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Excerpted from Poverty & Race, Volume 31, No.2 (Oct-Dec 2022)
Mark L. Joseph
The compelling findings on the relationship between economic connectedness and upward mobility from Raj Chetty and his colleagues provide a much-needed shot in the arm and a guiding light for the ever-expanding field of mixed-income policy and practice. For thirty years now, public-private sector partnerships across the country, and indeed across the world, have been designing, financing and implementing mixed-income developments with the objective of creating planned communities that would be home to a socioeconomic mix of residents. Mixed-income policy and practice aims to be an antidote to the racial segregation, persistent poverty and displacement that now pervades the urban landscape. Billions of dollars have been spent to remake segments of U.S. cities into settings where low SES and high SES individuals of varying social backgrounds can live in proximity and have the opportunity to form relationships. The results of the Chetty team’s dazzling analysis of mind-boggling amounts of Facebook data on friendship networks is a boon to the mixed-income field in two ways: the results provide powerful confirmation of the bridging social capital hypothesis underlying these complex redevelopment efforts and they conclusively indicate that mixing people in a place is a vital first step but not sufficient to generate the desired economic mobility outcomes.
Mixed-income development has long been a policy that benefits from a win-win dynamic in the highly contested arena of urban redevelopment and social investment. By assuring the inclusion of long-term, quality affordable housing, in many cases for those with extremely low incomes, while generating market-rate housing and high-quality amenities, mixed-income development has garnered the support of mayors, private investors, real estate developers and antipoverty and affordable housing advocates alike. Starting in 1992, the federal HOPE VI program funded about 240 redevelopment efforts across the country (but also led to a significant overall reduction in public housing units). Its more comprehensive successor, the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative launched in 2010 with stronger replacement housing and tenant protection provisions, and has now funded over 100 planning grantees and 40 implementation grantees in the U.S. Furthermore, inclusionary housing efforts, with mandated set-asides of affordable housing within newly developed buildings, have generated hundreds of thousands of mixed-income units. And proliferating efforts at affordable housing preservation within gentrifying neighborhoods are generating hundreds more neighborhoods that are home to an intentional economic mix of residents. These efforts are successfully transforming many inner-city neighborhoods physically and economically, are incredibly complex and costly to implement, and have fallen short of their true potential for promoting social and economic inclusion among a greater number of the urban poor. Our recent volume What Works to Promote Inclusive, Equitable Mixed-Income Communities provides an array of essays on this topic and our podcast Bending the Arc delves deeper into state of the field.
Turning then to the opportune timing and importance of the Chetty team’s confirmatory results. Mixed-income policy and practice is based on the idea that while bonding social capital among individuals with similar backgrounds is important for “getting by,” bridging social capital among those with different backgrounds is crucial for, as Xavier de Souza Briggs put it, “getting ahead.” These results confirm a number of things. First, the analysis demonstrates that this specific form of social capital, Chetty and colleagues call their measure “economic connectedness,” indeed has an impact on economic mobility, all else being equal. Even more important, they find that relative to the two other forms of social capital that they measure – social cohesion and civic engagement – cross-class connections have a far higher impact. Perhaps most influential for future social policy investments, they find that economic connectedness explains economic outcomes more than anything else they measure including racial segregation, economic inequality, educational outcomes, and family structure. So, social mix indeed matters and in this era of increasing inequity, polarization and housing instability we have to redouble our efforts to generate mixed-income communities where low SES and high SES individuals have a chance to connect.
But there’s so much more to the findings. Where the real rocket boost to the mixed-income field should come is the analysis to which Chetty and team dedicate their entire second article published in Nature. In examining the relative influence of exposure to high SES individuals versus the “friending bias” of individuals forming relationships with others similar to them, they find that friending bias can offset as much as half of the economic mobility impact of being in a mixed setting. In diverse settings, low- and high-SES students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are less likely to be friends. This confirms what my colleagues and I at the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities and so many of our practitioner partners have been learning, experiencing and proselytizing about for many years now – mixed-income housing is not enough, we must intentionally craft and steward community network-building within that housing. It is not sufficient to generate a mixed-income building, or housing complex, or neighborhood, and then sit back and hope the social mix will organically produce economic connectedness and upward mobility. We must activate the mix. In fact, our research, and that of others, on mixed-income development, suggests that, left uncurated, without an intentional strategy for promoting interaction and inclusion, social mix can actually perpetuate stigma and marginalization, what Robert Chaskin and I have called “incorporated exclusion.” As Chetty and his colleagues (Social Capital II, p.128, italics added) put it: “these results imply that increasing economic connectedness—the form of social capital most strongly associated with economic mobility—would require efforts to both increase integration (exposure) and reduce friending bias within groups.”
What then are the implications of the Chetty team’s findings for the mixed-income development field? Policymakers should accelerate and expand their efforts to require economic mix as a component of any local housing or urban redevelopment investment strategy. And these efforts must be designed with careful attention to centering the meaningful and sustained participation of low SES households, especially African Americans and other traditionally-marginalized households of color, as designers, beneficiaries and long-term stewards of these mixed-income environments. Practitioners of mixed-income development must increase their time, attention and resources to establishing a shared vision and commitment to inclusive community building as a component of their mixed-income strategy, with clear roles, responsibilities and workplans to operationalize this commitment. Funders, universities and anchor institutions, community development corporations, neighborhood associations and other local stakeholders in community development must leverage their spheres of influence to hold developers and investors accountable to the design, construction and management of properties that prioritize social bridging not just physical integration.
Lest readers of Poverty & Race feel that these prescriptions are overly daunting and infeasible, I’ll close this essay with a shout out to some exemplar mixed-income practitioners who have been making steady progress innovating and refining strategies to increase residential integration and reducing friending bias in mixed-income housing around the country. Trusted Space Partners, based in North Carolina, has honed the art of recruiting resident and staff stewards to promote a more inclusive operating culture in housing and neighborhoods through devices such as NeighborUp Nights, unity circles and hospitality covenants. The Trek Development Group in Pittsburgh is demonstrating the potential for a mission-driven for-profit real estate developer and property management company to integrate inclusionary intentionality across its portfolio. The Washington Housing Conservancy in Washington, D.C. is weaving a social impact strategy into its novel affordable housing preservation financing model in order to add the north star of economic mobility to its housing stability mission. Mercy Housing California has implemented the Community Connect model of resident engagement across its housing portfolio in order to promote social bridging with greater intentionality. Regent Park in Toronto and Yesler Terrace in Seattle are standout examples of large-scale mixed-income transformation initiatives that have prioritized community building as an essential feature of the design and management of the housing, community facilities, cultural amenities and retail establishments in their redevelopments. The mixed-income development field has a long, long way to go to achieve its promise of social and economic inclusion. These high-profile social capital findings from Chetty and his team provide a welcome affirmation of the importance of this policy arena and incisive guidance on the imperative of community network-building as a core component of any mixed-income effort. n
Mark Joseph (email@example.com) is the Leona Bevis and Marguerite Haynam Professor of Community Development at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and Founding Director of the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities (nimc.case.edu).
Robert Chaskin, Mark Joseph. Integrating the Inner City: The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation. (University of Chicago Press, 2015).
Raj Chetty et al. Social Capital I: Measurement and Associations with Economic Mobility (Nature, 2022).
Raj Chetty et al. Social Capital II: Social Capital II: Determinants of Economic Connectedness (Nature, 2022)
Mark Joseph, Amy Khare, Eds. What Works to Promote Inclusive, Equitable Mixed-Income Communities (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 2020).