining the five cities that were named in 2011. Thus, in the United States, the Obama Administration is doubling down on the approach of poverty deconcentration through public housing demolition, resident relocation, and mixedincome redevelopment.
After nearly 20 years of poverty deconcentration and mixed-income efforts in the United States and Western Europe (and in other parts of the world, such as Australia), however, fundamental questions remain. The intentions and overall outcomes of efforts to create pathways to self-sufficiency and opportunity for those who have been socially and economically isolated in high-poverty, inner-city communities remain unclear. The articles in this symposium reflect on and add to the literature that has provided evidence of these shortcomings.
Although the symposium is introduced as focusing on “mixed-income housing initiatives,” I would contend that the scope of its articles is better framed as “poverty deconcentration” with a focus on the two main policy approaches of the past two decades: dispersal and mixed-income development.
The articles by Victoria Basolo, by Kimberly Skobba and Edward G. Goetz, and by Deirdre Oakley, Erin Ruel, and Lesley Reid review relocation and mobility programs. The articles by James C. Fraser, Robert J. Chaskin, and Joshua Theodore Bazuin, by Ade Kearns, Martin McKee, Elena Sautkina, George Weeks, and Lyndal Bond, by JoDee Keller, Janice Laakso, Christine Stevens, and Cathy Tashiro, by Reinout Kleinhans and Maarten van Ham, and by Diane K. Levy, Zach McDade, and Kassie Bertumen consider mixed-income and mixed-tenure efforts. The symposium guest editors understandably describe relocation efforts as also having the objective of promoting mixed-income neighborhoods. The literature on mobility research and the articles in this symposium demonstrate, however, that, although relocation may be a tool to move some low-income households to better neighborhood environments, relocation is generally not creating mixed-income communities and Cityscape 215 Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research • Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development • Office of Policy Development and Research Joseph certainly is not creating a mix as systematically and directly as initiatives such as Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI), Right to Buy, and Choice Neighborhoods are doing. As I shall make clear when I return to future implications, I think it is important not to conflate these two related, but distinct, policy choices and approaches under the construct of mixed-income housing.
Regardless of framing, the intention of the symposium is clear: to take stock of efforts to address poverty concentration on both sides of the Atlantic. Several important questions are posed and answered in these articles, including these: What have been the benefits of social mixing for poor people? What are the implications of today’s dominant ideological approach to urban poverty policy, focusing on individual rather than structural causes and turning to the market to provide social and public housing? Given the shortcomings of current efforts, what design improvements could be made to poverty deconcentration programs?
An essential question posed in Fraser, Oakley, and Levy’s introductory article, but never fully and directly tackled by any of the other articles, is “When and how should society, and its government leaders, house the least advantaged?” Additional questions about deconcentration policy not addressed by the articles include these: What alternative antipoverty paradigm should be considered?
What are the relative costs and benefits of poverty dispersal and mixed-income development? Is each approach a better match for certain low-income households than for others, and can we be more effective at anticipating which approach might work best for whom?
I will use my summary-and-response essay to summarize some of the key conclusions from these articles and to suggest my own response to some of the unanswered questions by way of suggesting directions for future place-based antipoverty policy.
The Limited Results of Social Mixing Despite high hopes, expectations, and rhetoric from policymakers, the evidence seems clear in this symposium and in the broader deconcentration literature that mixed-income and dispersal policies have thus far had limited and, in some cases, detrimental effects on urban poor people. Whereas these policies have had measurable and, in some cases, dramatic effects on urban places, they have been far less successful on the people side.
On the positive side, these policies, in general, have been successful at moving individuals and families out of the most desperate and deteriorated living conditions. Mixed-income development has been far more successful on this front, completely demolishing and rebuilding entire housing complexes, often complete with parks and other amenities. As Kearns et al. and Levy, McDade, and Bertumen indicate, those households that meet screening criteria and can secure units in new mixed-income developments experience high-quality unit, building, and often neighborhood conditions. The neighborhood condition results of relocation cited in this symposium are more mixed.
Oakley, Ruel, and Reid report that relocatees in Atlanta moved to neighborhoods that, although still high poverty, were less poor and safer than the neighborhoods from which they had moved.
Basolo, on the other hand, reports no decrease in neighborhood poverty and no increase in public school quality from the moves of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) participants in California whom she studied.
The results for individuals have been far more disappointing. Kearns et al. and Levy, McDade, and Bertumen assert that despite living in a mixed-income environment, former social or public housing residents are still living in a state of personal deprivation, confronting behavioral challenges, and demonstrating little change of aspirations. Relocation efforts have fared no better. In this symposium, Basolo reports that employment among HCVP participants in her study fell by more than 20 percentage points after their moves.
Part of the rationale for a neighborhood-focused approach is a theoretical assertion of the importance of a supportive community for individual well-being. In theory, more socially and economically diverse environments should provide more productive social ties for low-income households.
In practice, as Fraser, Chaskin, and Bazuin; Kearns et al.; Keller et al.; Kleinhans and van Ham; and Levy, McDade, and Bertumen indicate, many obstacles stand in the way of building cross-class ties, including lifestyle, behavioral and cultural differences, segregated physical designs, and life-stage differences such as the presence of children in the household. Furthermore, stigmatized, unequal treatment from other residents and development staff and a predilection for formal control methods (cameras, police) as opposed to informal community control have led to what Kearns et al.
describe as “static tenure mix, rather than the nurturing of dynamic social mixing.” Keller et al. and Levy, McDade, and Bertumen point out that, in many cases, residents of mixed-income environments experience less community and a greater sense of isolation and stigmatization.
The Problematic Ideologies Shaping Poverty Deconcentration More fundamental than some of the design and implementation shortcomings of deconcentration policies is the ideological basis for those policies. Authors in this symposium point out three main problematic ideological perspectives that shape and constrain policy approaches. The first, as Fraser, Chaskin, and Bazuin point out, is the framing of poverty as an individual rather than a structural issue. Given the realities, as they state, of “global capitalism,... racism and racial inequality and the unequal distribution of quality public goods,” among other structural factors, the individual approach is necessarily insufficient. Improving housing conditions and social mix alone will not fundamentally change educational opportunities or labor-market access.
The second core ideology is the belief in the potential for privatization and the power of market forces to spur production of housing for poor people and a pathway out of poverty. Fraser, Chaskin, and Bazuin note that the private sector is not obligated to provide for human rights in the same way as a government and caution that the mixed-income approach is simply paving the way for market reinvestment that does not necessarily benefit the most vulnerable people in society. In their article about the Right to Buy program in the United Kingdom, Kleinhans and van Ham provide an excellent example of some of the counterproductive outcomes and inequity that can be generated by turning to market forces. A major outcome of the program was residualization, whereby the best quality social housing units in the best neighborhoods were the most likely to be purchased, leaving mostly lower quality homes in lower quality neighborhoods available to social housing renters.
A third ideological frame is the presumed association of choice and neighborhood quality. It has been assumed that if households are given a greater degree of choice in their residential decisions,