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The Dangers of Classifying Communities as "Low Opportunity"

By Raisa Johnson, Policy Fellow

Recently, the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee proposed labeling some relatively significant geographic areas of the state as "low opportunity." While it's not yet clear whether this language is trending, we are concerned that the use of such language sheds more heat than light on the categorization of place based development. While it is important to evaluate access to opportunities, generalized categorizations such as "low opportunity "unintentionally create a hierarchy of worth, implying some places (and thus its people) are more valuable than others.

The use of "low opportunity" without an explanation of the systemic disinvestment that has wounded so many communities suffers from a lack of context. The scarcity of assets in education, affordable housing, transportation, jobs, and more are not inherent attributes of any neighborhood. Indeed, HUD's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule requires the development and preservation of affordable housing in areas of concentrated poverty, the very same places that the California Tax Credit Allocation proposal labeled "low opportunity." Instead of labeling a neighborhood as having "low opportunity," effective policy solutions identify and lift up the assets that do exist and supply investments to build the assets that do not.

Housing policy requires a balanced approach. Economically stressed individuals should have the choice to move to opportunities if they choose. Likewise, community members living in dis-invested neighborhoods should have the choice to build sustainable, economically vibrant, healthy communities. Fortunately, there are many different approaches one can take create and enhance opportunity through the production and preservation of affordable housing. 

4.7.2017