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Abstract

Affordable housing represents a large and growing, yet understudied, form of subsidized housing that serves low-income households in both low- and high-poverty neighborhoods. In contrast to public housing or vouchers, it creates housing for incrementally higher-income households that are better off than the urban poor but nonetheless struggle to make ends meet, earning too much to qualify for most forms of public assistance. Affordable housing addresses this unmet need, but the nature of the intervention varies by neighborhood location: when located in higher-income communities, it provides access to neighborhoods that may otherwise be out of reach to those with limited purchasing power; when located in low-income communities, the population served becomes part of a broader intervention that seeks to maintain, or increase, the socioeconomic diversity of the receiving neighborhood. This dissertation evaluates the short-term impact of such policies on recipients’ housing, neighborhood, and social context in New York City using data from a multi-site randomized control trial that followed applicants to newly constructed affordable rental developments, including those who were offered housing (“treatment”) as well as those who were eligible but not offered housing because demand exceeded supply (“control”). By leveraging the variation in where study sites are located, I compare the impacts of affordable housing located in low- and higher-poverty neighborhoods. The findings show that affordable housing leads to meaningful differences in the housing and neighborhood conditions, but no difference in the social context of recipient households. Those who were offered affordable housing report significantly better housing quality and lower prevalence of crowding, but no substantial difference in housing cost or affordability. Those who were offered housing in a low-poverty neighborhood experience less structural disadvantage, while those who were offered housing in a high-poverty neighborhood experience more disadvantage. Measures of neighborhood social cohesion and neighbor networks are similar regardless of the offer of housing or the type of neighborhood to which they applied. These latter findings suggest that residential context may take on a different meaning for this low-income working population and/or that the standard measures of neighborhood (dis)advantage do not capture the lived experience of these households in the same way they do for the urban poor.

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