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The Geography of Opportunity in Austin and How It Is Changing

The Geography of Opportunity in Austin and How It Is Changing
2013Opportunity Communities
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This report and the online mapping tool associated with this work are the product of a collaborative effort between Green Doors and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, with the help of many Austin area community partners. The current report is a follow-up to a 2007 opportunity mapping effort. In this context, opportunity is defined as a situation or condition that places individuals in a position to be more likely to succeed or excel. We map opportunity by creating indexes of different aspects of opportunity, such as education, economic mobility, and housing, and displaying them through static and online maps. While the earlier 2007 mapping initiative focused only the current levels of opportunity, this new effort incorporates a Change Index to measure how demographics and different indicators of opportunity have shifted over the last decade. By mapping the Opportunity Index, the Change Index, and overlay indicators such as race and affordable housing, it is possible to get fine-grained and nuanced view of the dynamics of multiple aspects of opportunity in the Central Texas region.

The maps in this analysis have highlighted four broad issues in the Austin metro area:

  1. The Hispanic population is primarily located in low opportunity areas. Since this is the fastest-growing segment of the population, it is imperative to improve Hispanic people’s access to opportunity—especially educational opportunity—if the region hopes to grow and maintain a productive workforce in the future.
  2. Development in a few neighborhoods just east of Interstate 35 poses a threat to the African American and Hispanic populations currently living there. As wealthier inhabitants move in and home prices rise, the original residents may be forced to move to find more affordable housing. Thus, even if these areas become higher opportunity, the people who need access to that opportunity the most will not benefit.
  3. Affordable housing must be expanded in higher opportunity areas. Currently the vast majority of afford- able housing is located in low or very low opportunity neighborhoods, meaning the people who rely on affordable housing programs do not have access to the educational and economic resources they would need to eventually move to market-rate housing. Affordable housing is intended to be a ladder to the middle class, but it cannot work if the upper rungs of the ladder are cut off.
  4. A number of Austin communities fall in the category of low opportunity and are also on the decline, according to the Change Index. Though moving people to opportunity through subsidized affordable housing in high opportunity areas must be part of the strategy for expanding opportunity, it is not sufficient. It is not enough to bring people to opportunity; the real solution is to bring opportunity to people. This can be achieved through place-based investments in low opportunity areas that seek to address the specific challenges of those communities.

 

The static maps in this report in concert with the interactive online maps can serve as a lens through which to analyze future policy ideas. Decision makers can use this geographic information to see how proposed programs may differentially impact certain sectors of the population. Additionally, community organizations can upload their own data to the online maps to highlight resources and mold the maps to fit their needs. Ultimately, the online maps can be as dynamic as their users. The more information and thought that is put into them, the more useful a tool they become.

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