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In the storm’s aftermath, what are we rebuilding?

“This is a song I wrote for my adopted hometown, Asbury Park. Over the past decade […] the town has had a renaissance and has come back. And if you go there in the summer now, the beaches are filled with people, and the boardwalk is lined with local businesses, and there’s all kinds of people there—rich people, poor people, brown people, black people, white people, all on the boardwalk at night. So it was painful to see it damaged[…]from the recent storm, and to see our Jersey Shore damaged, because the Jersey Shore has always been a special place—it’s been inclusive. [….] If you’re a retired policeman or a retired fireman, you can have a cottage by the sea in Point Pleasant or Manasquan or Lavallette. And that’s been a principal part of the characteristic of the Jersey shore. I’m sure there will be a lot of difficult conversations when the rebuilding comes around, but I pray that that characteristic remains […] it’s what makes it special.”

—Bruce Springsteen, 12/12/12 Benefit Concert for Sandy Relief (watch on YouTube)

Like many of you, I made sure to catch the amazing spectacle that was the Benefit Concert for Sandy Relief back on 12/12/12. What struck me most, amidst all the celebrity appearances and superhuman performances from 70-year-old rockers, was Bruce Springsteen’s introduction to his song “My City of Ruins.”

Like others, Bruce shared his heartbreak in seeing the Jersey Shore damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But he also raised an issue I’d yet to hear mentioned: the important choice that towns like Asbury Park face as they decide how to rebuild. Will the town and the rest of the Jersey Shore re-emerge as a place where people of various backgrounds are still welcome and can afford to live? Or (as Bruce implies), will rebuilding bring an exclusivity that causes the Shore’s unique qualities to be lost?

This same question could be asked in communities across the country right now, as towns and cities emerge from a different type of storm. After one of the greatest housing market plunges in the past 120 years, the nation is starting to build homes again. Last October, there were more new housing starts than at any time since July 2008. Among those areas of renewed growth are newly popular urban neighborhoods that are being revitalized after decades of disinvestment. As many of our nation’s cities get back on their feet, they face a similar choice as the Jersey shore: will they transition from one form of economic segregation to another, or will they take advantage of this opportunity to create and preserve opportunities for rich and poor alike?

The Center for Housing Policy has written extensively about resources available to local towns and cities for fostering and preserving inclusivity. Our toolbox at is a good place to learn more. One tool that continues to show promise is inclusionary housing, which, when done well, extends housing opportunities to households of various income levels by bringing private developers into a partnership with local government to ensure that new housing developments include a share of below-market-rate homes. In the next two months, the Center will be putting out two new reports on inclusionary housing that revisit this policy’s potential to create inclusive communities in the post-recession era. We look forward to adding to the discussion that the Boss has so appropriately rekindled.

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