«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»
It is possible that additional research over longer periods might still show reductions in poverty correlated with mixed-income strategies. Evidence from more than 20 years of research suggests, however, that the door to this possibility is only slightly ajar. Without changes in other factors, such as the availability and quality of education and job supports and increases in the availability of jobs that pay a living wage and offer benefits, it seems safe to say that mixed-income strategies alone are unlikely to achieve reductions in household poverty.
Urban Revitalization The hypothesized benefits related to economic desegregation and poverty alleviation have not materialized, but some benefits stemming from neighborhood investments have been found. As anticipated by some researchers, most benefits reported by residents of mixed-income developments and income-diverse areas derive from improvements to their surroundings. A number of studies found that residents of mixed-income developments were satisfied with their housing quality and with the maintenance and management of the developments. Residents also indicated satisfaction with neighborhood services and amenities. Perhaps most importantly, they commented on safety improvements related to reductions in criminal activities. (See Brophy and Smith, 1997;
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Buron et al., 2006; Calavita and Grimes, 1998; Doerr and Siegal, 1990; Fraser and Nelson, 2008;
Joseph and Chaskin, 2010; Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber, 2007; Libson, 2007; Mulroy, 1991;
Popkin et al., 2000; Rosenbaum, Stroh, and Flynn, 1998; Ryan et al., 1974; Schwartz and Tajbakhsh, 2001; Smith, 2002.) Related to these environmental improvements, low-income residents have identified benefits related to health, particularly mental health. In their study of two mixed-income developments, Joseph and Chaskin (2010) found that 75 percent of relocated, low-income residents reported psychological benefits—namely, reductions in stress since moving from their old neighborhoods to the new developments. People attributed the stress reduction to feeling safer than they had before. One-half of the relocated residents in their study reported increased self-esteem and motivation as well.
Research on outcomes for MTO participants also has found evidence of mental health improvements.
Early studies of MTO in Boston and New York found that adults who relocated from high-poverty to lower poverty neighborhoods experienced improvements in mental health (cited in Popkin et al., 2000). Other MTO research found that the demonstration program had a marginally significant positive effect on mental health and a not-quite-significant positive effect on physical health (Ludwig et al., 2012). In their review of MTO and Gautreaux studies, Johnson, Ladd, and Ludwig (2001) found that families who moved to lower poverty areas reported fewer mental or emotional health problems and improved physical health. All these researchers cautioned interpretation of their results, however, because of self-selection or endogeneity problems.
Studies have identified behavioral and mental health gains for children and some evidence of positive effects on educational experiences and outcomes. Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber (2007) found that children living in mixed-income developments are realizing educational, health, and behavioral benefits, although the researchers stopped short of identifying residency in the developments as the cause. Schwartz (2010) argued that, although her study found academic gains among children who moved to low-poverty areas, greater gains were found among those students who attended low-poverty schools.
Gautreaux and MTO studies have found that children who relocate to income-diverse areas have fewer behavioral and health problems. Johnson, Ladd, and Ludwig (2001) found that children reported feeling less sad, arguing less, and disobeying their parents less often after moving to a lower poverty area. They reported working harder in more challenging schools, and findings show that they did not experience a drop in grades relative to nonmovers. Popkin et al. (2000) cited findings that children who moved to low-poverty and lower poverty neighborhoods experienced fewer incidences of arrest and convictions, fewer injuries, and fewer episodes of asthma. As with many studies that have found positive outcomes, the Johnson et al. and the Popkin et al. works cautioned that selection bias affects results.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Mixed-income strategies can succeed in spatially desegregating households by income and improving lives through environmental changes, but so far they have proven insufficient for overcoming social barriers and alleviating poverty. We conclude by thinking through the literature and asking how it might be possible to move the needle on economic segregation and poverty.
22 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Mixed-Income Living: Anticipated and Realized Benefits for Low-Income Households Research suggests that the design of housing units or public spaces could encourage (positive) interactions, although findings have been mixed. In a review of case studies from three developments in the United Kingdom, Roberts (2007) found evidence that the organization of the housing units mattered less than the organization of public space. Interaction was more likely among residents when the layout of public spaces led to encounters, even casual ones. This increased likelihood held, regardless of whether the housing units were integrated, segmented, or segregated by income.
Kleit (2005), however, noted that some residents in a Seattle development thought that the lack of homeowner and rental unit integration made it less likely that owners and renters would cross paths and possibly develop relationships. Joseph and Chaskin (2010) suggested that other factors can be more important than any potential effect of design when residents make an effort to avoid others. They found that most low-income residents in their study thought they were under greater scrutiny and monitoring than they had been before they lived in a mixed-income development, which could hinder interactions across income groups.
Research has shown that the lack of an effective development-wide organization for residents can impede interactions and community-building efforts. Whether the obverse leads to greater interactions is unclear, because few mixed-income developments that have development-wide resident organizations appear to be available to study. In their study of two mixed-income developments in Chicago, Joseph and Chaskin (2010) found that the governance structure in a mixed-income, mixed-tenure building helped create a divide between low-income renters and the owners of condominium units. The condominium association in the building has control over rules that govern the entire building, effectively precluding opportunities for low-income residents to participate in governance. Similarly, Brower (2009) argued that the lack of resident interaction can be attributed in part to the lack of community organizations through which all residents can meet and perhaps build trust. Although each mixed-income development he studied in Baltimore called for creating a single residents’ organization to represent both homeowners and renters, only one development established a joint organization. Even in this development, however, Brower found that renters felt they had no say in decisionmaking. Perhaps organizational structure, like good design, can create the opportunity for interaction, but it is only a first step. Brower found that no organizations in the developments he studied focused efforts on community building among residents.
