Mixed communities

Policies related to mixed communities

Relationship to poverty/ inequality mechanisms Mixed communities approaches could have a double dividend, with impacts for both inequality and poverty, through the reduction of segregation and the effect this has on attitudes, as well as via increased resources and improved service provision. Read more
Party political support All, but recent years have seen a largely diminished focus and investment in neighbourhoods. Read more
Type of intervention Housing planning and investment.
Level National/regional.
Public support Generally, it appears that there is support for improved services, housing and neighbourhood regeneration, and mixed communities approaches are accepted instrumentally to these outcomes, rather than per se. People interpret the “mixed” element as referring to ethnicity, and not in terms of income or tenure mix. Read more
Evidence of effectiveness There is weak/mixed evidence on the impact of mixed communities that cannot really be considered in isolation. ‘Limited mixed communities approaches’, undertaken carefully as part of broader regeneration projects, could better balance positive outcomes and costs. Read more
Cost High. Read more
Overall Segregation entrenches poverty and inequality has far reaching consequences, connecting spatial disparities to social attitudes and political economy. Policy focus on neighbourhoods has decreased in recent years, in spite of generally supportive attitudes among the public and political parties. Mixed communities might have limited impact but could be more promisingly integrated in broader regeneration projects.

Spatial segregation


Quality differences in services and provision

2. Mixed communities

2.1 Relationship to poverty/inequality mechanisms

We have seen (§1.1.) that people tend to underestimate the true level of inequality and overestimate rates of social mobility. This may be linked to spatial segregation. Where economic segregation occurs, it can alter people’s perceptions and affect preferences for redistribution. It can affect empathy, as where the wealthy are segregated from lower income households this can limit the extent to which they feel inclined to understand the circumstances of individuals living on lower incomes and support policies designed to improve their lives. People can also fail to directly observe the circumstances of people living on incomes different from their own: the rich might not feel as wealthy when surrounded by others enjoying the same level of wealth and privilege, while the poor might underestimate their disadvantage when surrounded by people managing on the same low income. In this sense, the logic here is not dissimilar to that of theories developed in relation to ethnic segregation. For instance, ‘contact theory’ advances the argument that positive intergroup contact improves groups’ perceptions of each other, reducing prejudice and social distance – a view confirmed by considerable experimental evidence (e.g. Barlow et al, 2009; Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006). In particular, diversity is associated with reduced perceived threat at certain, lower-middle scale, geographic levels (Kaufman and Goodwin 2018).

Mixed communities approaches are policies promoting social mixing through regenerating existing estates or planning policies for new housing developments, which transform certain low-income areas by accommodating more middle class settlement or provide ‘affordable housing’ in higher priced housing developments. In the UK, such projects normally involved rebuilding social housing estates at higher densities, with the extra homes being built for sale and profits on these sales generating subsidy for new or refurbished social housing and community facilities. These developments signalled a ‘new localism’ in which responsibilities for identifying and addressing the problems of the most deprived neighbourhoods moved more firmly to the local level (Lupton, 2013; Lupton et al, 2013). Mixed communities could have a positive effect in relation to poverty and inequality as they diminish segregation and increase the exposure to otherwise isolated groups; but they can also bring benefits arising from more resources (Table 1), attracting money to improve quality and provision of services, particularly schools, improve the reputation of an area and reduce stigma.

Table 1. Hoped-for benefits of mixed communities

table displaying the hoped-for benefits of mixed communities
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2.2 Party political support

Under the previous Labour government, ideological commitments were made to the notion of mixed communities as it was claimed they would reduce social and educational segregation and bring new resources and social networks into low income areas. The Sustainable Communities Plan, specifically the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder programme introduced by it, was designed to tackle problems of low housing demand and abandonment in certain neighbourhoods of the Midlands and North through the demolition and refurbishment of housing deemed obsolete and the creation of mixed tenure sustainable communities.

