Thursday, February 25, 2016

Recognizing the meaning of opportunity

Solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference 


Some of us have been fortunate to have had opportunities all through our lives to pursue our dreams.  We’ve had encouraging parents. We’ve lived in safe neighborhoods with access to good schools. We’ve been able to be in places where we’ve made contacts who have helped us along the way. This spring, I have the chance to take on a new venture, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the opportunities that I’ve been able to take advantage of over my lifetime (more on this in a bit). Opportunity is also a critical element of NHC’s work. We are dedicated to expanding opportunity by helping to ensure everyone in America has access to safe, decent and affordable housing. Several upcoming research projects highlight NHC’s commitment to better understanding the consequences of a lack of access to opportunity and solutions for creating more inclusive communities.

There is increasing understanding about the relationship between one’s prospects for economic mobility and where one lives, including both neighborhood quality and housing affordability and stability. Several rigorous research studies have been released recently that document how place matters to individual and family well-being. NHC’s research staff is working on a review of this research to summarize the key findings. The goal is to produce a syntheses of the evidence so that the broader housing community can be better positioned to educate policymakers and others about the importance of investment in housing and community development.

This growing attention to opportunity is demonstrated in HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which establishes a new process for evaluating local fair housing issues and developing strategies to meet a community’s housing needs. As part of the AFFH rule, HUD has released maps displaying local data that can help communities understand how well their residents’ housing options connect them to opportunity. More and more local governments have become interested in how to map opportunity and create their own opportunity indices.  In collaboration with members of NHC’s Inclusive Communities Working Group, research staff at NHC will produce a brief explaining what we know about opportunity mapping and profiling several communities across the country that have used local data to develop unique opportunity metrics.

One strategy for creating housing opportunity is local inclusionary housing policies.  Inclusionary zoning (IZ) ordinances, for example, typically require or incentivize the production of affordable housing as part of the process of developing market-rate housing.  These programs are becoming increasingly common across the U.S., but there remain concerns that inclusionary requirements result in slower overall housing production or increase market rate prices and rents. There is a small set of very good evaluations on the impacts of IZ programs—and several more descriptive studies—that can help shed light on the expected impacts of IZ programs.  Research staff at NHC will release a short Q&A-style brief based on these research studies to respond to lingering concerns over potential negative consequences about of an IZ program.

As NHC continues its work on opportunity, I am getting set to take advantage of an opportunity myself. I will be stepping down as Vice President of Research at NHC this month to start my own consulting business. I feel very fortunate to have been connected with NHC and all of our partners over the past two and a half years, and I look forward to staying associated with NHC going forward!    









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