Inclusive communities offer a diversity of housing choices—with a mix of prices, types and sizes—for people of all races, ethnicities, ages, family types, abilities and incomes.
Inclusive communities play a crucial role in expanding opportunity and broadening neighborhood, economic and education options for Americans of all backgrounds. They help us grow together, not apart.
Why Inclusive Communities Matter
NHC created the Inclusive Communities Toolkit to meet the growing demand from housing administrators, elected officials, local advocates and others for accessible information on local housing policies and programs that help make communities more inclusive.
At NHC, we believe that part of ensuring a safe, decent and affordable home for all in America is making it possible for lower-income households to access, and stay in, opportunity-connected homes.
Building and preserving inclusive communities is an important component of connecting lower-income households to opportunity. Here is why:
1. Limited housing options confine millions of low-income children and families to low-opportunity, high-poverty neighborhoods.
More Americans now live in concentrated poverty than ever before. New research shows that the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods (those with poverty rates above 40 percent) nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, growing from 7.2 to 13.8 million.
This dynamic disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic households. In 2013, 25.2 percent of African Americans and 17.4 percent of Hispanics lived in high-poverty neighborhoods, compared to just 7.5 percent of whites. Young African Americans (13 to 28 years old) are ten times more likely than young whites to live in neighborhoods of medium or greater poverty (poverty rates of 20 percent or higher): 66 percent of African Americans, compared to 6 percent of whites.
2. Where we live affects our lifelong earnings, our school choices, our job access, our health, our sense of wellbeing and even our lifespan.
The most recent evidence about how place matters comes from two groundbreaking studies by Harvard University researchers who found that growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood diminishes a child’s lifetime earnings by up to 17 percent, and that boys in these neighborhoods experience even lower lifetime earnings. In high-poverty neighborhoods, residents also suffer greater-than-average exposure to crime, stress, lead and other toxins, and have less access to good schools. Typically these neighborhoods are also far from job growth.
While there are multiple ways to improve opportunities and conditions for low-income children and families, including comprehensive place-based investments in distressed neighborhoods and policies that preserve income diversity in improving communities, an important companion strategy is helping low-income families access higher-income neighborhoods. The Harvard research team’s study of the Chicago region showed that poor children whose families received vouchers to help them move from public housing to low-poverty areas before age 13 increased their earnings as adults by 31 percent, the equivalent of $302,000 more in lifetime income.
3. We all benefit economically when opportunities are widely available.
New evidence shows that our communities are more prosperous and resilient when we extend opportunity broadly, reduce spatial segregation and make it possible for more types of people to live in neighborhoods with good schools and better access to jobs. A 2015 study of 184 metropolitan areas found that lower levels of social and spatial segregation, and less metropolitan income inequality, were strongly correlated with a region’s ability to sustain economic growth between 1990 and 2011.
These findings are consistent with a 2014 study that showed that lower levels of segregation by income and race, and lower levels of income inequality, were strongly correlated with higher rates of upward mobility for lower-income children as well as higher-income children.
There are clear benefits to businesses when employment-dense areas are affordable to a diversity of workers. When employees can find affordable living options near their jobs, businesses perform better, reporting less turnover, less absenteeism and greater productivity.
Workers fare better as well. With more location choices, workers are able to expand their job options, shorten their commutes, spend more time with their families and give back to their communities through volunteer activities.
4. It’s also the law.
Local governments are under greater scrutiny to promote fair housing choice following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 disparate impact ruling and HUD’s new fair housing rule requiring local governments and agencies receiving HUD grants to develop plans that “affirmatively further fair housing.”
The Supreme Court’s fair housing ruling affirmed that zoning and other regulations that disproportionately exclude people of a particular race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or family status can be found illegal even if they do not discriminate explicitly.
Per HUD’s new rule, local governments receiving HUD funds need to develop plans to “overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity.” These plans can include actions that rectify segregated living patterns and/or transform concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity.
5. We have an opportunity to create more inclusive communities.
During the 20th century, public policies at the federal, state and local levels were designed explicitly to segregate based on race. The effects of these policies endure today. The policy choices and investments we make now can either perpetuate concentrated poverty and racial segregation or help us grow out of it. As regions around the country grow, we have an excellent opportunity to build and preserve inclusive communities that connect more people to opportunity.
There is no single solution. The path to greater inclusivity lies in the use of multiple tools and at least two over-arching strategies:
Making areas of opportunity more accessible to more types of people; and
Investing in high-poverty neighborhoods while preserving a mix of housing options in these communities.
This Inclusive Communities Toolkit lays out a starter list of policy and programmatic approaches that are helping communities grow more inclusively and expand housing and neighborhood options for low-income households. Stay tuned as we add other important policy and program approaches to the toolkit over the coming months, including tools for states as well as local governments.