«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»
Broad benefits posited for residents across income groups and of all ages have included exposure to a diversity of people and lifestyles and the development of tolerance for differences (Briggs, 1997;
Gans 1961a, 1961b). It remains, however, that lower income households and poor neighborhoods are the primary targets for improvement and that positive influences for adults and children are assumed to flow from higher to lower income households based explicitly or implicitly on a cultural deficit argument (see Briggs, 1997; Brower, 2009; Duke, 2009; Galster, 2007; Gans, 1961a, 1961b;
Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber, 2007; Kleit, 2001; Lipman, 2008; Popkin et al., 2000).
The hypotheses on the benefits and mechanisms of change associated with mixed-income housing strategies have been questioned since at least the early 1960s. An early criticism was that, to achieve benefits for low-income households, relationships among people across income levels would need to be stronger than they are likely to be. Gans (1961a: 181) argued that “heterogeneity … is unlikely to produce relationships of sufficient intensity to achieve either a positive social life or cultural,
Cityscape 17Levy, McDade, and Bertumen
political, and educational values sought through balanced community.” Other researchers have pointed out that some benefits are more likely to be realized than others. In particular, improvements to place, such as housing quality, neighborhood amenities, and services, are more likely than neighbor interactions to benefit low-income residents (Joseph, 2006).
Evidence to Date Compared with the hypothesized benefits, the actual benefits from living in mixed-income developments or income-diverse areas have been limited for low-income households. In particular, investments have brought about environmental improvements to housing and neighborhoods, but benefits tied to economic desegregation and poverty alleviation have not been realized.
Economic Desegregation Economic desegregation occurs in mixed-income areas as a spatial fact—households of lower and higher income levels live near each other—but propinquity has led to little social or otherwise meaningful integration across lines of income. Research since the late 1990s has found that interactions among residents across income groups have been limited at best. Most research on this topic focuses on mixed-income developments, but research on income-diverse neighborhoods has drawn a similar conclusion. Most interaction occurs among neighbors of similar income levels.
Researchers have described interactions among residents across income groups in mixed-income and income-diverse areas as superficial and infrequent. Early studies of resident interaction in mixedincome developments found greetings to be fairly common but any exchanges of longer duration to be limited (Brophy and Smith, 1997; Rosenbaum, Stroh, and Flynn, 1998). In their study of seven mixed-income developments, Brophy and Smith (1997) found that many respondents did not know the names of their immediate neighbors. More recent studies have found much the same.
Brower’s (2009) study of three developments found little resident interaction across income and tenure groups (owners and renters). Kleit and Carnegie (2011) similarly found that residents who moved to a mixed-income development did not expand their social networks across income lines.
Studies conducted among residents of income-diverse neighborhoods have produced similar findings.
Briggs’s (2005) ethnographic work in Yonkers, New York, found few indications of meaningful interactions among people living in mixed-income neighborhoods. Duke (2009) cited a study by Clampet-Lundquist (2004) that found that women who were relocated to lower poverty neighborhoods faced barriers forming social ties. Popkin et al. (2000) also discussed the relative scarcity and superficiality of interactions across income groups within income-diverse neighborhoods.
The limited interaction among residents of different income levels has been attributed to a range of individual and structural factors. Kleit (2005) and Joseph (2008) found that elements of developments’ design, such as the lack of common areas or shared building entrances, can serve to limit informal interactions, which otherwise could serve as the basis for developing more significant ties. In the study of a racially and ethnically diverse development, Kleit identified other factors that might be important to interactions, including differences in language, educational attainment, race and ethnicity, marital status, and family composition. Even residents who indicated that they valued living in a diverse area reported very few interactions (Kleit, 2005).
18 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Mixed-Income Living: Anticipated and Realized Benefits for Low-Income Households At least some residents have limited their interactions with households in a different income bracket for reasons that could be termed “protective.” Joseph (2008) found low-income residents keep “a low profile” to avoid the scrutiny of neighbors and any problems that might jeopardize their housing. Residents have superficial interactions in part because of low expectations for developing relationships with neighbors and to ensure privacy for themselves (Chaskin and Joseph, 2011).
Chaskin and Joseph found one of the most important barriers to interaction among residents across income and tenure groups to be the perception of difference. Higher income residents held negative stereotypes of public housing residents, and subsidized residents perceived those with a higher income as standoffish.
Studies from outside the United States have produced similar findings. Blockland and van Eijk (2010) found in the Netherlands that residents they identified as “diversity seekers,” people who moved to income-diverse areas because of the income diversity, had social networks that were no more diverse that those of other residents. Diversity seekers also were no more likely to become involved in neighborhood organizations or to attend local social activities than other people. In the United Kingdom, Bretherton and Pleace (2011) found that residents who owned a home in a mixed-income area tended to perceive residents of social housing units as bad neighbors and purposely kept interactions to a minimum. Arthurson (2010) found three factors that served to depress interactions across income lines in income-diverse neighborhoods in Australia. Lifestyle factors included decisions among subsidized residents to maintain stronger ties to their previous communities and differences in lifestyles and work schedules that left little time for developing new relationships. Design factors included spatial segregation of residents by income within a mixed-income area that reduced opportunities for informal interactions. Finally, stigma attached to residents of social housing units worked against interactions across income and tenure.
