The New Geography of Subsidized Housing: Implications for Urban Poverty

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The New Geography of Subsidized Housing: Implications for Urban Poverty

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Title: The New Geography of Subsidized Housing: Implications for Urban Poverty
Author: Owens, Ann
Citation: Owens, Ann. 2012. The New Geography of Subsidized Housing: Implications for Urban Poverty. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Since the mid-1970s, subsidized housing policy in the U.S. has shifted from providing aid through public housing projects to providing aid through vouchers to be used in the private market and through smaller-scale, often mixed-income developments. These policy shifts are guided by a deconcentration ideology drawn from social science research on the deleterious effects of the concentration of poverty on individuals and neighborhoods. These changes in subsidized housing policy have led to a major geographic redistribution of the urban poor, which has implications for neighborhoods and cities that are not yet fully understood. This dissertation investigates the extent to which the changing location of subsidized housing units accounts for changes in neighborhood poverty and metropolitan poverty concentration. My findings show that while the subsidized housing policies adopted since the 1970s successfully deconcentrated subsidized housing units, they did not deconcentrate poverty in neighborhoods or metropolitan areas. I find that neighborhood poverty rates increase when neighborhoods either gain or lose subsidized housing units. Neighborhoods that gain more subsidized units see larger increases in poverty rates, and because these neighborhoods already have many poor residents, there is a risk of creating new neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Surprisingly, neighborhoods that lose subsidized units also become poorer, suggesting an enduring legacy of subsidized housing for neighborhood poverty. At the metropolitan level, reducing the concentration of subsidized housing in high subsidy neighborhoods leads to only very small declines in the concentration of poor residents in high poverty neighborhoods. My results suggest that subsidized housing policy may maintain, rather than break, the cycle of neighborhood inequality. Subsidized housing policy is implemented in a context of neighborhood inequality, and as the policies increasingly rely on the private rental market, higher-SES neighborhoods’ interests in keeping low-income subsidized renters out may shape how the policy is implemented, leaving lower-SES neighborhoods to receive more subsidized low-income tenants and thus experience larger increases in poverty rates.
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