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Improving intergenerational mobility by investing in people and place

On June 25, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research held a panel discussion on upward mobility, mixed-income housing and the importance of place. The discussion, entitled “Investing in People and Places for Upward Mobility,” was moderated by Katherine O’Regan, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research. Early in the discussion, O’Regan brought up intergenerational mobility, a child’s chance of advancing up the income distribution ladder relative to their parents, often a measure of opportunity. In the United States, intergenerational mobility is declining and is lower than in similar nations. Intergenerational mobility varies by race, with white children experiencing more opportunities for mobility and black children experiencing fewer. The dialogue focused on mixed-income communities as a key strategy to improve outcomes for low-income families; creating mixed-income communities can be done through two approaches. The first, investing in people, involves facilitating the mobility of low-income individuals to low-poverty areas. The second, investing in place, focuses on a comprehensive community development approach that supports the transformation of a neighborhood. During the lively discussion, a few key themes emerged.

Strategies for supporting upward mobility vary and are as unique as the communities themselves. Panelists offered several strategies for promoting upward mobility and creating mixed-income communities.

  1. Provide high quality housing.
  2. Increase neighborhood safety.
  3. Invest in on-site services.
  4. Leverage private, public and philanthropic funding.
  5. Provide strong role models within the community.
  6. Track a community’s performance over time to allow for mid-course corrections.
  7. Combine housing opportunities with improving schools.
  8. Develop strategies to address the challenges of sustaining resident engagement, staff capacity and financial resources.
Collaborative efforts allow for the strongest projects. Advocates should break down silos and allow housing efforts to work in tandem with investments in education and community wellness. Shared metrics ensure that partners share a vision of the future of the neighborhood. Finally, a diversified funding stream has great value, particularly when advocates can leverage the power of private investment.

Success can be difficult to measure. Each community is unique and will have different metrics of success, which makes measuring this success a complex task. Additionally, many indicators of improved outcomes – such as health or quality of life – are longer-term and subjective, making them more difficult to track. Some panelists agree that we need to rethink short-term performance metrics, because short-term metrics can be misleading.

For more information on some emerging projects or resources, keep an eye on the following:

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