Kevin F. WalkerOpportunity Mapping

By: Kevin F. Walker In: Housing| Philanthropy

23 Aug 2013

Sometimes small grants can have surprisingly large effects, and advance your mission with unexpected potency. Case in point: the Northwest Area Foundation made a $50,000 grant to support the work of the Growing Transit Communities partnership in the Central Puget Sound Region. Planners needed funds to analyze areas of opportunity and access in Seattle. They believed the findings could impact housing and transportation projects planned to revitalize low-income neighborhoods through the Sustainable Communities Initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Our support made it possible for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University to conduct a geographic analysis known as opportunity mapping. They probed housing, neighborhood quality, transportation, jobs, health care, and education. The results, in the form of colorful “opportunity maps,” illuminated a disturbing truth: low-income families of color tended to be geographically segregated from areas of opportunity. Steve Fredrickson, the advocacy coordinator with the Northwest Justice Project, told us, “Mapping tells the story of poverty and opportunity better than raw data on an Excel spreadsheet could ever do.”

The findings couldn’t have come at a better time. Seattle is planning billions of dollars in voter-approved transit investments over the next five to 15 years, and the maps could influence important decisions. Planners are consulting the data in their quest to increase opportunity in low-income neighborhoods and create easier access to prosperous areas.

But the ripple effects of the Kirwan Institute’s analysis have extended far beyond Seattle. The Puget Sound report has been presented to the White House as an example of how to advance equity in development planning. In addition, the Seattle-area opportunity mapping has been used nationwide as part of HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. HUD now requires local governments that receive community development grants to use opportunity mapping in their analyses of fair housing barriers.

Jason Reece, who directed Kirwan Institute’s research, told us, “The mapping report from Puget Sound has shaped equity practices that are informing national fair-housing policy. What began as supplemental funding to complete the mapping project in one region grew into an opportunity-based framework of value to Sustainable Communities work taking place across the nation. This is philanthropy at its best.” This opportunity mapping work will have local, regional, and national consequences. We’re honored to be a small part of a big story.

Kevin Walker is  president and CEO of Northwest Area Foundation.

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