In the past 15 years, the federal HOPE VI program has sought to invest in some of the country’s most economically distressed urban neighborhoods. Policymakers have viewed HOPE VI and the more general idea of mixed-income housing as a way to offer families in public housing a chance to escape concentrated poverty and improve housing quality, and also to reduce crime and spur private investment in neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades. Mixed-income housing and mixed income neighborhoods have quickly formed a new policy paradigm.
The first generation of research evaluating mixed-income housing has produced uneven and sometimes conflicting results. The main approach to date consists of attempts to isolate the effect of mixed-income housing interventions either on individual families or targeted neighborhoods. Although a necessary first step, causal processes at the individual and neighborhood level are interdependent. Individuals are mutually influenced by each other and by the larger neighborhood context. When behavior is interdependent, we often observe nonlinear or “threshold” reactions to changes in social environment. Models of causal inference and experimental interventions typically assume that the environment influences individuals as isolates, and thus may miss or incorrectly specify the mechanisms that connect neighborhoods to social outcomes.
Just as important, neighborhoods are interdependent with other neighborhoods, changing in a dynamic and emergent fashion in ways that housing policy has not fully examined. “Spillover” effects are especially likely when a policy implemented in one set of target areas has ramifying implications for a region as a whole. Yet most housing research focuses on the neighborhoods where public housing is redeveloped, overlooking neighborhoods surrounding redevelopment sites, neighborhoods that receive residents displaced by redevelopment, and neighborhoods that were passed over by redevelopment.
This project seeks to advance a second generation of research on mixed-income housing that will address these issues. Anchored by lead studies in Chicago and Los Angeles, the “Mixed Income Neighborhoods Project” (MINP) compares an older city from the “rustbelt” with a newer city from the “sunbelt,” yielding marked variation in urban structures and experiences with mixed-income housing redevelopment. The design leverages previous research in a way that offers a unique ability to collect new follow-up data on families and neighborhoods from which a rich set of longitudinal information has been collected starting in the mid nineties. A sample from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics will overlay the project and provide a national picture as well. Our analytic plan examines moves into and out of both (a) planned mixed-income housing developments and (b) “naturally occurring” mixed-income neighborhoods that arise without deliberate policy intervention. Once pathways of residential selection are modeled, we will estimate the effects of living in (or nearby) mixed income neighborhoods on individual outcomes like mental health, economic well being, and family changes. We will also examine the effects of mixed-income redevelopment that are felt beyond the individuals who relocate and the neighborhoods initially targeted for revitalization. Further, we will examine a crucial policy question at the neighborhood level—what are the conditions that lead to stable vs. transitory mixed-income neighborhoods? If mixed-income settings are simply a temporary blip on a neighborhood’s overall trajectory, then the assumptions and plans of the mixed-income policy paradigm are called into question. Finally, we will compare HOPE VI and other interventions with the broader population of existing mixed-income neighborhoods. The Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Project thus aims to produce a “holistic” view of the individual and aggregate dynamics of mixed-income housing.