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More Choices for More Families: What We Learned at the Sixth National Housing Mobility Conference

On Thursday, July 16, 2015, more 220 practitioners, policy advocates and researchers from 18 states gathered for the Sixth National Housing Mobility Conference. The passage of the strengthened Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule made for a rich conversation about housing mobility and integration. Chicago is the birthplace of housing mobility, starting with the 1976 Gautreaux case to desegregate public housing and now the announcement of the Fair Housing Rule update by U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro on July 8, 2015. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is excited about the new fair housing rule as it aims to equip communities with data and tools that will assist them in achieving balanced communities with housing choices for all Americans.

Housing mobility is a small component of a broader policy debate about affordable housing, upward mobility and racial and economic equality, but is a proven strategy for lifting families out of poverty. Research from Raj Chetty with the Equality of Opportunity Project has revealed that moving young children to areas with better opportunities improves their economic standing as adults. The impact of neighborhoods on job access, health and quality of life are important and worthy of further policy exploration and research.

The Housing Choice Voucher program was intended to provide low-income families with the opportunity to rent in the private market and to desegregate communities after a long history of siting public and affordable housing in areas with high concentrations of minorities and poverty. Research and on-the-ground practice highlights the barriers that families utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers face when moving to low-poverty communities near jobs, schools and transit. For example, the apartments may be too expensive for the voucher program, landlords often discriminate against low-income families using vouchers and there’s a lack of funding for counseling to support families interested in moving to opportunity areas. Effectively, many communities with amenities, jobs, schools and easy access to transit across the Chicago region and nation are off-limits to low-income families.

The National Housing Mobility Conference was a great opportunity to learn from Dept. of Housing and Urban Development officials and a range of experts about policy innovations occurring to increase housing mobility. The panelists touched and expanded on the resounding evidence that proves how place matters to people’s education, health, employment and socioeconomic status. They presented on the need to integrate housing and school initiatives to achieve greater impact, as well as the importance of housing on public health. We heard best practices for increasing the supply of housing in opportunity areas, as well as best practices for engaging landlords, using security deposit assistance to offset higher costs in opportunity areas and other promising strategies for education and changing housing search behavior.

We heard a range of feedback from the audience, including an interest in:

We look forward to partnering with local, regional and national organizations to expand housing mobility, adopt policies to improve the Housing Choice Voucher program, and develop new research models. Already MPC is a longtime partner of the Regional Housing Initiative and Voucher Pilot, a regional collaboration between MPC, nine public housing authorities, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Illinois Housing Development Authority, to increase affordable housing opportunities. We believe these initiatives have promise for other regions interested in tackling economic and housing mobility. Children and families are more than their zip code, and their mobility should not be hindered by discrepancies in the system that could—and should—be addressed.