When negative interactions occur among residents, they are often attributed to differences in behavior associated with income or class. Studies in New Orleans and Chicago found that unsubsidized residents complained about the behaviors of public housing residents, who in turn said they felt disrespected by higher income residents or by management staff (Chaskin and Joseph, 2010;
Libson, 2007). The following quote from a staff member of an organization that worked with mixed-income development residents in New Orleans sums up the perceived differences between low-income and higher income residents that have led to conflicts.
There’s just a different style of living that very low-income people have in terms of the way they see things, the way they do things, the way they interact with each other, and the way that a middle-class more affluent group of people generally behave, and they run into conflict with each other (Libson, 2007: 103).
When problems do occur, methods of social control can serve to increase tensions. Chaskin and Joseph (2011) found that higher income residents tended to rely on formal methods of control, such as calling the police, rather than on informal methods, such as speaking directly to the people involved. Some higher income residents reported giving up on efforts to interact with lower income residents altogether because they felt unwelcome and that the social distance was too much to overcome (Chaskin and Joseph, 2010).
Minimal, positive interactions do occur, however. In Joseph and Chaskin’s (2010) study, some residents across income groups indicated that they learned from and about residents of different
socioeconomic backgrounds. Lower income residents talked about their hope for being better understood, and some moderate-income and higher income residents said they gained appreciation for the issues lower income families face.
Most studies that examined resident interactions in mixed-income developments found that relationships are more likely to form among people of similar income and housing tenure (Kleit, 2005; Rosenbaum, Stroh, and Flynn, 1998; Tach, 2009). Tach (2009) also found that differences in interaction and community engagement correlated with differences in neighborhood perception.
Residents who viewed the development more negatively, mostly the higher income residents new to the area, were less engaged than those who held a positive view of the area, who were more likely to be lower income residents.
Even efforts to encourage resident engagement have reinforced divisions along income lines in some places. Chaskin and Joseph (2010) found that resident participation in communitywide events intended to foster interaction tended to fall along lines of income. (See also Fraser and Nelson, 2008.) In some developments, even the use of community facilities has differed by income group. Instead of serving as spaces of opportunity for community building, the facilities can become spatial markers of the distance between income groups if lower income (or higher income) residents stake a claim by design or default (Brower, 2009; Kleit, 2005).
Interactions and relationships among residents might change over time, although change can happen in either direction. Patillo (2007) found that a number of higher income homeowners who moved into a revitalized Chicago neighborhood initially felt isolated and somewhat frightened.
As they became familiar and increasingly comfortable in their surroundings, many homeowners became involved in the community. Tach (2009) raised the possibility that a similar increase in engagement might take place in the Boston development she studied as, over time, higher income residents become more accustomed to the area. Joseph and Chaskin (2010), however, found reduced interaction over time as residents gave up the effort. Social isolation increased as lower income residents reported feeling stigmatized by their higher income neighbors within the development, even as they shed the stigma they previously felt from outsiders because of where they had lived. Lower and higher income residents spoke about negative interactions and feelings of social detachment and social isolation within the development. In a second round of interviews, the researchers found that residents talked more often of challenges than of positive interactions.
“Across tenure and class, many residents are simply withdrawing from engagement with others locally and relying on pre-existing relationships for social and instrumental support” (Joseph and Chaskin, 2010: 15).
Poverty Alleviation There is near consensus in the research since the 1990s that mixed-income strategies have not led to significant changes in the economic well-being of low-income households. Research on outcomes for lower income residents living in mixed-income developments and income-diverse neighborhoods has found some improvement in employment but little or no improvement in income. Studies of low-income households that moved with a voucher to low-poverty areas through the Gautreaux housing mobility program found increased job aspirations, job readiness, and higher employment rates compared with those of counterparts living in poor, urban areas, 20 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Mixed-Income Living: Anticipated and Realized Benefits for Low-Income Households but the movers’ wages were not higher than those of their counterparts (Briggs, 1997; Rosenbaum and Popkin, 1991). Briggs argued that, although lower income households moved to areas with more employment opportunities, they were not necessarily more likely to access and retain jobs or obtain jobs with higher wages. Similar results have been found from the MTO demonstration program. Households that moved to low-poverty areas as part of MTO had higher employment rates than families who had not moved, but they had about the same hourly wage (Johnson, Ladd, and Ludwig, 2001). More recently, Tach (2009) also found higher employment rates and educational attainment among lower income residents of mixed-income developments.
Many researchers who found evidence of employment gains tempered their findings because of sample selection bias. Tach (2009) attributed the improvements in employment rates among her study participants to mixed-income developments’ screening requirements that created a selection bias rather than to a change in work habits among the residents. Other studies whose findings of employment and earnings gains were affected by sample selection bias include Kleit (2002) and Galster et al. (2008). Kleit’s (2002) study found that low-income women who moved to scatteredsite public housing had employment and networking gains that women who remained in povertyconcentrated areas did not have. Galster’s study of relocatees in Sweden found that low-income laborers who moved to higher income areas had higher earnings than counterparts who remained in lower income areas (Galster et al., 2008).
In their reanalysis of MTO data, Clampet-Lundquist and Massey (2008) found that the length of time households resided in low-poverty areas correlated to better self-sufficiency outcomes. Each additional month living in a low-poverty neighborhood correlated with an increase in the likelihood of being employed. Each additional month living in a racially integrated low-poverty area correlated with a greater decrease in the likelihood of receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families compared with living in a segregated low-poverty area. Other MTO researchers have criticized this analysis and stand by previous findings that MTO has had little or no overall effect on employment and earnings (Ludwig et al., 2012, 2008).