In the mid-2000s there seemed to be widespread consensus on the merits of mixed communities: the Guardian (2012) noted that “everybody wanted them” and Boris Johnson included them in the London plan. This agreement across the political spectrum might be rooted in what Lupton and Fuller (2009) consider neoliberal ideological grounds underpinning the mixed communities approach to urban policy. This adopts the thesis that “concentrated poverty” (or in some iterations, concentrated social housing tenure) is the problem and “de-concentration” the solution, legitimizing policies that change the spatial structures of cities through market forces; its emphasis therefore is on restoring market functionality for both consumers and producers – consumers can choose within a diverse housing stock, while producers see new construction markets opening up. Moreover, neighbourhood change is aligned with the strategic needs of the city, reflecting a new urban entrepreneurialism in which city leaders move away from service delivery roles to envision and promote economic growth and competitiveness, and creating the conditions for capital accumulation and investment (one such condition being the presence of the middle classes).

While all parties might be seen as considering socially mixed communities desirable, recent years have seen investment in area regeneration and local renewal severely curtailed. Programmes inherited were dismissed as ‘unsustainable’ and ‘unaffordable’, legacy programmes have been allowed to expire without replacement or, in the case of Housing Market Renewal, simply terminated (Fitzgerald and Lupton, 2015). In fact, shifting focus from neighbourhoods to individuals, moved away from ideas of reducing social segregation (Fitzgerald and Lupton, 2015). The effects of reforms to Local Housing Allowance and the benefits cap (Hills 2015) are expected to result in lower income households having to move out of richer neighbourhoods to lower rent areas (Fenton 2011).

None of the three main parties mentioned mixed communities and neighbourhood strategies in their 2017 manifestos. Affordable housing and building affordable homes as a proportion of larger developments is on the current agenda. However, this puts greater emphasis on housing stock availability and affordability (§6.4), as opposed to being explicitly about mixed communities.

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2.3 Type of intervention

Housing planning and investment

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2.4 Level


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2.5 Public Support

Support for Mixed Communities is not a topic much investigated in opinion surveys, but there is some evidence of residents’ perceptions and attitudes in the final report for the Evaluation of the Mixed Communities Initiative Demonstration Projects (CLG, 2010). What emerges from these findings is that people did not have very detailed perceptions of existing mix, particularly in relation to income mix. Residents primarily interpreted ‘mix’ as referring to ethnic mix and did not necessarily understand the terms ‘mix’ and ‘mixed’ communities in terms of income or tenure mix. They also referred to a mix of household types, generations, and places of origin around the UK. In these terms, a majority of people already felt that their areas were mixed, while between 20% and 60% of people in each area found it hard to identify characteristics of other residents.

Views about the mixed communities approach to regeneration were varied and generally did not show a strong endorsement. When asked directly whether bringing people with more money into the area would “improve it overall”, between 33% and 40% of residents agreed and a similar number disagreed. More disadvantaged households tended to be more sceptical. However, most respondents said that they did mix socially with people from different backgrounds (probably defined in terms of ethnicity), particularly in shops and workplaces (although nurseries, schools, pubs, cafes and restaurants were also mentioned). This was more common the more mixed the area, suggesting that increased mix does lead to increased integration to a certain extent.

Residents doubted that better off people moving in would improve the area or that they would benefit directly from the new housing – and would have generally preferred new social housing. However, the evaluation report also stresses that residents did notice improvements to the areas that had been made. The mixed communities approach was accepted in order to deliver neighbourhood improvements, but residents would not necessarily see it as the best or necessary approach to neighbourhood regeneration or housing improvements.

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2.6 Evidence of Effectiveness

Segregation can be driven – but can also further entrench – inequality. Mixed communities seek to act on the social mixing, altering this process and potentially mitigating inequality and poverty.

In relation to the first dynamic, evidence in many developed countries shows that changes in social segregation are strongly positively associated with changes in inequality (OECD, 1998). The relative rather than absolute position in the income distribution is also stressed in Cheshire et al (2003), in showing that income distribution is a driver of residential segregation and ultimately social exclusion. This is more important in determining access to limited and locationally fixed desirable amenities in urban housing markets (including the socio-economic composition of the neighbourhood itself). As the distribution of incomes becomes more unequal, social segregation will tend to become more intense.

