September 27, 2016

“Billion Dollar Bets” to Reduce Concentrated Poverty

Place-based barriers, such as limited job opportunities, restricted access to good schools, and high rates of crime, make it harder for individuals and families to escape poverty. This concept paper explores potential solutions to these barriers, focusing on investments that help break apart the structural forces of economic and racial segregation that have created communities of concentrated poverty, and that help improve conditions in distressed neighborhoods.

By: Devin Murphy, Michelle Boyd

Executive Summary

Living in poverty is a daily encounter with scarcity, whether trying to buy food, navigating complicated public assistance and social services, or figuring out how to make one’s budget stretch. These challenges are exacerbated when combined with living in high-poverty neighborhoods, in which families often encounter dilapidated housing, restricted access to quality public schools, limited job opportunities, and higher rates of crime. As a result, these place-based barriers make it harder to escape poverty, often entrenching individuals and families in poverty across generations.

This concept paper, a result of Bridgespan’s recent research, “Billion Dollar Bets” to Create Economic Opportunity for Every American, explores potential solutions to these place-based barriers. It focuses on investments that help break apart the structural forces of economic and racial segregation that have created communities of concentrated poverty, and help improve conditions in distressed neighborhoods.

To accelerate progress in this area, the authors of the paper advise a two-pronged approach:

  • Support greater integration by creating more viable pathways for individuals and families to move to high-opportunity communities nationwide
  • Within select regions, supplement the above mobility programs through coordinated investments to increase the quality of both hard and soft assets in distressed, high-poverty neighborhoods

Specifically, these approaches would benefit from support in:

  • Financing the establishment of a national-level organization to support simultaneous expansion and experimentation with moving-to-opportunity programs across multiple regions
  • Investing in 20 to 25 targeted regions to develop regional mobility programs in partnership with the local housing authorities
  • Funding a local organization in each region to support the cause of inclusion and integration
  • Supporting a thorough mapping of neighborhoods by relative assets, concentrations of poverty, conditions of blight, and barriers to economic opportunity
  • Developing a regional plan for community investment
  • Engaging community members to identify the most difficult or distressing aspects of the neighborhood in which they live
  • Alleviating conditions of blight and insecurity
  • Advocating for basic community needs by supporting grassroots advocacy efforts and using personal influence
  • Providing direct investment and attracting additional funding to support core sources of community vitality
  • Supporting community preservation strategies that are aimed at purchasing and maintaining housing stock for qualified low-income families

In addition, this paper describes the risks involved for philanthropists if they choose to take on these challenges and projects the impact of investments with estimates of the potential return on investment individuals and families would experience if a big bet were to be made to reduce concentrated poverty.


Further Reading on Reducing Concentrated Poverty


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