The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
September 30, 2015

Using housing policy tools to build ladders to the middle class

September 30, 2015

Opportunity is intimately tied to place in the United States. Where you live determines school quality, available transportation options, proximity to jobs, and  community assets. Because place is so closely linked to access to opportunity, housing policy provides important and effective strategies for promoting economic opportunity  and upward mobility.

Our new report samples the variety of housing policy tools at our disposal to promote economic mobility, particularly for disadvantaged populations. We set forth a menu of evidence-driven federal, state, and local policy tools that can help families climb the ladder. We believe, with the right policies in place, people can have both choices about where they live and opportunities wherever they choose to call home.

 

Housing Policy Toolbox

Housing policy toolbox

Many of the federal housing policy levers involve providing incentives for state and local action. But even without federal policy changes, states and their local jurisdictions have numerous opportunities to improve the economic mobility of their residents.

Research on the ground shows how these housing policy levers can promote economic mobility. Montgomery County’s inclusionary zoning ordinance has been shown to provide low-income families access to more economically diverse places. Analysis of the Moving to Opportunity demonstration suggests housing vouchers can reduce the persistence of intergenerational poverty and save the government money.  The continued growth in the body of research on residential segregation and neighborhood change and the emergence of data-driven early warning systems to identify and assist vulnerable residents in distressed neighborhoods shows there is an appetite to employ and assess these tools in research, policy, and practice.

The tools in the housing policy toolbox are abundant, flexible and diverse.  But furthering economic opportunity and mobility requires:

With an abundance of viable tools, policymakers should be able to find solutions that are amenable to everyone. Effectively building ladders to the middle class and creating safety nets to limit downward mobility require the best screwdrivers, wrenches, and hammers we have. It’s time to get to work. 

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