Panel Paper: Access to Opportunity: A Conceptual Analysis and Application to the Baltimore Metropolitan Area

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 10:25 AM
Plaza II (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gerrit Knaap1,2, Chao Liu2,3 and Eli Knaap2,3, (1)University of Maryland, (2)National Center for Smart Growth, Research and Education, (3)University of Maryland, College Park
The Fair Housing Act was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968, just a week after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Of all the legacies of Dr. King Jr., fair housing is among his most profound, because his assassination was the catalyst for long-overdue legislation that outlawed many kinds of private housing discrimination. Since 1968, the application of the law has expanded to preclude discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability and sexual orientation. In recent years, however, its application has expanded beyond discrimination against individuals in the housing market to include local government policies that limit access by poor and minority residents to high opportunity communities and neighborhoods. In the 2006 Maryland District Court case, Thompson v. HUD, Judge Marvin Garbis held that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development violated the Fair Housing Act by unfairly concentrating African-American public housing residents in the most impoverished, segregated areas of Baltimore City. The case set a new precedent in fair housing litigation, marking an important evolution in the way that scholars and policy analysts assess equitable housing conditions.  The Thompson ruling was based on the premise that public housing residents deserve equal access to the same types of educational, economic, social and other opportunities found in other neighborhoods—and that it was HUD’s responsibility to ensure such access.

In 2010, HUD launched its Sustainable Communities grant program and began encouraging local governments and metropolitan coalitions to conduct “opportunity mapping” exercises.  These exercises require grant recipients to measure and map differences in access to local opportunity structures for residents in different neighborhoods within the metropolitan area.  The notion that the neighborhood in which a person lives shapes their social and economic opportunities is not new, but how opportunity is to be measured, displayed, and used to guide policy decision making remains under examined.

In this paper we conduct such an examination using data from the Baltimore metropolitan area.  Specifically, we examine the conceptual foundations of opportunity mapping and discuss the challenges of presenting spatial variation in opportunity on maps.  Toward this end, we examine the sociological literature regarding the influences that shape access to opportunity, and their effect on social mobility.  We then collect, organize, and map these variables for the Baltimore metropolitan area.  Then, using factor and discriminant analysis we define several categories of opportunity and explore the extent to which access to opportunity vary for minorities and residents of publically subsidized housing.  Preliminary results suggest there are statistically significant differences in access to opportunity between white and African American residents and between residents of public and private housing. We conclude with recommendations for how to promote fair opportunity in the Baltimore metropolitan areas and for how opportunity maps can be used to promote fair access to opportunity nationwide.