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Public Policy -- Oregon -- Portland, Public policy -- Washington (State) -- Seattle, Public policy -- California -- San Diego, Housing policy -- United States, Families -- Economic aspects -- United States, Segregation -- United States, City planning -- Oregon -- Portland, City planning -- Washington (State) -- Seattle, City planning -- California -- San Diego


This project’s goal is to lift up promising approaches, suggest new strategies and encourage honest conversations that result in public policy solutions to income and racial segregation and poverty. The overarching question that motivates this work is:

  • What are effective policies and strategies that promote access to high-opportunity amenities for low-income families?

As a first step, the researchers surveyed efforts on the ground in the metropolitan areas encompassing Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and San Diego, California, to determine whether there were any candidates for deeper study. We selected these three metropolitan areas for several reasons. First, prior interaction revealed that attention had been given to this question and that parties in each had embarked on purposeful efforts to make progress. Second, they represent a diverse array of communities that vary in significant ways, including along key economic, demographic, and social dimensions, and in some regards are bellwethers for changes beginning to take place in many parts of the country. As a consequence, experiences and successes in these places could potentially be applied to a diverse set of other urban areas across the United States.

The three regions are among the largest in the United States, with Seattle and Portland being the largest in their respective states and San Diego third in California (behind Los Angeles and the Bay Area). Despite their size, they differ in important ways that result in different social and political dynamics prevailing in each location.

In considering access to opportunity, one must understand the opportunities that are available in order to tailor skill-building efforts and investments in “connective infrastructure,” such as mass transit and suburban affordable housing, so that they are maximally effective. From an economic perspective, the three regions are quite different, which means that the approaches observed across the regions will potentially vary in measurable ways.

In each metropolitan area, we sought the counsel of key governmental, practitioner, academic, and philanthropic players. During the course of our initial visits to each region, we met with and interviewed almost 80 people—28 in Seattle, 26 in Portland, and 24 in San Diego. Through these conversations, we identified 27 projects—nine in each metropolitan area—as being promising examples of cases where lower-income families may have achieved increased access to high-opportunity amenities.

Given time, available funding, and the presence of partners willing to support our research effort by providing access to program data and program participants, we chose three projects for examination:

• The San Diego Housing Commission’s Achievement Academy

• Seattle/King County’s A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH)

• Humboldt Gardens in Northeast Portland


Two additional documents are included here as supplemental files: "Lessons from Humboldt Gardens, " and "Complications and Contradictions in a Changing Neighborhood," both authored by Lisa Bates of Portland State University.

"Lessons from Humboldt Gardens" is a condensed version of Bates' section of the Access to Opportunity Final report presented in infographic form.

"Complications and Contradictions in a Changing Neighborhood" is a blog post based on research performed for the Access to Opportunity Project. This and related posts can be accessed at

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