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«AmericAn neighborhoods: inclusion And exclusion Volume 16, Number 3 • 2014 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy ...»

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Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Columbia University The views presented here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development or the City of New York.

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Despite decades of investment in affordable housing, little is known about the social connectedness of the population served or the use value of interactions among residents. In this article, we use cross-sectional survey data from recent movers to a single affordable housing complex in New York City (N = 120) to assess the structure of social networks and the content of local relationships, specifically the exchange of expressive, instrumental, and informational support. Respondents living in affordable housing report a diversity of ties, including friends, family, and neighbors. We find that within-building networks differ in key ways from networks of individuals who live in the same neighborhood but not in the same residential building. Residents interact less frequently with building ties, report few close ties in the building, and do not perceive building neighbors to be essential resources. When we examine the content of these relationships, however, we find that building residents do provide and receive multiple types of support, particularly informational resources. We further find that the characteristics of building neighbors are associated with the odds of providing or receiving specific types of support or resources. Expressive (or emotional) support is more likely between similar individuals, and having children is associated with both provision and receipt of support of all kinds. Receiving information about childcare or finding a school or tutor for one’s child is more likely from a building tie who is better off. Understanding affordable-housing residents’ social context can support policies that target this population and improve our understanding of social integration in this setting.





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Introduction During the past few decades, federal housing policies have increasingly sought to alter the neighborhood conditions of low-income households, either by providing opportunities to move out of high-poverty areas or by redeveloping distressed public housing complexes into mixed-income communities. Most recently, efforts have turned toward revitalizing high-poverty neighborhoods by infusing new services and creating a more diverse housing stock, with the hope of engendering healthier communities and greater income diversity. These approaches seek to improve the lives of the lowest income households by increasing access to better quality schools and safer streets, improving housing quality, and generally reducing concentrated disadvantage and social isolation.

Many place-based strategies include the provision of housing for low-income working households that, although generally better off than households living in public housing or receiving vouchers, often struggle to find adequate housing in the private market—particularly in high-cost cities. In New York City, more than 70 percent of households that would income qualify for low-income affordable housing are rent burdened and 25 percent are severely burdened.1 Alternative poverty measures2 that account for the value of rental assistance and other social safety-net benefits and for the local cost of living would define many of these households as living below the revised poverty line (Levitan, 2013).

Affordable-housing programs that serve low-income working households have been active for decades. Since its inception in 1987, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program alone has placed more than 2 million low-income units in service nationwide.3 Local initiatives support the creation or preservation of additional affordable housing for households earning up to 80 percent of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Income Limits.4 In New York City, most of the 165,000 units financed as part of the New Housing Marketplace Plan (NHMP)5 Low-income affordable housing typically targets households earning between 30 and 80 percent of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Income Limits. The prevalence of rent burden estimates is based on the authors’ analysis of the 2011 Housing and Vacancy Survey (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), which defines rent burdened as paying more than 30 percent of monthly household income toward gross rent and severely burdened as paying more than 50 percent of monthly household income toward gross rent. Estimates include those living in subsidized housing or reporting receipt of one or more forms of rental assistance.

Alternative measures include the Supplemental Poverty Measure used in the 2010 decennial census and the poverty measure developed by the City of New York’s Center for Economic Opportunity. Both use the National Academy of Sciences’ 1997 recommendations, with adjustments based on Interagency Technical Working Group guidelines. See Levitan (2013) for details.

National data are available from the LIHTC database: http://lihtc.huduser.org.

HUD Income Limits are set annually and are adjusted for geography. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, 80 percent of HUD Income Limits (defined as low income) for a family of four is equivalent to $67,100 for the New York City HUD Metropolitan FairMarket Rent Area (HMFA); $68,500 for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA); $57,900 for the Chicago HMFA; and $47,050 for the New Orleans-Metairie, LA MSA. By comparison with the official poverty thresholds for 2013, which accounted for family size and composition but not for geography, these incomes translate to roughly 280, 290, 240, and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, respectively.

NHMP was New York City’s 11-year housing plan initiated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to preserve or construct 165,000 units of affordable housing by the end of FY 2014 (June 30, 2014). Of the units financed through FY 2013, 80 percent were targeted to households earning up to 80 percent of HUD Income Limits. Housing New York is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year housing plan that began in FY 2014. See http://www.nyc.gov/hpd for details.

48 American Neighborhoods: Inclusion and Exclusion Building Ties: The Social Networks of Affordable-Housing Residents (fiscal years [FY] 2004 through 2014) were targeted to these households (City of New York, 2004), and the Housing New York plan (FY 2014 through 2024) is committed to financing 140,000 units for households earning 31 to 80 percent of HUD Income Limits (City of New York, 2014). The development of affordable housing is often used as part of public housing redevelopment activities.

Affordable-housing residents may serve as higher income residents in complexes with shallow income mixing (as studied by Tach, 2009) or in combination with a wider range of income targets, including residents with incomes well above the median and those in the lowest income stratum, such as relocated public housing residents or those who move with vouchers (as studied by Chaskin and Joseph, 2011). Thus, the population served by affordable housing can act either as the focus of intervention, which is the case with most affordable housing development, or as part of the intervention, which is seen in some mixed-income housing developments, depending on time and place.

A growing body of research focuses on the impact of moving to mixed-income housing on the social networks of poor households (Chaskin, 2013; Kleit, 2005) and the potential for such changes to promote well-being (Briggs, 1998; Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber, 2007; Levy, McDade, and Bertumen, 2013). Less is known about how place-based strategies affect affordable-housing residents’ personal networks. In this article, we present a case study of recent movers to a single affordable housing complex in New York City in which we assess residents’ relationships with others and the access to social resources that these relationships provide. We focus on two dimensions: (1) the structure of social networks (for example, composition, range, and density) and (2) the content of local relationships—specifically, the extent to which residents exchange different kinds of support or resources with neighbors. This case study is a first step toward understanding the personal networks of the population served by affordable housing and the ways that these housing programs shape the social lives of low-income, nonpoor households.

Background Housing subsidy programs may improve the life chances of residents through multiple pathways.

By ensuring affordable rents, these programs make recipients less likely to experience housinginduced poverty (Stone, 2006) and possibly better able to meet critical expenses. By accessing better quality units, either in the private market with the use of a voucher or by moving to newly constructed subsidized developments, residents may be less likely to be exposed to environmental hazards that pose a direct risk to health (Acevedo-Garcia et al., 2004). By moving out of concentrated poverty and into higher opportunity neighborhoods, families may gain access to safer streets (Ludwig et al., 2011) and better quality schools (Schwartz, 2010). Changes in social context that result from residential mobility may alter the personal networks of individuals and families, reducing the strain of draining relationships (Curley, 2009) and offering the opportunity to establish new relationships with better off neighbors (Joseph, Chaskin, and Webber, 2007). Because social networks not only shape the flow of social resources to individuals but also give rise to perceptions and behaviors, local networks may act as a primary mechanism by which broader neighborhood factors influence individual outcomes (Kleit, 2001; Wilson, 1987).

Although sustained attention has focused on former public housing residents’ social networks and the changes that result from moving to mixed-income housing, little is known about the social lives of affordable-housing residents. A small number of studies include interviews with residents

Cityscape 49Gaumer, Jacobowitz, and Brooks-Gunn



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