Building Affordable Housing Across DC Will Help Families and Children Succeed

There’s new evidence for why DC policymakers should care about having mixed-income neighborhoods in the city: children in poor families have higher incomes as adults, and are more likely to attend college, when they move to a low-poverty neighborhood. The District can support mixed-income neighborhoods — and improve the chances for children to succeed — by making sure affordable housing is built and preserved throughout the city.

New research from Harvard University researchers[1] shows that simply giving low-income families the opportunity to move to a low-poverty neighborhood — without any other social service interventions — helps their children do better as adults in striking ways. Children who moved to a low-poverty neighborhood:

  • Had 31 percent higher incomes as adults than children who remained in high-poverty neighborhoods
  • Were 16 percent more likely to attend college
  • Were more likely to live as adults in a low-poverty, less racially segregated neighborhood

You can read a summary of the groundbreaking study here.

Yet as housing costs in the District have ballooned, it’s gotten even harder for low-income families to live in neighborhoods with good job opportunities, high-performing schools, and access to transportation. This suggests that the District’s efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing also should focus on where that housing is located. Here are two ways to do that:

  • Use District-owned land to get as much affordable housing as possible: When the District sells city-owned land for housing development, up to 30 percent of the homes must be affordable. That’s good. But the District should go even further when it sells land in neighborhoods that offer greater economic opportunity to low-income families. For instance, the District could use the upcoming sale of the Hebrew Home site in Petworth to create significant affordable housing in a low-poverty, transit-adjacent neighborhood. Using housing tools like the Housing Production Trust Fund, even more than 30 percent of the homes built on the Hebrew Home site could be affordable.
  • Preserve affordable housing in high-cost or gentrifying neighborhoods: Existing affordable homes in hot or rising housing markets face significant pressure to become market-rate. One recent example is Museum Square, a subsidized affordable building in Chinatown whose owners have chosen to redevelop and opt-out of the subsidy program. When such buildings are no longer affordable, it’s unlikely that low-income residents will be able to stay in the neighborhood. The Mayor’s Housing Preservation Strike Force will soon offer ways to keep subsidized housing like Museum Square, including identifying buildings at risk and utilizing the District’s right to buy them (under the District Opportunity to Purchase Act). The District should act quickly to implement the Preservation Strike Force’s recommendations.


[1] Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren & Lawrence F. Katz (2015). “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment.” Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Published in American Economic Review 106 (4). Available at

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