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Succeeding where mixed-income transformation falls short: A path to equity and inclusion in our cities

Harvard Graduate School of Design
March 2, 2018

Cascade Village Apartments, a mixed-income community in Akron, Ohio. Photo courtesy NIMC.

America today is in the middle of an identity crisis as it simultaneously diversifies and polarizes. In Case Western Reserve University professor Mark Joseph’s words, our country is asking, “Who are we?” The divide has led to concentrated urban poverty, which disproportionately affects minority communities. Joseph, an associate professor in community development, is the founding director of the Case Western National Initiative for Mixed-Income Communities (NIMC). He collaborates with Amy Khare, its research director, to combat inequity through efforts that promote and sustain economically and racially diverse communities.

Their work focuses on creating communities, not just building units, through mixed-income developments, inclusionary zoning, and systemic changes in related policy and markets. Joseph and Khare have adopted a framework to achieve success through a racial-equity lens, by focusing on site and neighborhood changes, attracting market-rate buyers, and avoiding displacement. However, they see room for improvement when it comes to opportunities for upward economic mobility and social inclusion within these communities.

They work as a team on both social and systemic sides of the spectrum. Khare looks at the bigger picture: “We’re interested in what it would take to shift the systems and programs and services so that we are really connecting our housing system to the labor market... to really get at the racial gaps that have been perpetuating poverty for years.” Joseph works on creating spaces for dialogue within these developments—“who has voice, who has influence, who engages”—to break down stigmas and expand powers to all residents.

Although they may be pioneers of mixed-income developments combined with inclusionary zoning and equitable systemic changes, they realize their work is not yet done. “We’re doing this so people have better lives, better trajectories,” Joseph said—goals worth fighting for.