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Affordable Homeownership Goes Hand in Hand with Moving to Opportunity

21 July 2015

Melvyn Colon, Executive Director, Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance

In the past several weeks we have witnessed what has the potential to be a profound change in the way federal housing policy views the distribution of subsidies to make housing affordable to low and moderate-income families and individuals. On June 23 a Supreme Court ruling upheld the use of “disparate impact” rather than intention (to discriminate) as a basis for bringing action under fair housing laws. A rule change announced by HUD Secretary Julian Castro on July 8 will mean that states, local jurisdictions and public housing agencies will receive HUD assistance in completing an Assessment of Fair Housing. The AFHs will inform the way HUD invests its housing assistance resources. It is expected that advocates will be able to participate in the AFH process with the view to directing housing resources, such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, away from cities with dense concentrations of poverty to areas where the development of affordable housing is routinely contested through exclusionary zoning and other practices. Many of the latter areas are called High Opportunity Areas because their residents have enjoyed successful outcomes through their educational systems and employment markets for many years. Taken together these two events represent the stick and the carrot to move affordable housing resources away from areas that already have a disproportionate burden of poverty into areas that, intentionally or not, have shut their doors to low and moderate income people of color.  

However, it is unlikely that these changes in policy will do much to break down existing concentrations of poverty in urban areas in the foreseeable future. That is why organizations like SINA have been working for more than a decade to promote homeownership in those areas where there is an existing concentration of poverty. In Frog Hollow, where SINA does most of its work, the poverty rate is estimated at 42% and the homeownership rate is estimated to be less than 8% (Data is from the ACS 2005-2009 and the 2010 census). By selling homes to families that earn between $40,000 and $65,000 dollars per year, an income range which represents two to three times the median family income in Frog Hollow, SINA is diversifying the income of the community by building on vacant land or rehabbing vacant property. This is development without displacing existing families. Our counterparts at NINA and Habitat for Humanity are doing similar work in other Hartford neighborhoods.

The positive changes that this type of development brings can be seen on Colonial Street, where SINA homes represent the majority of structures on the street. On that street (mostly) low-income residents living in rental housing across from homeowners who have bought homes from SINA enjoy the benefits of lower crime rates, greater civic engagement and higher quality of life.

This work will continue throughout Frog Hollow and Hartford thanks to an initiative led by Senator John Fonfara to fund homeownership in urban areas throughout the state. On July 7 SINA was awarded $2.5 million by the state’s Department of Housing to build 11 new homes (with attached rental units) in the neighborhood, a total of 22 housing units. Habitat for Humanity was awarded $500,500 to build 7 new homes and the Hartford Housing Authority received $5 million to build 29 new homeownership units in the Blue Hills neighborhood.

This has been a historic month for housing policy and a boost to those who feel that well-intentioned housing programs, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, have had the unfortunate effect of worsening rather than ameliorating more than a century of systemic discrimination in housing markets. While some organizations work to reduce the concentration of poverty in Low Opportunity Areas by promoting affordable housing in exclusionary communities, organizations such as SINA work to reduce poverty concentration by increasing the proportion of homeownership and the diversity of incomes in low-income communities.

[SINA is a partnership between Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Hartford Hospital and Trinity College to restore economic vitality and improve the quality of life for the benefit of the people who live, work, study and play in the neighborhoods of South Central Hartford. For more information about SINA see a recently published profile in HUD User.]

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