In Greater Boston, a lopsided geography of affordable housing

The Child Opportunity Index (COI) maps featured, developed by diversitydatakids.org and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

Boston Globe
By David Scharfenberg

One in a series of occasional articles examining how income disparities are reshaping the region.

LEXINGTON — Evelyn Brito knew how to navigate her tough slice of Dorchester, how to steer her kids around the drug dealers and find a decent piece of fruit in the tired bodegas. But when she heard the gunshots outside her building, well, that was different. She was shaken. She had to go.

It took some time, but Brito managed to find a subsidized apartment in a better-off community. Much better off, in fact: Lexington, a suburb of gracious Colonials and lofty SAT scores about 15 miles northwest of Boston.

Brito has to take a bus and two subways to get to her job in the city now. But the lengthy commute is worth it, she says. Her daughter can play alone in the backyard without fear. And her son, who just started his senior year at Lexington High, is considering St. John’s University in New York. Many of her old neighbors in the city aren’t faring so well. “Some people,” she said, “their environment swallows them.”

Low-income families who use housing subsidies to move from struggling to thriving communities represent perhaps the country’s best shot at breaking intergenerational poverty. Landmark research from Harvard University last year showed that children from poor families who make the transition at a young age are more likely to go to college, less likely to become single parents, and earn more money than those who remain behind.

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The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity was established in 2003 as a center for interdisciplinary research at The Ohio State University. The Kirwan Institute works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have opportunity to succeed.