URBAN INSTITUTE

Expert

Susan J. Popkin
Expert

Susan J. Popkin

Senior fellow

I started the Program on Neighborhoods and Youth Development because of my interest in how neighborhood environments affect children’s life chances and how these effects differ for girls and boys. I have been researching distressed public housing communities for more than 25 years, beginning with work on how living with chronic violence had blighted the lives of families in Chicago’s notorious high-rises. I was struck by how many women in these communities had experienced sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation—and how “normalized” these problems had become. Later, I worked on MTO, following public housing families who got vouchers to move to lower-poverty areas. One of the most striking findings was that women and girls who moved showed big improvements in mental health. When we were able to follow up and interview some of them in depth, we heard over and over that moving allowed them to feel free—for girls, free of the constant fear of harassment, sexual coercion, and sexual violence; for their mothers, free of their fear for their daughters.

Biography

Susan Popkin is a senior fellow and director of the Neighborhoods and Youth Development initiative in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. A nationally recognized expert on public and assisted housing, Popkin directs a research program that focuses on the ways neighborhood environments affect outcomes for youth and on assessing comprehensive community-based interventions. A particular focus is gender differences in neighborhood effects and improving outcomes for marginalized girls.

Popkin’s current projects include the multisite HOST demonstration, which is testing two-generation service models for vulnerable families in public and assisted housing while creating a network of housing providers seeking to use housing as a platform for services; PASS, a community-based participatory research effort to develop strategies to promote sexual health and safety for adolescents and reduce coercive and risky behavior; the evaluation of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative; and the evaluation of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family-Centered Community Change Initiative.

Popkin is the coauthor of the award-winning Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty, lead author of The Hidden War: Crime and the Tragedy of Public Housing in Chicago, and coauthor of Public Housing Transformation: The Legacy of Segregation.