A kid’s neighborhood matters.
We’ve always known that. But it matters for some more than it does for others. Like Bill Murray’s character in Rushmore said, “Now for some of you, it doesn’t matter. You were born rich and you’re going to stay rich.”
For the rest of us, growing up in the right neighborhood is huge.
That’s what data from the Opportunity Atlas shows.
Researchers are using US Census data to trace adults’ socioeconomic circumstances back to their childhood neighborhoods, and the results are telling. In some cases, kids growing up in neighborhoods just one to two miles apart had very different outcomes.
According to Opportunity Insights and the US Census Bureau:
“Moving from a below-average to an above-average neighborhood at birth would increase a child’s lifetime earnings by $200,000.”
That’s right—growing up in the right neighborhood can mean $10,000 or more a year. And it’s not all about money. Children who grew up in high-opportunity neighborhoods were less likely to become teen parents and less likely to go to prison than kids who grew up in low-opportunity neighborhoods.
And as it turns out, the divisions are even more localized than previously thought. It’s not all about whether you live in the city or the country, or even whether you live in a rich neighborhood or a poor one.
According to the New York Times:
“The researchers believe much of this variation is driven by the neighborhoods themselves . . . And what matters, the researchers find, is a hyper-local setting: the environment within about half a mile of a child’s home.”
There’s a lot to be learned from the Opportunity Atlas maps, and some local governments recognize that. They’re hoping to use the data to get people out of poverty. Some cities, like Seattle, are identifying high-opportunity and low-opportunity neighborhoods and helping some families to move. Others, like Charlotte, are using the information to boost opportunity in the neighborhoods that need it most.
But it’s not just governments that are making a difference. Individuals are boosting opportunity for their own family members and for others. It’s all about providing access to the right environment.
Fortunately, there are ways to make high-opportunity neighborhoods more accessible.
Homeowners can make a difference for their loved ones—and for other families.
At New Avenue, we believe in boosting opportunity. That’s one reason we’re in the business of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). We’ve seen some amazing stories play out over the years—stories in which families are living better thanks to their accessory dwellings.
ADUs are one way people can live in neighborhoods they would not otherwise be able to afford. They’re a way to get kids into those “hyper-local” settings that put them in better schools, areas with more community support, and places with more adults who care for them.
Here’s what homeowners are doing with their ADUs:
Helping family: In many cases, homeowners are building ADUs on their properties and bringing their children and grandchildren to live with them. In others, retired homeowners are selling their homes and using the money to buy property in opportunity-rich neighborhoods. Then they’re building ADUs so they can share that property with their kids and grandkids.
Helping themselves: Some families are investing in ADUs and renting them out—they’re a long-lasting source of income that can make it possible to own property in a high-opportunity neighborhood.
Helping others: ADUs can also be an opportunity for renters to get into neighborhoods that will boost their kids’ chances at better outcomes. They’re a win-win for the homeowner and the renting family.
There are ways to bridge the opportunity gap.
In a perfect world, everyone would grow up in a “good” neighborhood. Everyone would have what they need.
Of course, the world isn’t perfect. But we’re learning to use the information we have to make it better. If we use that information wisely, we can make a difference for a few children today. And perhaps one day there will be no more gap.
ADUs are one way that individual homeowners can take small steps to bridge the gap. All over the US, homeowners are building ADUs on their properties and helping children—their own kids, their own grandkids and others—get into neighborhoods that will make their lives better.