This post has been submitted to New York Times in response to their article “An Atlas of Upward Mobility Shows Paths Out of Poverty."
New research from the Equality of Opportunity Project, showing that moving young children to areas with better opportunities improves their economic standing as adults, resounded in metropolitan Chicago—a city and region with a complicated and troubling history of residential segregation. But it’s also home to the nation’s first housing desegregation and mobility program known as Gautreaux.
For the past three years, the Chicago metropolitan area has been piloting a two-part initiative that holds great promise for areas defined by concentrated affluence and poverty, such as St. Louis and Baltimore. Regional housing authorities, metropolitan planning organizations and civil rights advocates are collaborating to invest in new housing for people in low-poverty communities for people with a mix of incomes. There’s also counseling and assistance to families with housing vouchers so that they can find, relocate to and thrive in low-poverty communities with good jobs, quality schools and reliable transit access. This combined approach already has led to the development of 28 new apartment buildings containing 1,800 apartments—400 of those subsidized—and 200 families moving to low-poverty areas.
More than 65 percent of those families moved to DuPage County, Ill., just west of the City of Chicago, which Equality of Opportunity Project identified at the top of its rankings, indicating that a child growing up there will earn 15 percent or $3,900 per year more than their peers growing up in an average U.S. county. RAND Corporation is studying the Chicago pilot, with results expected this fall; early findings suggest great outcomes for families moving to DuPage and other low-poverty neighborhoods. By comparison, EOP’s research found that children growing up in adjacent Cook County, Ill., earned approximately $2,000 to $3,000 less per year than their peers nationwide.
Certainly, moving 200 families and building 28 developments with 400 affordable apartments is not enough to undo decades of policies and practices that created Chicago’s segregated places, but it points to how we can start to make real headway. Chicago and other highly segregated cities and regions must continue to invest in solutions like these—and the federal government should actively support them. By investing in struggling communities as well as in new strategies that improve housing options in all neighborhoods, cities can ensure all residents have choices in one of their most important decisions: where they call home.