Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty

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Moving to Opportunity tackles one of America's most enduring dilemmas: the great, unresolved question of how to overcome persistent ghetto poverty. Launched in 1994, the MTO program took a largely untested approach: helping families move from high-poverty, inner-city public housing to low-poverty neighborhoods, some in the suburbs. The book's innovative methodology emphasizes the voices and choices of the program's participants but also rigorously analyzes the changing structures of regional opportunity and constraint that shaped the fortunes of those who "signed up." It shines a light on the hopes, surprises, achievements, and limitations of a major social experiment. As the authors make clear, for all its ambition, MTO is a uniquely American experiment, and this book brings home its powerful lessons for policymakers and advocates, scholars, students, journalists, and all who share a deep concern for opportunity and inequality in our country.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A brilliant, highly readable book...Briggs, Popkin, and Goering suggest a number of useful ideas for dealing with America's ghetto problem including family-strengthening programs and supportive housing for large numbers of ''hard-to-house'' families...a ''must read'' book for scholars and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic."—Journal of Housing and Built Environment

"This book is not a purely academic tome filled with incomprehensible statistics; rather, it is more an ethnography and as such can be appreciated by students, faculty, and the general public. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—CHOICE

"Moving to Opportunity insightfully reveals how the fight against ghetto poverty is more than just overcoming economic deprivation. It also involves improving safety and feelings of security and therefore increasing freedom from fear. A number of questions remain about the effects of the MTO experiment. However, the striking reduction in anxiety and depression for women and girls is not one of them. Briggs and his colleagues argue persuasively for a major national commitment to affordable rental housing in safe and livable neighborhoods."—William Julius Wilson, Harvard University

"This team of respected researchers has applied scientific rigor and experience-based pragmatism to tackle one of the most difficult subjects in the urban policy field: how to harness economic and housing programs to reduce poverty and to create life opportunities for America's poorest families. The result is analyses and conclusions which are sobering but also promising and hopeful." —Henry Cisneros, Executive Chairman, CityView and Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

"[The authors'] extensive experience working in housing and antipoverty policy making, implementation, and evaluation, and their direct involvement with the Moving to Opportunity experiment since it was begun in 1994, positioned them well to write a good book on it. That experience and the high quality of their previous scholarly works ... led me to have high expectations for this book. When I finished reading it, those expectations were, in fact, exceeded. Moving to Opportunity is a 'must read' for anyone interested in understanding the politics of policy making and implementation, the difference between neighborhoods and communities, the harsh realities of living conditions for poor people in and out of inner-city ghettoes, and the difficult trade-offs very-low-income parents must make when faced with choices about where to locate."—Urban Affairs Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195392845
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/31/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 901,304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Xavier de Souza Briggs is Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the White House and Associate Professor of Sociology and Urban Planning (on leave) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A sociologist by training, his award-winning research focuses on leadership and democratic institutions, inequality, and racial and ethnic diversity in cities. A former faculty member at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, his books include The Geography of Opportunity and Democracy as Problem Solving. He is founder and director of The Community Problem-Solving Project @ MIT and Working Smarter in Community Development, two popular and innovative online resources for people and institutions worldwide, and his views have appeared in the New York Times,, National Public Radio, Boston Globe, and other major media.

Susan J. Popkin is Director of the Urban Institute's Program on Neighborhoods and Youth Development. She is a nationally recognized expert on assisted housing, mobility, and the "hard to house." Dr. Popkin is the lead author of The Hidden War, has written numerous papers and book chapters on housing and poverty-related issues, and is co-author of the recent book, Public Housing and The Legacy of Segregation.

John Goering is a Professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College and is on the doctoral faculty of the City University of New York. He is the author or editor of seven books on housing, race and public policy. While at the Office of Policy Development and Research at HUD he helped design and implement MTO, and co-edited the first collection of analyses, Choosing a Better Life?, on this demonstration.

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Table of Contents

1 Places and Lives 3

2 Ghetto Poverty Before and After Katrina 25

3 Great Expectations and Muddling Through: Designing and Launching the Experiment 44

4 The Unequal Geography of Opportunity 67

5 Moving to Security 86

6 When Your Neighborhood Is Not Your Community 109

7 Struggling to Stay Out of High-Poverty Neighborhoods: Finding Good Housing 135

8 Finding Good Schools 170

9 Finding Work 192

10 Lessons 223

Appendix: Studying Moving to Opportunity 239

Notes 253

Works Cited 269

Index 291

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