Opportunity for All

Federal strategies to support strong and inclusive neighborhoods

Bridge

The Opportunity for All project is based on a simple premise: every family should live in a neighborhood that supports their well-being and their children’s ability to thrive. But today, too many families, particularly families of color, live in neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of disinvestment, have been displaced from neighborhoods that are revitalizing, and are excluded from neighborhoods with opportunity-enhancing amenities. Racist public policies have created and reinforced this uneven landscape, but better policies can instead support fairer and more just access to opportunity. The federal government has a particularly important role because of the scale of its resources and its ability to level the playing field across places.

In this essay series, Urban Institute scholars, community leaders, and national experts are working together to explore how the federal government can help all neighborhoods become places of opportunity and inclusion. Although these essays address multiple policy areas, they all aim to end the systems that tie Americans’ chances of success to their race or the place they grow up.

Creating Places of Opportunity for All
Solomon Greene, Margery Austin Turner, Chantel Rush
September 9, 2020

Public policies have long played a central role in creating and perpetuating residential segregation by contributing to disinvestment and neglect in neighborhoods where people of color and lower-income families live and blocking access to well-resourced and opportunity-rich neighborhoods. The cumulative effects of these policy decisions are vividly seen and painfully felt today. Communities of color have been ravaged by the health risks and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because public policies helped create these equity gaps, they can and should close them. This moment provides a critical opening for the federal government to play a more robust role in addressing structural racism and supporting more equitable access to opportunity across neighborhoods, cities, and regions. In this essay, we introduce the Opportunity for All series and offer a place-conscious framework for federal policies and investments. Read More

Envisioning a National Preservation Strategy
Erika C. Poethig, Julia Stasch, Michael Stegman, Aaron Shroyer
September 14, 2020

Addressing a national housing crisis—the mismatch between the supply and demand of rental homes for households with modest incomes—requires a comprehensive strategy to produce new affordable units, preserve existing inventory, and protect at-risk residents. Because more affordable units are lost than are produced, preservation must be a higher priority in this strategy. This essay proposes such a robust preservation strategy, including more resources, better tools, innovation, engagement of all relevant actors, and a nationwide network of local and state coordinating bodies dedicated to preserving the maximum number of affordable housing options. Read More

Federal Investment in Community-Driven Public Safety
Jesse Jannetta, Leah Sakala, Fernando Rejón
September 22, 2020

This essay identifies an opportunity to mobilize federal support for building community-driven public safety infrastructure, responding to a central demand of the uprisings against police violence to create safety by strengthening communities rather than punishment. In the past, the federal government has chosen to respond to crime (a legal definition often distinct from harm) by investing in law enforcement, prosecution, and corrections. But the past four decades have shown us that this justice system-focused, top-down approach leaves many critical public safety players out entirely, and creates harmful consequences for justice-involved people and their communities that span generations. Investing federal funds in local collaboratives that include distinct roles for grassroots community organizations, intermediary coordinating organizations, and government agencies can create an infrastructure to support long-term public safety strategies centered around a public health approach for prevention, healing, accountability, and community-specific needs. Read More

Breaking the Link Between Hardship and Eviction: The Case for a Renters’ Housing Stability Program
Maya Brennan, Ellen Sahli, Diana Elliott, Eleanor Noble
September 23, 2020

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the precarious situation of renters in the US and the routine risk of eviction when hardship strikes. Millions of renters faced financial hardship even before the pandemic, and these hardships and eviction risks are connected to structural racism. Racial disparities in incomes, homeownership rates, and personal savings all disproportionately protect white households and leave households of color—especially Black mothers—exposed. Anticipating that renters’ risks of financial hardship and eviction will continue after eviction moratoria end, this essay envisions a federal program that assists renters in resolving discrete, indefinite, and structural hardships without loss of housing or accrual of high-cost debt.  Read More

