Finding Home: Voices of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program

brhc2A young, African-American woman sits nervously at her dining room table inside a modest, two-story house. The front of her house is adorned with rosebushes and a wraparound porch. On the inside, old, slightly stained carpeting spans the floors and few furnishings decorate the walls.

This is Kimberly’s story. Kimberly is one voice from the Baltimore Regional Housing Mobility Program. Stefanie DeLuca and Jennifer Darrah have just published a paper based on over 100 interviews with participants in the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program:

“LIVING HERE HAS CHANGED MY WHOLE PERSPECTIVE”: HOW ESCAPING INNER-CITY POVERTY SHAPES NEIGHBORHOOD AND HOUSING CHOICE

The paper highlights:

  • How the Baltimore Mobility Program has helped over 2,000 low-income African American families (now 2,400) move from high-poverty, highly segregated neighborhoods in Baltimore City to low-poverty, racially mixed neighborhoods throughout the Baltimore region.
  • Parents who participated in the mobility program raised their expectations for what neighborhoods, homes, and schools can provide for their children and themselves.
  • Parents who participated in the mobility program report new preferences for the “quiet” of suburban locations,and strong consideration of school quality and neighborhood diversity when thinking about where to live.
  • Housing programs should employ mobility counseling.

In conjunction with the release of these critical findings, the Century Foundation produced a multimedia piece that tells some of the participants’ stories here.

 

Affordable Housing in Safe, Healthy Neighborhoods: A Prescription for Healthy Families and Kids

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There is an emerging understanding that the neighborhood and home our children grow up in is a powerful determinant of their health. Impoverished children are at high risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, substance abuse, mental illness, and high levels of toxic stress that impair cognitive development. Pediatricians nationwide are emphasizing the importance of addressing childhood poverty and poor living conditions to improve childhood health.

 

Aside from the incalculable human costs, concentrated poverty results in tremendous social costs, and contributes to rising health care costs.

So it makes sound economic sense that a health insurance company, United Health is now investing in Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects in opportunity neighborhoods of the Twin Cities.  In fact, this is just a start; the firm is investing $150 million to build LIHTC projects in a dozen states with the goal of improving health outcomes and reducing costs

United Health’s investment has already allowed one tenant, Vanessa Smith, to reduce the medical costs associated with her bipolar disorder and nerve pain, simply by affording her affordable rent and housing stability in a good neighborhood.

And we are seeing this prescription work here in Baltimore. A piece by Philip Tegeler and and Salimah Hankins describes how the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program treated Sabrina Oliver’s depression and her daughter’s severe asthma.

Affordable housing and housing vouchers in safe and healthy neighborhoods —- concrete steps we can take to reduce health disparities and reduce high health care costs.

You can watch the full interview with Sabrina Oliver here.

Read another report, by Philip Tegeler and Kami Krcuckenber, which examines the clinical, legal, and programmatic issues that need to be addressed as we work to treat children with chronic health problems through affordable housing in safe, healthy neighborhoods.

The Consider the Person Campaign

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Last November, with funding from the Opportunity Collaborative, the Community Development Network of Maryland launched a project called “The Consider the Person Campaign.” The campaign is working to “change the hearts and minds of landlords and community members regarding participants in the Housing Choice Voucher holders.”

Listen to coverage of the campaign on the Dan Roderick’s show here.

Meet recipients of the Housing Choice Voucher Program here and here.

Learn more about The Consider the Person Campaign here.

 

Dear Mr. President, If Promise Zones Work Please Promise Us More!

These Promise Zones are great, Mr. President, but 5 zones per year?  Where is the scale in your promise?  Too many kids are left behind to grow up poor in poor neighborhoods, suffering harm to their cognitive development and health, with the odds stacked against them.  Let’s be honest with ourselves — at this rate, the benefits of Promise Zones will never reach most of these children.

Promise Zones Locations. Image Courtesy of BussinessWeek.com

As you said in your speech, Mr. President, you were like these kids except you grew up in a more “forgiving environment” where “[i]f I screwed up, the consequences weren’t quite as great.”   If we are serious about changing the odds for these kids we all need to stop pretending that help is coming, and give families the opportunity and choice to live in a more “forgiving environment.” Right now, before another generation of kids is damaged.

Lets all move beyond these tiny efforts and roll out Promise Zones on a large scale, with the resources to support them.  Let’s extend it to five distressed neighborhoods in each large city each year — not five neighborhoods in the entire United States. While we’re at it, why don’t we include a commitment to housing mobility for low income families in these neighborhoods, so that they make their own choice about where to live – including safe neighborhoods with high performing, low poverty schools?

If promise zones work Mr. President then please promise us more.

 

Baltimore’s Kids: Still Poster Children for Poverty in America?

To mark the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s “War on Poverty,” the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a new poll that examines beliefs and opinions regarding the War on Poverty and proposals for fighting poverty in the future.

The most compelling finding is that in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and the public attention to inequality that has followed, public attitudes about the causes of poverty and government’s role seem to be shifting away from victim blaming attitudes of the 1990′s and early 2000′s.

Also interesting, in light of the recent attention given to the increase in suburban poverty, is CAP’s selection of a photo of an African American boy playing basketball with a makeshift hoop attached to an abandoned rowhouse in Baltimore as the “poster child” for poverty in America:

On the one hand, the photo reminds us that continued racialized and concentrated poverty in cities like Baltimore is indeed the heart of the matter.  On the other hand, the image reinforces our perceptions that it is inevitable that poor children must also grow up in high poverty neighborhoods — a double jeopardy that in fact is rarely experienced by poor white children.

Through our housing mobility work, BRHC is challenging the assumption that poor black children should have to grow up in poor neighborhoods.

*Image, copied from Center for American Progress, was originally taken from AP/Patrick Semansky