What is a “Good Neighborhood”?: Exploring the Choices of Low-Income Households in Portland

WCPC Seminar Series on Poverty and Policy: Spring 2012

Presented by
Lisa Bates
Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning
Portland State University
Ellen Bassett
Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning
Portland State University
Monday, April 30, 2012;  12:30 - 1:30 p.m., questions / discussion until 2:00 p.m.
Parrington Hall Commons, Room 308
University of Washington


Dr. Lisa K. Bates is an Assistant Professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. Her research focuses on the impacts of housing policy on opportunities for people of color and low-income households, and on the potential for urban planning to achieve social justice goals.  Her recent work includes studies of post-Katrina housing recovery in New Orleans and considering how African-American financial literacy affects homebuying decisions.

Dr. Ellen M. Bassett is an Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning with interests in land use planning, urban redevelopment, social equity, and community decision-making. Having grown up outside of Detroit, Michigan, Dr. Bassett was influenced by the city's issues of sprawl, abandonment, and white flight. Dr. Bassett's research emphasizes relevant land use, resource, and decision-making issues facing communities. She is particularly interested in understanding how different communities and societies formulate institutions, policies, regulations, and property rights to manage land use.



While the specific causal mechanisms continue to be investigated, there is widespread agreement that for many critical life outcomes, “neighborhood matters” (Galster 2007). In pursuit of expanded socioeconomic opportunity for poor households, major urban policy initiatives--MTO, HOPE VI, mobility features in Housing Choice Vouchers--have stressed poor families’ relocating to new neighborhoods. However, most low-income households who receive housing vouchers do not move to new neighborhoods, even when the subsidy increases their options (Goetz 2003; Zaterman 2001). Why, even with incentives and increased purchasing power, do low-income families not make the choice to move to neighborhoods defined by policymakers as having greater opportunity? We seek to respond to this policy dilemma by first asking, for those who are poor, what is a “good neighborhood?”

Using in-depth interviews with approximately 60 individuals from poor households in the Portland area, this research seeks to understand what the poor define as a “good neighborhood”--its attributes and location--whether or not they believe they have attained or could attain residence in such a neighborhood.  By asking the respondents to describe “a good neighborhood,” we are able to access the cultural meanings of neighborhood separately from the choices and constraints faced in deciding where to live. We relate the “good neighborhood” concept to the lived experiences, aspirations, and expectations of the respondent to address outstanding questions in the literature about the context of decision-making for poor households.


See the slides from this presentation here.