Dallas knows Mobility Works

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A fairly new program in the Dallas area is successfully promoting racial and economic integration in the city’s neighborhoods.  Mobility Works, established in 2005, is a program of the non-profit organization, Inclusive Communities Project (ICP).  Mobility Works is a counseling program that assists voucher holders to locate rental housing in lower-poverty and higher-opportunity neighborhoods in the Dallas metropolitan area.

Housing choice vouchers are provided to low-income households to use in the private housing sector.  Voucher holders pay a set amount of the monthly rent and the government supplements the remaining cost.  Most often, voucher holders end up living in high-poverty and racially segregated areas because landlords refuse to accept vouchers, the established maximum rents set by the government program limit the number of available units in low-poverty areas, and experiences of discrimination.

Mobility Works helps to remove these barriers and change the residential pattern for voucher holders.  ICP counselors conduct presentations at Dallas Housing Authority to new voucher holders, informing them of their rights to live outside of high-poverty areas and of ICP’s services.  Counselors then work with residents and families who choose to participate in the program to find available rentals in higher-opportunity and lower-poverty neighborhoods.  Financial assistance can also be provided for some voucher holders to cover moving expenses, security deposits, utility deposits, landlord bonuses, and application fees.

Additional financial assistance is available for voucher holders who choose to live in high-opportunity areas.  A high opportunity area is defined as having a poverty rate of 10% or lower, median family income equal to at least 80% of the area medium family income, no public housing, and the rental unit must be located in the zone of a high-performing elementary school (for voucher holders with children).  Voucher holders moving to high opportunity areas are eligible to receive a higher voucher amount to cover the higher cost of rent required in these areas.

ICP recently conducted a study of the relationship between mobility assistance and neighborhood conditions of voucher holders in the Dallas area.  Results found that more mobility assistance leads to a lower percent of black voucher holders in high distress neighborhoods and black voucher holders receiving mobility assistance have access to higher-opportunity areas.  ICP clients are more likely to live in majority-white and low-poverty areas (most of Dallas’ voucher holders are black), and mobility assistance helps voucher holders avoid crime hot spots.  Only 4% of ICP clients live in crime hot spots, while 27% of voucher holders receiving no mobility assistance live in crime hot spots.

The image above illustrates the way that Mobility Works promotes racial integration in the Dallas area.  Darker areas represent census tracts with a high percentage of white residents.  Dots indicate the places where voucher holders live.  As seen in the top grid, voucher holders who received mobility assistance from ICP are dispersed across Dallas neighborhoods.  The bottom grid shows that black voucher holders who did not receive mobility assistance live almost completely in neighborhoods with little white presence.  ICP is not only moving low-income residents into lower-poverty areas, it is also moving black residents into white neighborhoods.

The Mobility Works program is a radical development in the movement to affirmatively further fair housing.  It uses economic means to effectively integrate a major metropolitan area.  It builds onto a program already established in many government housing authorities – a voucher program – and uses it to make positive changes for voucher holders and also for the city as a whole.  Mobility Works has had much success since its inception, and if the success continues, it will be a key model in the future of intentional integration strategies.

By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator