Abstract: Right to Return: Recreating Housing Access in a Historically Black Neighborhood (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Right to Return: Recreating Housing Access in a Historically Black Neighborhood

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Amie Thurber, PhD, Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Susan Halvorsen, PhD Student, Portland State University
Background and Purpose: Gentrification fuels the displacement of low-income residents, disproportionately harming BIPOC communities. In response, some cities are experimenting with preference policies that link displaced residents with housing in their former neighborhood (Iglesias, 2018). Given the history of harmful race-based housing exclusions, preference policies are a controversial policy tool. Although the U.S. Fair Housing and civil rights policy forbid race-specific housing programs, the law does allow for mitigation of disparate harms to communities of color (Alfieri, 2019; Iglesias, 2018). In 2016, The City of Portland (Oregon) implemented the North/Northeast (N/NE) Preference Policy to recreate housing access in a historically Black neighborhood for those displaced by urban renewal and gentrification. The policy builds new affordable rental housing with placement priority for families with intergenerational ties to the area. This longitudinal mixed-methods study evaluates the intended and unintended consequences of the Preference Policy on returning residents' well-being.

Methods: Given that far more applicants qualify for housing than there are available housing units, the policy design provides a natural experiment with two comparison groups: those who receive housing (referred to as ‘returning residents’), and those who applied for housing and remain on the waitlist (referred to as ‘waitlisted residents’). This paper presents findings from the first and second phases of a longitudinal study. In the first phase of the study, the research team sequentially collected survey (N:98), interview (N:29), and focus group data in each of the first three Preference Policy buildings to open, engaging 69% of all returning residents. In the second phase, we collected survey data from a sample of waitlisted residents (N:64). Analysis of survey results from returning and waitlisted residents allows us to compare indicators of well-being between groups.

Results: We find that all applicants were dually motivated to apply for the Preference Policy by their need for affordable housing and their desire to live in the neighborhood. Returning residents reported very high levels of place attachment, with 91% indicating that “the history of the neighborhood matters to me”. Overwhelmingly, returning residents reported improvements to well-being since moving into their homes, including higher rates of civic and cultural involvement, improved convenience in accessing school and work, and decreased levels of prejudice. In contrast, waitlisted residents who live outside the N/NE neighborhood are more likely to travel outside their current neighborhood to access resources and amenities, are less likely to believe they have influence in their neighborhood, and are more likely to experience racial discrimination in their neighborhood.

Conclusions & Implications: Studying the effects of Portland, Oregon’s Preference Policy, we find that recreating housing access in a historically Black neighborhood benefits returning residents’ well-being in many ways, and that residents themselves may contribute to the well-being of their communities through above-average rates of place attachment and civic engagement. While historically, preference policies have often taken the form of exclusionary racial covenants and deed restrictions, findings from this study suggest that preference policies can be designed to advance racial equity.