Breaking Barriers, Boosting Supply: How the Federal Government Can Help Eliminate Exclusionary Zoning
Solomon Greene, Ingrid Gould Ellen
September 25, 2020

Local governments across the country have incentives to adopt zoning laws and other land-use regulations that limit the production of housing, particularly multifamily and subsidized units. These restrictions reduce the overall supply of housing and perpetuate racial and economic segregation. The federal government can play an important role in lifting local barriers to fair and affordable housing, and we suggest an approach that would encourage states to adopt more inclusive policies. Specifically, the federal government should require that to receive competitive funding for housing, transportation, and infrastructure, states must demonstrate measurable progress toward meeting regional housing needs and distributing affordable housing across a diverse range of communities. Read More

Building the Double Bottom Line: How a New Corporate Compact Could Birth a Community Development Renaissance
Brett Theodos, Tim Ferguson, Robin HackeBrady Meixell, Lisa Mensah
October 1, 2020

This essay identifies four core elements that constitute a new corporate compact asking corporations to take a renewed focus on communities by creating new streams of community development finance that would help ameliorate neighborhood disparities by race and income. These elements are (1) an expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act to cover insurance companies, pension funds, investment firms, and other financial institutions; (2) a new federal corporate standard to promote investment in local communities; (3) time-limited disbursal requirements for donor-advised funds; and (4) revisions to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to encompass social as well as financial outcomes. Read More

Taking Neighborhood Mobility to Scale through the Housing Choice Voucher Program
Martha M. Galvez, Sarah Oppenheimer
October 7, 2020

This brief explores how the federal government can invest in enhancements to the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program to fulfill the program’s unmet goal of ensuring low-income families can live in opportunity-rich neighborhoods. As the COVID-19 pandemic highlights and intensifies racial and economic inequalities in the United States, the urgency to identify scalable strategies to broaden geographic (and ultimately economic) mobility has never been greater. Increased federal investment in how public housing authorities (PHAs) administer vouchers can ensure that the HCV program is an effective and scalable tool to promote neighborhood choice, poverty alleviation, and economic mobility and to create a foundation for expanded neighborhoods mobility services. Given the prospect of program expansion in response to increased housing insecurity caused by the pandemic, they also represent timely revisions to ensure future success. Read More

Federal Tools to Create Places of Opportunity for All
Margery Austin Turner, Xavier de Souza Briggs, Ashleigh Gardere, Solomon Greene
October 15, 2020

The Opportunity for All series offers bold ideas for federal action to reverse the legacy of segregation and disinvestment in communities of color and ensure that every family can live in a neighborhood that supports their well-being and their children’s ability to thrive. But progress on these and other promising ideas could inadvertently be undermined by other federal policy choices that fail to consider place, race, and access to opportunity. Therefore, this essay advances three overarching tools to expand access to opportunity through federal policies and investments while leveraging local and state innovation: 1) vigorously enforce the long-neglected statutory mandate to affirmatively further fair housing; 2) implement a place-conscious equity review process for all major discretionary spending and new federal policies; and 3) launch a “race-to-the-top” competition that rewards the boldest regional and state equitable development strategies. Read More


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In this brief, we identify seven big ideas to address these concerns that together constitute our “New Agenda for Community Development Finance.” These are (1) an expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act to cover insurance companies, pension funds, investment firms, and other financial institutions; (2) a new federal corporate standard to promote investment in local communities; (3) time-limited disbursal requirements for donor-advised funds (DAFs); (4) revisions to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to encompass social as well as financial outcomes; and three new federal expenditure proposals: (5) the creation of a Local Equity Tax Credit, (6) the quadrupling of CDFI Fund grant awards, and (7) substantial revisions to the Opportunity Zone incentive. This brief builds upon “Building the Double Bottom Line: How a New Corporate Compact Could Birth a Community Development Renaissance” from the Urban Institute’s Opportunity for All project.

A New Agenda for Community Development Finance