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Trading off neighborhood opportunity and affordability in large metro areas

Report, Visualizations | January 26, 2017

In Neighborhood Opportunity and Location Affordability for Low-Income Renter Families, recently published in Housing Policy Debate, researchers from and the Kirwan Institute  reveal the difficult trade-offs that low-income renter families face in obtaining affordable housing in higher-opportunity neighborhoods and the particular disadvantages encountered by black and Hispanic families with children.  By combining two unique databases, HUD’s Location Affordability Index and our own Child Opportunity Index we take an unprecedented look at the relationships between affordability, (both in terms of housing and transportation costs) and opportunity at the neighborhood level, across the 100 largest U.S. metro areas.

We find:

  • Low-income renter families face high housing and transportation cost burdens at all levels of neighborhood opportunity.
  • Correlations between opportunity and housing-cost burden vary substantially in strength across metro areas but are always positive.  Correlations between opportunity and transportation-cost burden are considerably lower.
  • Between metros, there is vastly higher variation in transportation affordability than in housing affordability. More sprawling metros have higher transportation cost burdens.
  • Poor black and Hispanic children are most likely to live in neighborhoods where cost burdens exceed relative neighborhood opportunity levels.  Story maps showing these relationships for several large metros are available here.

The report concludes with policy prescriptions, including the need to:

  • Expand the notion of affordability by incorporating child neighborhood opportunity into the objectives of rental housing assistance.  Such a redefinition could enhance fair housing efforts, as black and Hispanic children more commonly face detrimental neighborhood cost-opportunity imbalance.
  • Increase rental subsidies to allow families to afford neighborhoods of opportunity.
  • Adopt policies that address structural metropolitan factors such as sprawl, which contribute to lack of affordability.