Watson (2009) uses metropolitan area fixed-effects regression models to estimate the causal effect of metropolitan area income inequality on income segregation in the US. She demonstrates that income inequality has a strong effect on income segregation, measured through the centile gap index. She also finds that income inequality leads to increases in the segregation of both poverty and affluence (though the effect is slightly larger on the segregation of affluence). Reardon and Bischoff (2011) use US census data between 1970 and 2000 and confirm this robust relationship at least for large metropolitan areas: increasing income inequality was responsible for 40%– 80% of the changes in income segregation. However, in their findings, income inequality affects income segregation primarily by affecting the segregation of affluence rather than the segregation of poverty. This literature also explores the relationship between economic inequality, social segregation and racial segregation. Reardon and Bischoff (2011) find that the relationship between income inequality and income segregation differs for black and white families: while in 1970, income segregation among black families was lower than among white families, it rose steeply from 1970 to 1990.

Barube (2006), drawing on a US-UK comparison, stresses three key drivers contributing to rising economic segregation. One is rising income inequality, as the polarization of incomes generally has made the places where poor individuals live relatively poorer, even as high-income areas have grown relatively richer. Another is residential sorting, with low-income households and high-income seeking out contrasting communities, in terms of the social spending and cost of housing. In addition, household movements to maintain or strengthen social ties may contribute to economic segregation, to the degree that these ties exist mainly within – and not across – income groups. Finally, these individual and household choices are shaped by housing policy, strengthening the links between housing and deprivation.

Mixed communities seek to act on the social mixing, altering the dynamics just described and potentially mitigating inequality and poverty. Galster (2013) reviews US and European evidence and looks at the effects of social mixing on a range of social outcomes (e.g.income, labor force participation, educational attainments). The review finds that three dimensions of the social mix are to be considered: 1) Composition (e.g. the basis for mixing people, including ethnicity, race, religion, immigrant status, income, housing tenure), the review finds that economic status is more important to improve social outcomes than immigrant status; 2) Concentration (e.g. the amount of mixing), finding that while evidence in the US indicates that the mix should not exceed roughly 15-20% poverty populations, evidence is less clear for Europe; 3) Scale (e.g. the level of geography to measure), which points to the benefits accomplished at the spatial scale of multiple hundreds of households. Overall, Galster concludes that there is some evidence that disadvantaged groups can benefit from social mix, but this is most likely in cases where the social gulf between neighbours is not too large.

In the UK, Bailey et al. (2013) use a multilevel approach on 2009 British Social Attitudes survey data and find support for the mechanism linking segregation to poverty and inequality. They find that, in England, increasing spatial segregation appears to have eroded support for redistribution, which may in turn further increase levels of inequality in a feedback loop. Residential segregation and income inequality are linked through the operation of the housing market – the rise in geographical segregation reflects the increased ability of higher income groups to outbid lower income groups to compete for more 'desirable' neighbourhoods as the income differential between these groups increases with increasing inequality. Moreover, a racial dimension can intersect with these dynamics. For instance, Luttmer (2001) explores interpersonal preferences through the General Social Survey in the US and finds that among the least advantaged, people are less likely to support redistribution if they live around disadvantaged people of a different race.

The use of tenure mix (either through regeneration existing estates or planning policies for new housing developments) has been proposed in the UK to prevent concentrations of poverty that can arise for the spatial concentration of public housing. Cheshire (2007) argues that there is weak evidence on poorer people benefiting from mixed communities other than from the general improvements to their homes, the environment, and schools, which could be made without mixing communities. Monk et al (2011) review evidence for the Scottish Government Social Research unit and find that evidence in the UK points to successful implementation of mixed tenure in new developments, whereas the effect on existing estates in low income areas is less clear. Most empirical literature on mixed communities is based on cross-sectional case studies, however, and therefore cannot be generalised. The evidence on financial, social and economic costs in the literature is also very limited. The authors conclude that the introduction of mixed communities can be successful if it is undertaken carefully as part of broader regeneration schemes, and in a way that generates minimal disruption to existing residents.

