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New data and new questions

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Multi-family homes rehabilitated with housing grants along Park Terrace in Frog Hollow

A common argument among community development and affordable housing experts and advocates in Connecticut: “The high concentration of subsidized, limited-income housing in the Frog Hollow neighborhood in Hartford has hurt the neighborhood, preventing high-income people from moving in. and increased the concentration of poverty. “

Frog Hollow has a high concentration of housing subsidies. Open Communities Alliance reports that at least 60% of the homes in Frog Hollow are subject to income restrictions. It is used as a prototype example in Connecticut housing circles of the problem of concentrated housing subsidies. Income restrictions are placed on units funded by housing subsidies for decades after construction, which can result in a concentration of subsidized units to determine the fate of a neighborhood for generations.

The evidence offered to support claims regarding the impacts of housing subsidies in Frog Hollow is mostly anecdotal. A CT Mirror story from 2019, for example, details the experience of a Hartford-based engineer who struggled to find a place to live for his family in Frog Hollow because the only places available were limited in income.

The only data-based evidence offered to support the claim can be found in the Open Communities Alliance 2017 Out of Balance. report. To assess whether housing subsidies have contributed to increasing poverty in Frog Hollow, the Open Communities Alliance reports the neighborhood poverty rate in 1980 and 2015, finding that the poverty rate fell from 37% to 50% in Frog Hollow during the period. The use of 1980 as the starting date for this measure is due to the fact that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), the largest federally funded affordable housing program, began in 1986. While acknowledging that it is difficult to know the cause of the increase, the Open Communities Alliance asks whether housing subsidies have contributed to the increase in the poverty rate.

Census data that has become available since the report’s publication in 2017 shows that the poverty rate and median household income in Frog Hollow have improved since 2015. The table below shows the poverty rate and median income households in the three census tracts that approximately include the Frog Hollow neighborhood.

Census tract Poverty 2000 Poverty 2014 Poverty 2017 Poverty 2019 Income 2000 Income 2014 Income 2017 Income 2019
5028 42.8% 46.4% 40.9% 34.7% $ 26,527 $ 22,066 $ 28,197 $ 31,374
5029 32% 41.6% 26.9% 13.1% $ 30,787 $ 26,560 $ 34,079 $ 44,144
5030 42% 55.1% 43.2% 27.8% $ 23,569 $ 16,743 $ 24,698 $ 23,773

Table notes: All dollar amounts are in 2021 dollars. Data for 2000 are from the decennial census. Data for 2014, 2017, and 2019 are from the five-year estimates from the American Community Survey. Poverty status concerns the population aged 18 to 64. Income is the median household income. Data from the 2020 census are not yet available.

The poverty rate increased and incomes decreased between 2000 and 2014 in Frog Hollow, but the poverty rate decreased and incomes increased steadily between 2014 and 2019. It is likely that the sharp increase in poverty observed in the data from 2015 and cited in the Out of Balance report was due to the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, which particularly affected the inner city of Hartford. Frog Hollow’s poverty rate and income levels may still recover from the economic crisis of 2014 and 2015, and the neighborhood’s economic situation will improve as the economy continues to improve throughout the year. long 2010s.

These new data show that the poverty rate in Frog Hollow is now lower than it was in 1980 before the start of the LIHTC program. These data are not presented as evidence that housing subsidies have improved the neighborhood, but to qualify the argument that housing subsidies have hurt the neighborhood.

In the absence of further research, we must recognize that the evidence we do have is largely anecdotal and that we don’t really know the impact of housing subsidies at Frog Hollow.

In addition, caution should be exercised in making any neighborhood a prototype example of the impact of housing subsidies on a neighborhood. Predictions from the literature regarding the impact of housing subsidies on neighborhoods are mixed, with some studies finding positive impacts on neighborhoods resulting from housing subsidies and other studies finding neutral or negative impacts on neighborhoods.

Lan Deng, associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan, suggests in a 2009 paper that the variation in the literature may be due in part to variations in methodology, but that it may also reflect the real variation that exists in the impact of affordable housing on neighborhoods. Deng’s study on the impact of LIHTC investments in Miami-Dade County supports the hypothesis that the impact of housing subsidies depends on the neighborhood context. Deng found the most positive impacts in high poverty neighborhoods, least positive impacts in middle class neighborhoods, and mixed impacts in working class neighborhoods. My fall 2020 to research on the impact of affordable housing subsidies in Hartford and New Haven reflects the variation in the literature. The study found that the impact that can be expected from the development of affordable housing depends on the conditions of the neighborhood.

I think it’s critical that community development organizations in Connecticut cities think about how to use less restrictive funding sources to allow people of all income levels to live in neighborhoods like Frog Hollow. I also think it’s important that advocates continue to push for more affordable housing statewide, especially in areas that have very little affordable housing. But, as developers and advocates continue to pursue these efforts, we need more research on the impact of past affordable housing subsidies on urban neighborhoods in Connecticut.

We also need to remember that housing subsidies are likely to impact different neighborhoods differently and keep this local variation in mind when implementing policies and strategies.

Gabby Nelson is the Deputy Director of Urban learning engaged at Trinity College.


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