Moving to Opportunity was the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study that showed mixed effects from incentivizing poor households to move to less-poor neighborhoods. It is often treated (including by me) as the Gold Standard study of the effects of neighborhood integration on the outcomes of poor families. I was aware of two existing criticisms of the intervention they tested:
a) The families in the experimental condition didn’t actually move to much richer neighborhoods.
b) It was paternalistic to tell the families they could only use their Section 8 voucher for certain (lower-poverty) neighborhoods.
I saw a presentation by one of Raj Chetty’s colleagues, however, where he showed this map showing the most common residences of the control group, Section 8 group, and experimental group in New York City:
That’s…remarkable. The Control group, which was supposed to be showing the effects of being in a poor neighborhood, was on 112th street right off of Central Park.
Yes, it was in a public housing project, but this is literally a short walk or even shorter train ride from many of the richest addresses in the country. For example, Columbia University is a 10-15 minute walk away, and The Dakota, the building John Lennon lived in when he was killed, where a penthouse was recently listed at $115 million, is a 9 minute train ride and a five minute walk away:
This isn’t to say that the families living in King Towers weren’t experiencing significant obstacles: they were poor and living in a public housing project after all. But to treat those obstacles as the effects of concentrated neighborhood poverty is just nuts, especially if Wakefield in the Bronx is supposed to represent the high-neighborhood income condition:
I don’t know if the four other cities included in Moving to Opportunity had similarly silly counterfactual conditions, but it certainly puts a little more credence in the idea that Chetty and his colleagues are picking up some effects of neighborhood conditions that Moving to Opportunity missed.