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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 17, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 15
Does Mixed-Income Work?

Dang Du, Lea Smith and Darryn Jones take a walk through Lakeside-Ednor Gardens, one of the Baltimore neighborhoods that their public policy class explored as part of a study on the effectiveness of inclusionary housing ordinances.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

MPP students evaluate city's new inclusionary housing ordinance

By Amy Lunday

Thirty-five first-year graduate students in the university's Master of Public Policy program spent the fall semester analyzing the pluses and pitfalls of Baltimore's mixed-income neighborhoods to help city leaders better understand the implications of a recently enacted inclusionary housing ordinance.

The new law requires that developments of market-rate housing include some units that are affordable to lower-income households. Yet there is a dearth of research on whether such a housing mix will be good for Baltimore or for the low-income families it's meant to help. With that in mind, Sandra Newman, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, saw a win-win opportunity for both her students and the city as she prepared the syllabus for her annual course Policy Analysis for the Real World. Of the six different policy analyses on which the students work during the term, one focuses on a public policy problem in Baltimore and aims to find a solution.

"When I was shopping around in the late spring for an issue facing Baltimore, I realized inclusionary housing fit the two criteria for a successful semesterlong Baltimore-focused policy analysis," said Newman, a professor of policy studies. "One, it has to be a good hands-on experience for the students, a problem on the ground in the city of Baltimore; and two, the work the students do needs to result in information that is useful to the city and its residents."

To that end, the students set out to determine whether there is hard evidence demonstrating that mixed-income environments — generally defined as having a blend of low-, middle- and high-income households — are beneficial to the lower-income families in the neighborhood.

Working in teams of seven, the students immersed themselves in a sampling of mixed-income communities — Woodring, Howard Park, Glen, Lakeside-Ednor Gardens and Lauraville North — studying 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census data as well as city administrative databases. They also conducted nearly 200 face-to-face interviews with residents, business owners and arm's-length experts to ascertain quality of life. The research included comparing each neighborhood with a separate sample of low- and high-income neighborhoods to contrast characteristics such as race, income, crime rates and housing stability.

The class shared its findings with an audience of 30 to 40 representatives of city government and neighborhood organizations last week during a presentation in Homewood's Hodson Hall.

Overall, the students concluded that making universal assumptions about the desirability of mixed-income neighborhoods is unwise. For instance, they found that mixed-income neighborhoods perform unexpectedly high in residential stability, but it's hard to say with certainty whether that's a good or bad quality. While having a neighborhood where residents remain in the same home for five years or more might sound like a good thing, the students observed that it could also mean that people have no resources to afford relocating.

Also, a high number of building and renovation permits is generally considered a sign of a healthy neighborhood, so a low number could be read as a sign of decline in private investment. But that might not be the case. One city resident in the audience pointed out that her neighborhood association fights against the influx of new businesses that it finds undesirable, such as bars or night clubs, and that if the class looked at statistics alone, the results of that proactive stance could actually appear to be a bad thing.

Because of these variations, the students cautioned city leaders against making blanket decisions about what is universally the best course of action in Baltimore's mixed-income communities.

Yet the budding analysts did find that the city's mixed-income neighborhoods have strengths worth fostering, including high degrees of "social capital" — like civic engagement and neighborliness — that leads to greater feelings of safety and satisfaction with where people live.

After garnering useful insights from the audience during the presentation last week, Newman's students are now finalizing their report, hard copies of which will be shared with city leaders and everyone who attended the presentation. The report also will be published in the IPS Occasional Paper Series and will be available on the IPS Web site,

The semesterlong study of Baltimore gives her students a strong foundation on which to build their future as public policy analysts, Newman said.

"As beginning analysts, they don't yet have the statistical skills to take their research to the next level," Newman said. "But this is where every good policy analysis begins. The students' report will suggest to city leaders what they think ought to be a path for the city to follow."


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