When Communities Pull Up the Ladder of Opportunity
By Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Luke Tate, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility
Since the day he took office, President Obama has taken aggressive action to expand economic growth and opportunity for all, helping our businesses create more than 15 million new jobs as more than 20 million Americans secured health coverage. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, our nation has made extraordinary gains in recovering from the Great Recession — median income increased by 5.2% last year, the sharpest drop in poverty since 1968 lifted 3.5 million Americans out of poverty, and child poverty has fallen further in the last three years than it had since 1968.
The American people have built an economy with stronger ladders of opportunity for all families to prosper. But despite these gains, too many of the communities with the most dynamic growth have pulled up those ladders behind them — often unintentionally — by creating conditions that make it impossible for families to find affordable housing in the same communities where they can find jobs. By allowing local rules that inhibit new housing development to accumulate, too many communities have limited their supply of housing over the last few decades in a way that undercuts economic mobility.
Many of these regions are progressive, innovative places that have invested in promising efforts to promote economic mobility. But due to the accumulated impact of zoning regulations and other rules inhibiting new housing development, too many have insufficient housing supply, causing housing costs to grow much faster than wages and salaries and preventing as many families from benefiting from the strong ladders of opportunity in those regions. This housing cost growth has forced working families out of their communities, and caused lasting traumas to families struggling to find stable and affordable housing.
These impacts are evident in our neighborhoods — when there are limitations in new housing development across a region, the new housing that does get built tends to be disproportionally concentrated in low-income communities of color, causing displacement and the potential for gentrification. And the aggregated impacts to our nation’s economy are clear — as fewer families nationwide have been able to find affordable housing in the regions with the best jobs for them, labor mobility has slowed, exacerbating income inequality and stifling our national economic growth.
In response to growing knowledge of these impacts, local and neighborhood leaders across the country are working to break down the rules that stand in the way of building new housing — because they want new development to replace vacant lots, they want their children to be able to afford their first home, they want hardworking families to be able to take the next job on their ladder of opportunity, and they want to reduce income inequality and strengthen economic growth in their communities.
Today, the White House is releasing a Housing Development Toolkit that highlights emerging efforts of cities and states across the country that are modernizing their housing approaches to restrain unchecked housing cost growth, expand access to opportunity, and strengthen their economies. By breaking down unnecessary barriers to new housing development, these leaders are helping more families find the good jobs and affordable housing that every family needs.