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Home and neighborhood are key ingredients for economic opportunity

In reading “As D.C. families get richer, staggering disparities persist, report finds” in the Washington Post last month, I found myself thinking about the role that a home and neighborhood plays in an individual’s access to opportunity. As stated in the article, as the overall incomes of households have risen recently, low-income households have been displaced from neighborhoods undergoing rapid increases in rent and home prices to neighborhoods in the city with less opportunity.

This is a serious problem because displacement of low-income households to neighborhoods with higher crime rates, less access to services, weaker educational options and lower-quality housing can not only have immediate negative impacts on individuals, but also limit their chances for economic mobility in the future.

Research has demonstrated that constant, toxic stress created by “persistent poverty, trauma  and social bias—stresses commonly faced by low-income households” can change the way that people make decisions. It alters a person’s focus to be reactive and deal with constant crisis. In addition to the importance of living in a safe neighborhood with quality schools, access to transportation and services, access to affordable, safe and decent housing is also critical for its myriad positive impacts on a person’s life. One of those is providing a platform for economic opportunity.

Living in a quality home in a safe, connected neighborhood can reduce some of those toxic stressors for low-income households. It also can free up time and energy to focus on pursuing jobs, education or training to enhance their economic opportunities because they do not have to worry about the condition or cost of their housing.

In our recent webinar, “Affordable Housing: A Key Platform for Economic Mobility,” we discussed ways affordable housing can help contribute to financial stability and serve as a vehicle for delivering financial education or housing counseling services to help individuals pursue their financial and economic goals. In particular, this webinar addressed how to continue this work in a way that would elicit bipartisan support. You can view the webinar recording and access resources here.

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