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Mobility – In Baltimore, Connecticut, Anywhere USA

5 May 2015

Erin Boggs is the Executive Director of Open Communities Alliance

For the last several weeks, the country has been riveted by the events in Baltimore. But the story has been about much more than one man’s tragic interaction with the police. It is about the segregation that cleaved a city. Housing policy played a huge role in that division.

Now, a new report from Connecticut’s Department of Housing, the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, finds that Connecticut is one of the nation’s most segregated states and the location of subsidized and affordable housing is a key contributor. Housing generated by past state and federal programs, the report finds, is located in the very small part of the state that is disproportionately minority. In the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, for example, the report reveals that 83% of HCV families live in the 6% of the land area of Connecticut that is disproportionately minority.

The need to change housing patterns takes on a new urgency by two new game-changing reports from Harvard economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz (available here and here). They show the unmistakable benefits of moving from a high poverty area to a lower poverty area for low-income families. The first followed the children in families who made such moves as part of HUD’s Moving to Opportunity experiment with mobility and discovered that MTO children, now adults 20 years later, were more likely to attend college and girls were less likely to be single mothers. The MTO movers also earn 31% more than their counterparts. The second report found that, tracking incomes for children in over 5 million lower-income families, those who moved to neighborhoods with higher average incomes experienced higher rates of college attendance, lower rates of teen pregnancy, and earned more as adults.

Fans of the Baltimore police series The Wire will recall that, in the third season, two high-rise public housing projects are emptied of their residents and literally blown up. This actually happened in Baltimore. Many former residents were given Housing Choice Vouchers which advocates knew would reinforce the city’s racially segregated housing patterns. But a subsequent  lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Maryland, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others resulted in a settlement that included a groundbreaking strategy for ensuring housing choice.

Today in Baltimore, beyond the latest turmoil, a program is bringing real change to people who are moving with their vouchers to areas that are less poverty and minority-concentrated. Families are experiencing better health and education outcomes; they are a model for such places as Connecticut, where the mobility program needs more resources.  

For a variety of structural reasons, families tend to not have genuine choice in housing without the assistance of mobility counseling. Families provided mobility counseling are lower income. Providing a way to leave a struggling or dangerous neighborhood serves to decrease poverty concentration, allow for the delivery of more comprehensive assistance to remaining families, and create an opening for neighborhood revitalization. These issues – along with their impact on educational achievement and access to vital community resources – will be explored from 9 to 11 a.m. May 21st at The Lyceum in Hartford at an IForum produced by The Partnership for Strong Communities and the Open Communities Alliance: “Choice, Mobility, Opportunity: Connecticut Needs Housing Choices AND Mobility To Produce Education and Economic Success!” The event is free of charge. For more information click here

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