Cheshire (2007) finds limited evidence for claiming that making communities more mixed improves the life-chances of the poor. Debates around policies of social mixing also suggest the importance to pay critical attention to their ability to produce an inclusive urban renewal and the potentially detrimental gentrifying effects they may inflict on the communities they are trying to help (Lees et al, 2008; Atkinson, 2004; Bridge et al, 2012). Lees (2008) reviews evidence in this sense. In the UK, Lyons (1996) and Atkinson (2000) both found evidence suggesting gentrification-induced displacement in London. Davidson and Lees (2005) also found evidence of gentrification-induced displacement in riverside wards along the Thames that had experienced new-build gentrification. As a result, spatially based mechanisms designed as a positive solution to segregation had been ineffective in increasing social mixing and in fact could foster polarization – gentrification – at the neighbourhood/community level.

Overall, evidence from the UK, other European countries (e.g. Netherlands and France), the US, and Australia does not offer strong support for benefits from a mixed communities approach above and beyond the benefits from traditional renewal: when involving substantial tenure and social change these may be justifiable in a very small minority of neighbourhoods and they are unlikely to be achievable in many more, particularly with public finance in short supply (Tunstall and Lupton, 2010). Moreover, some of their positive effects have little to do with the mixed communities approach per se. For instance, the designation as a ‘demonstration project’ had been useful in establishing areas as priorities for wider regeneration activity, and there is also some evidence that Mixed Communities Initiative acted as a catalyst for long-term planning and strategy. This helped to provide a critical mass for other developments (e.g. new schools and leisure centres) and to secure buy-in from other agencies and residents. These benefits, however, could not be attributed to the distinctive features of the approach, making it hard to identify any added value of the ‘mix’ element of the mixed communities approach (CLG, 2010). Tunstall and Lupton (2010) conclude that “it is hard to argue that evidence of the benefits of creating more mixed communities in existing areas and advantages over traditional neighbourhood renewal is strong enough to justify substantial economic and social costs of demolition and rebuilding” (p. 27).

However, they also warn that the agreement that mixed communities approaches do not offer a quick or dramatic fix for the problems of disadvantaged areas does not automatically imply that these policies have no role to play. In practice, mixed communities approaches cannot be considered in isolation, as the only policy option, and they seldom are. This consideration supports a key element of traditional neighbourhood renewal – multi-faceted area regeneration, sometimes involving mixed communities approaches, with other place-based and people-based policies, for instance on worklessness, educational achievement, that can have more effect when applied together. This means that neighbourhood effects are important to consider for policy design, in the balance of the multiple goals pursued by policy-makers. In this sense, a ‘limited mixed communities approach’ (Tunstall and Lupton, 2010), involving tenure and/or population change in residential areas, with limited changes to the pre-or post-existing homes, has lower costs than more radical change and is already a well-established element of traditional neighbourhood renewal. Moreover, substantial or limited mixed communities approaches have a role to play a) as a precaution, to prevent segregation getting worse and reaching tipping points where neighbourhood effects might be generated; b) to increase the supply of housing, improve its quality and the surrounding environment; c) to change the reputation of the area, and the stigma associated with it.

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2.7 Cost

Monk et al (2009) note that the evidence on costs – financial, social and economic – in the literature is very limited. Where mixed communities are part of regeneration of existing estates costs are very difficult to obtain, not least because most schemes involve the sale of land to private developers and issues of confidentiality prevents disclosure of prices. The disruption to communities and families or loss of local services (e.g. shops or schools) during redevelopment are social costs that might be inherently difficult to measure. Economic, or opportunity, costs are also hard to measure in financial terms because they require information not only on the financial costs of a mixed scheme but also of the alternatives on which those funds might have been spent.

In the UK, the Evaluation of the Mixed Communities Initiative Demonstration Projects argues that the approach has large up-front costs to the public sector (CLG, 2010): including direct financial costs (such as for housing renewal projects), imputed economic costs (e.g. opportunity costs) and social costs, which, as noted, are harder to assess. Demonstration projects had not developed approaches to appraise programmes that included this complex range of costs, and offset these against benefits. The main financial costs are related to land, including decanting tenants and acquiring properties, demolition and remediation of the sites. These substantial costs saw physical regeneration progressing mainly where there was access to major sources of public funding to meet the up-front costs, including New Deal for Communities funds, the Urban Development Corporation or the Regional Development Agency (e.g. Hackney, Knowsley, Leeds).

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