"Once they had a chance to live in high-performing school districts with low crime rates, there were some pretty profound changes in how these parents thought about neighborhoods and schools and what was best for their kids," Stefanie DeLuca says. (Credit: Kurt Collins/Flickr)

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Sneak peek of the burbs helps families leave inner city

It takes more than housing subsidies to make residents of impoverished, segregated inner city neighborhoods comfortable enough to move to more affluent suburbs and stay.

A successful program also gives residents non-financial encouragement to try unfamiliar neighborhoods and stick it out long enough to feel at home, researchers say.

The Baltimore Mobility Program succeeded where others have failed because it gives families not only the financial support to move, but also the chance to experience life in a safe, quiet, diverse place with good schools and quality homes, sociologist Stefanie DeLuca of Johns Hopkins University says.

What typically happens with housing vouchers, DeLuca says, is that a family chooses a neighborhood essentially like its old one—not getting far enough away to experience real change. The Baltimore Mobility Program gave families support and encouragement to do just that—and to experience a new way of living.

“They didn’t know life could be like this. In some cases, all they’ve known exists within few-block radius in Baltimore City,” says DeLuca, who conducted the research with Jennifer Darrah, a lecturer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Once they had a chance to live in high-performing school districts with low crime rates, there were some pretty profound changes in how these parents thought about neighborhoods and schools and what was best for their kids.”

2,000 families

DeLuca and Darrah followed 110 participants in the Baltimore Mobility Program, a voucher program designed to move more than 2,000 low-income African American families from high-poverty, highly segregated city neighborhoods to more diverse, higher-income suburbs outside the city, including in Howard, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore counties.

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The program was created as a result of a lawsuit filed in 1995 by the American Civil Liberties Union. A court found that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development had failed to provide housing residents equal access to integrated, non-poor neighborhoods across the metropolitan region, effectively segregating public housing in Baltimore.

Although it is similar to the Housing Choice Voucher Program in that it provides a housing subsidy, the Baltimore program is designed differently, offering families broad support before, during, and after their moves.

In the beginning, there are tours of the suburbs and walkthroughs of available apartments. There are credit counseling sessions and introductions to former city residents already living in the suburbs. Behind the scenes, administrators work extensively with landlords to assemble a roster of pre-approved available rentals to ease what otherwise could be a daunting bureaucratic process.

Stay a while

The program also facilitates moves to higher opportunity neighborhoods by including higher rent payment standards and removing the bureaucratic barriers to residential moves across counties.

By requiring participants to stay in their new homes for at least two years, DeLuca found the program gave families a true sense of what was possible in a safe, diverse community, and time to reframe their housing choices in a way they could not with an ordinary voucher.

More than two-thirds of the families who moved from the city to the suburbs through Baltimore Mobility remained there one to eight years later. Many mothers who initially told DeLuca they had no interest in leaving the city later told her they had changed their minds.

“If you want to have a housing voucher program that works,” DeLuca says, “this is what it takes.”

The Journal of Public Policy Analysis and Management published the report. View a multimedia presentation about DeLuca’s work.

Source: Johns Hopkins

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