Another factor that can affect the environment for resident interactions is management practices.
Graves (2012) found that property managers can serve an important role in supporting or obstructing the development of social ties among residents. Even when managers act in supportive ways, management rules still might stand in the way. For example, Brower (2009) found that eviction rules that applied to renters but not homeowners were perceived as unequal and unfair and that they affected interactions between residents of different tenure. The literature is quiet on whether more (positive) resident interaction takes place in mixed-income developments with good management practices and rules that residents perceive as fair.
Finally, one study found that resources in the broader neighborhood, such as grocery stores and common spaces, were correlated with the development of social capital. Curley (2010) found that residential income mix was not correlated with generalized trust or shared norms among neighbors, but the presence of neighborhood resources was. Her work suggests that efforts that combine income mixing and neighborhood investment might create additional layers of opportunity for interaction and for developing relationships over time.
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The literature hints at ways to increase opportunities for meaningful economic desegregation, although it seems that, to achieve significant gains toward this goal, it will be necessary to actively promote interactions across income groups and address challenges along the way. We do not venture into the fields of community development or negotiations and mediation here, but both areas seem relevant. Whether more significant interactions and relationships might develop over time, however, also depends on residents’ interest in and willingness to develop connections with neighbors.
The limited interactions documented so far might very well reflect the limited interactions among residents in developments and neighborhoods of all types. As Briggs (2005: 9) noted, most neighborhoods in the United States are “collections of strangers and those with mostly casual contacts.” Studies that found little or no effect from living in mixed-income developments or income-diverse areas on low-income households’ economic well-being point to factors that impede poverty alleviation.
Details vary slightly, but the conclusions drawn by a number of researchers are similar. Goetz (2010) identified health status and other individual attributes as more important than neighborhood characteristics for families’ well-being. Likewise, Levy and Woolley (2007) found that severe and multiple health problems served as barriers to low-income residents’ ability to gain or retain employment.
Instead of approaching the goal of poverty alleviation through mixed-income strategies, efforts need to be intentional and focused on a specific purpose, whether it be addressing physical or mental health problems, low educational attainment, lack of job training or access to jobs that offer a living wage and benefits, or something else. (See Brophy, Garcia, and Pooley, 2008; Sanbonmatsu et al., 2006; Upshur, Werby, and Epp, 1981.) Mixed-income strategies can help create spaces of opportunity for low-income families, especially spaces in which people can find relief from stress related to unsafe living environments, but the strategies have not been found to lift households out of poverty. Certainly, services and supports focused on economic well-being could take place within mixed-income developments or be made available to households living there or in income-diverse neighborhoods. If poverty alleviation is the primary goal, however, the path to it does not appear to require mixed-income living.
The extant literature does not offer a clear response to the question posed in the section header:
Where do we go from here? Research on governance structures, resident participation, and management practices in mixed-income developments could shed light on how to better create and support opportunities for positive engagement among residents. Efforts to improve the health and educational attainment of low-income households are necessary. Perhaps what we know most clearly from research so far is that no single strategy will achieve the three goals of economic desegregation, poverty alleviation, and urban revitalization. A multifaceted, integrative approach that focuses on people and place, such as the model provided by the Choice Neighborhoods initiative, might prove more effective than a mixed-income strategy alone. Until Choice Neighborhoods or other integrated efforts are fully implemented and studied, however, we do not know.
Acknowledgments The authors acknowledge Charles Rutheiser and the Annie E. Casey Foundation for supporting the literature review from which this article was drawn, Mark L. Joseph for sharing his extensive bibliography on mixed-income communities, and Simone Zhang for supplemental literature searches.
24 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Mixed-Income Living: Anticipated and Realized Benefits for Low-Income Households Authors Diane K. Levy is a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
Zach McDade is a research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
Kassie Bertumen is a research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
References Arthurson, Kathy. 2010. “Operationalising Social Mix: Spatial Scale, Lifestyle and Stigma As Mediating Points in Resident Interaction,” Urban Policy and Research 28 (1): 49–63.
Blockland, Talja, and Gwen van Eijk. 2010. “Do People Who Like Diversity Practice Diversity in Neighbourhood Life? Neighbourhood Use and the Social Networks of ‘Diversity Seekers’ in a Mixed Neighbourhood in the Netherlands,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36 (2): 313–332.
Bretherton, Joanne, and Nicholas Pleace. 2011. “A Difficult Mix: Issues in Achieving Socioeconomic Diversity in Deprived UK Neighbourhoods,” Urban Studies 48 (16): 3429–3443.
Briggs, Xavier de Souza. 2005. Social Mixing and the “Geography of Opportunity”: Lessons for Policy and Unanswered Questions. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
———. 1997. “Moving Up Versus Moving Out: Neighborhood Effects on Housing Mobility Programs,” Housing Policy Debate 8 (1): 195–234.
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