A way towards 'reparations': expand housing opportunity (& public goods)
August 6, 2019 5:55 AM   Subscribe

America has a housing segregation problem. Seattle may just have the solution. - "Economist Raj Chetty found the program has 'the largest effect I've ever seen in a social science intervention.'"[1,2]
The way housing assistance normally works in major cities is that housing authorities have limited budgets that they use to distribute money for rent to a subset of needy families. (These are authorized by Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, and known as “Section 8 vouchers.”) The mystery for the researchers was that even after getting a subsidy, many families chose not to move to a better area that offered better opportunity. Why was that? And what could be done about it?

So in Seattle, the researchers put a twist on the housing voucher system. For this experiment, a random subset of people receiving vouchers for the first time would get more than just the rental subsidy. They would also be given information on which neighborhoods promise the most opportunity for their kids, based on the research data. They’d also be assigned “navigators” whose job it was to walk them through the apartment application process, and receive additional financial assistance with down payments if necessary.
also btw...
posted by kliuless (14 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Really fascinating. One of the things I'm working on in my own research is the non-fungibility of incentives and how that relates to policy design, so this is particularly apt. Thanks for posting!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:47 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Cool.
posted by eustatic at 6:52 AM on August 6, 2019


This makes me think about a startling fact that I learned from the book Eviction: there is not much of a cost difference from renting substandard housing in a terrible neighborhood and renting adequate housing in a nicer one. Those poorly maintained properties are propped up by renting to people who are desperate and not likely to pass a credit check.

Thank you for the reading resources!
posted by Alison at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


Similar effects are seen when high school students with no family college experience are given additional assistance in navigating the labyrinth of testing, application, and financial aid. Privilege is often just knowing that there are choices or resources.
posted by Etrigan at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2019 [35 favorites]


So, the answer is to help people move to the neighborhoods where resources are hoarded due to economic self-selection and long-standing policies that favor white supremacy? Hell, a lot of houses in those "opportunity neighborhoods" in North Seattle still have housing covenants in their deeds banning their sale to Jews or people of color. They're not legal or enforceable, but they're there, and they still drive some of the backlash about upzoning those neighborhoods to allow for apartments.

Color me unimpressed. Also color me really, really angry as I think about how my kid's Central Seattle public school gears up for another grinding year of begging for money for teacher support and arts instruction and afterschool classes because the state legislature doesn't have the spine to institute corporate or personal income taxes because it'll scare away Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and it's too early in the day for me to get this furious.

Also, if you live in Seattle, today's the last day to turn in your primary ballot, and you had better vote or I will be very peeved at you.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:49 AM on August 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


Whenever I see a program or study like this, that helps some people access more 'opportunity' I wonder how they will choose who is deserving of the opportunity (I realize this study randomly chose people on the Section 8 waiting list). As they briefly note at the end, this would only really work if it were available to all poor people (not just a 'deserving' subset, or perhaps instead to all people who need housing) which would require a totally different approach anyway for many reasons (resistance from wealthier areas, what happens to 'low opportunity' areas, etc.).

It's an interesting article and study (giving poor people access to the same resources as middle-class people ends up with more middle-class outcomes), but the headline seems to promise a universal fix-all idea which this idea seems woefully incapable of imo.
posted by futurescamp at 10:00 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


The idea that people in poorer communities of color should uproot themselves, disperse, and settle in richer, whiter areas has certain similarities to historical arguments that favored slum clearance.

I don't doubt that moving into richer, whiter neighborhoods can have benefits for individual families, but this is in no way a one-stop solution to the issues of poverty or discrimination.

It's a solution in which the onus falls onto disadvantaged people of color to integrate into rich, white communities, and never the other way around. White parents never have to consider putting their kids into a "worse" school. They never have to move, or to lose their community or support network. They never have to receive counseling to adjust to new cultural expectations. And there's no guarantee that the same rich white folks—whose privilege and wealth is, by way of proximity, supposed to rub off on others—won't up and find themselves a new exclusionary enclave once they notice the demographics of their neighborhood shifting.

So yes, by all means, families with section 8 vouchers should be able to do whatever serves them best. But we probably aren't going to improve inequality overall unless we directly address the structural issues that caused disparities in the first place.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:19 AM on August 6, 2019 [11 favorites]


So, basically, busing, only the whole family. Meh?

One thing they don't mention is the wild disparity of financial input from families in the North than in the South. Multiple schools up this end have PTA budgets into the mid-six figures, and they will fund parateacher roles that schools in the South simply can't afford. Moving the South to the North helps, but honestly I'd rather see us fund South Seattle schools better.

(Also, Cascadia/Licton Springs/Eagle Staff isn't in Northgate, it's in Licton Springs. But, then, no one ever says they're from Northgate since it's basically "the mall" and "the transit center.")
posted by dw at 10:21 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


but honestly I'd rather see us fund South Seattle schools better.

I mean, me too. And if you run for city council on that platform you have my vote. (and yes, I voted.)

But this is a way that an agency can start to help people without requiring structural change. Which is hard an long in coming.

I'm for it.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:50 AM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


Another policy that can help is inclusionary zoning! That is where a developer is required to set aside a certain percentage of total units constructed as affordable. In Montgomery County Maryland this has lead to the creation of over 13,000 units of affordable housing (affordable means rent stabilized and they rent at below market price). I love Raj Chetty's work on these issue BTW!
posted by YIMBYMoCo at 12:46 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


evidenceofabsence: So yes, by all means, families with section 8 vouchers should be able to do whatever serves them best. But we probably aren't going to improve inequality overall unless we directly address the structural issues that caused disparities in the first place.

I wholeheartedly agree, but I also see that waiting to solve all the problems at the same time, or even roughly the same time, will generally mean that nothing changes for anyone. Which is to say that this is good, and I'll celebrate it while not pretending that this solves all of the problems related to the segregation and division of services, and qualify of services.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


Also, this general idea can be applied broadly, for both fiscal and other types of support. Instead of throwing money, or data, or resources at someone or a group, give them guidance (and not just a guide) on how to use [that thing], and they'll do better with it.

So many agencies are stretched for staffing, but then someone says "the recipients didn't maximize the benefit of the resource! The program is a bust!" and can shut down a program, or add new hoops to jump through to prove that the recipients are capable of utilizing the resource, or the same grantees rise to the top because they are able to use past experiences to optimize future endeavors (and uninformed parties lose out), or it generates a lot of stress and ill-will. Or some combination of the above.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:17 PM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


So, basically, busing, only the whole family. Meh?

...I think the word you want is "moving."
posted by praemunire at 1:52 PM on August 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


> doesn't have the spine to institute corporate or personal income taxes because it'll scare away Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos

I can't believe I'm defending Bill Gates, but he's been in favor of us getting a state income tax in the past. It's Ballmer who works to stop it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


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