Academic journal article Cityscape

The Unintended Imposition of Housing Deconcentration?

Academic journal article Cityscape

The Unintended Imposition of Housing Deconcentration?

Article excerpt

For years, policy analysts and the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development have offered the reply to the question of how déconcentration fits as part of federal housing policy objectives: use déconcentration whenever appropriate, along with supply-side or place-based improvements, in a multifaceted strategy to address poverty (Briggs, 2008; DeLuca, 2012; Galster, 2013; Goering and Feins, 2008; Sharkey, 2013). Voluntary mobility (Goetz, 2002), in some form and degree, needs to be among the alternatives offered to low-income residents receiving housing assistance, if only because of the substantial levels of harm and fear often caused by living in deeply poor communities. Although not a silver bullet, voluntary mobility is among the critical tools that government and the nonprofit worlds should continue to engage in as they pursue comprehensive, effective, and equitable outcomes for cities, neighborhoods, and poor households.

We now know that the utility and effectiveness of déconcentration programs appear likely to vary according to the presence and power of certain structural and programmatic issues, the relevance of which are better understood now, two decades after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched its first major experimental déconcentration effort. In the approximately two decades since Congress authorized funding for HUD's experimental déconcentration effort, the Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing (MTO) demonstration program, we have learned a good deal from the criticism, commentary, and new research generated that now enable us to more critically examine what dispersal is best suited to accomplish, its limitations, and its probable effects on families (Briggs, Popkin, and Goering, 2010; Goetz, 2002; Imbroscio, 2012, 2008; Ludwig, 2012; Massey et ah, 2013; Oreopoulos, 2003; Sampson, 2012; Sharkey, 2013).1 HUD's own contribution to neighborhood effects research has generated a wave of social science investigations of mobility, race, and neighborhoods that is only now available to planners and analysts. This research curiosity, built on the foundations laid by William Julius Wilson and Douglas Massey, has now generated a clearer view of the structural or systemwide resistance to large-scale poverty relocation.

In the short space allotted, I focus on four obstacles: (1) the reduced funding and support for federal programs, (2) that such reductions have been long term and harmful, (3) that opportunities have been shown to vary considerably across metro areas, and (4) that race continues to matter often quite profoundly. These constraints now more clearly appear to affect the chances for large-scale successful déconcentration of poverty. I, too, focus on the "under-theorized ... role of structural factors" (Goetz and Chappie, 2010: 225-226) in generating the benefits and harms of concentrated poverty (also see Galster, 2013). Such constraints have limited HUD's ability to promote wide-scale déconcentration, along with its other missions. Unlike in the late 1980s, when most of us knew little about the conditions for successful poverty dispersal, we are now a bit wiser in identifying "which causes matter most" and "what types of effects can reasonably be expected from a dispersal strategy" (Goetz and Chappie, 2010: 227).

Funding and Support for Federal Programs Have Declined

My focus begins on the structural impediments to adequately fund HUD's missions, including the chances for supporting large-scale poverty déconcentration. We have recently seen limited prospect for federal funding adequate to the increasing needs for housing assistance this country faces, including a dwindling willingness to finance equitable development options for poor communities. Mann and Omstein (2012), in It's Even Worse Than It Looks, argued that Washington's partisan "asymmetric" polarization significantly limits options for fiscal change and reform. The "dysfunctional politics" of recent Congresses, for example, led to the creation of budget sequestration that nonsurgically cuts nonentitlement funding for agencies like HUD (Naim, 2013; Omstein, 2013). …

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