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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

What Would it Take to Overcome Exclusionary Barriers, and Promote More Affordable Options in All Neighborhoods?

What would it take to make new neighborhoods, and remake old ones, so that large, complex, metropolitan areas moved decisively toward racial and economic integration? What local and regional governance strategies could most effectively overcome barriers to these goals?

Today, we published four papers exploring these questions. The papers—an overview essay and case studies of Washington, DC, Houston, and Chicago—were presented at A Shared Future: Fostering Communities of Inclusion in an Era of Inequality, a symposium we hosted in April 2017. The four papers are:

Rolf Pendall,
Urban Institute

Pathways to Inclusion: Contexts for Neighborhood Integration in Chicago, Houston, and Washington, by Rolf Pendall, who moderated this panel at our symposium, offers an overview of the major demographic changes that are transforming US housing markets and describes two distinct patterns of political geography that will affect local and regional decisionmaking about neighborhood inclusion. He begins by reporting that the population of the United States – particularly its metropolitan areas – is both growing and becoming more diverse by age, race and ethnicity, household composition, and income. He then describes the two principal patterns of political geography that affect decisionmaking about neighborhood inclusion: fragmentation of local governments (particularly in the Northeast and Midwest where control of land use is in the hands of many local governments) and polycentricity (particularly in the South and the West, where larger county governments have much more control over land uses). Fostering inclusion in both types of places is challenging. In the former regions, he notes, it tends to require state-level action. In the latter, the efforts often focus on school districts as well as school assignment zones within particularly large school districts. He concludes by showing the interplay between the national demographic trends and political geographies of the three case study regions.

Willow Lung-Amam,
University of Maryland

An Equitable Future for the Washington, DC Region?: A “Regionalism Light” Approach to Building, by Willow Lung-Amam, begins by noting that while that DC region is racially and economically diverse, it also is highly segregated and has some of the nation’s highest housing prices. Moreover, because it is politically fragmented, it has uneven patterns of development. Given this, Lung-Aman proposes a “regionalism-light” approach that focuses on the protection and production of affordable housing. In particular, she says four approaches should be the central part of any effort to break down barriers to housing inclusion in existing neighborhoods and build a strong platform for current and future residents to be a part of the region’s continued growth and prosperity: preserving existing affordable units through aggressive anti-displacement strategies; capturing land value to produce new affordable housing, especially near transit stations; increasing the density and diversity of suburban housing; and tackling the region’s stark east-west divide with fair-share policies.

William Fulton,
Rice University

Can a Market-Oriented City Also Be Inclusive?, by William Fulton, explains that while Houston has emerged in the last 30-plus years as one of the country’s most ethnically diverse and affordable cities, these measures mask significant amounts of inequality and disparity that are at least as bad as, and perhaps worse than, those in other metro areas. At first glance, he notes, Houston seems unable to address these challenges, largely because it has a reputation for being one of the nation’s most market-oriented cities for real estate development. However, he contends, the city has a unique and important opportunity to address these issues because it also has abundant amounts of vacant land, limited zoning regulations that could block the development of affordable housing, regulatory tools that could encourage such development, and a potentially useful but currently uncoordinated set of financial incentives for economic development and real estate development. Accomplishing this task, he explains, would require both a comprehensive citywide approach and targeted efforts in underserved neighborhoods threatened by gentrification. In particular, the following strategies are especially promising: aligning both economic development incentives and regulations with inclusiveness goals; using government and institutional landholdings to strategically to pursue those goals; and creating a broad and comprehensive approach to inclusiveness that includes both underserved and high-opportunity areas. He notes that while Houston has taken some steps in this direction, it has fallen short in others, particularly in efforts to bring affordable housing to high-opportunity areas.

(Please note that Fulton’s paper was completed before Hurricane Harvey caused extensive damage and displacement in Houston during August 2017.)

Marisa Novara & Amy Khare,
Metropolitan Planning Council

Two Extremes of Residential Segregation: Chicago’s Separate Worlds & Policy Strategies for Integraion, by Marisa Novara and Amy Khare, argues that a movement is needed to rethink strategies for desgregation at the region’s two poles: concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth. The Chicago region, they note, ranks in the top quarter of all metros with regard to economic segregation and is in danger of becoming even more segregated by race and class. In areas suffering from disinvestment, Novara and Khare argue that carefully revised lending criteria and improved appraisal processes, along with other complimentary policies, could lead to increased investment. This, in turn, might create more integrated communities. In contrast, they note that political realities make it unlikely that the state will step in to override local land-use restrictions that stymie the development of affordable housing (as Massachusetts has done via a law passed in 1969). Given this situation, they suggest that Illinois instead draw on a different Massachusetts law that offers incentives to more affluent communities that zone for dense, mixed-income residential developments, particularly in locations well-served by transit.