Although moving to better neighborhoods can have a massive impact on life opportunity, access to high-quality neighborhoods is often unattainable. Rising economic inequality along with rising housing prices have helped to create a dire affordable housing crisis across the country. There is a severe lack of affordable housing in areas of opportunity in particular, in part due to continuing patterns of exclusionary zoning and community opposition. In addition, even where multifamily housing does exist in high-opportunity areas, it is often inaccessible to low-income families on housing assistance, due to factors such as high rent levels, discrimination against households with housing vouchers, and a failure to market to such families.
Collectively, these forces have combined to create an “access to opportunity crisis” that makes high opportunity neighborhoods out of reach for many low-income families. This threatens the ability of many low-income families to have a fair chance at opportunity and ultimately achieve upward mobility. It also contributes to conditions of concentrated poverty from generation to generation. More must be done to create affordable housing in good neighborhoods and provide real housing choice to low-income families.
To address these issues, innovative models of housing acquisition are beginning to emerge, with a focus on creating new access to high-opportunity neighborhoods for low-income households. These initiatives provide pathways to mobility and create affordable housing by acquiring existing market-rate housing in areas of high opportunity, for example, in areas with high-quality public school systems. By focusing on affordable housing supply, they are emerging as important complements to housing mobility programs that focus on expanding choice within the Housing Choice Voucher program through counseling and improved program administration. These initiatives offer a number of practical benefits: they address the shortage of mixed-income housing in many communities, helping to diversify neighborhoods and schools; provide a direct conduit for voucher holders to access properties in high-opportunity areas; and make use of existing buildings (avoiding the need to gain neighborhood approval for construction or zoning changes).