Planning for Opportunity: How Planners Can Expand Access to Affordable Opportunity Bargain Areas

Nicholas Kelly, Ingrid Gould Ellen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Although there is strong evidence that living in high-opportunity neighborhoods can improve the long-run educational and economic outcomes of children, translating this into practical advice for planners is difficult. There is little consensus about how to operationalize neighborhood opportunity, and planning discussions rarely consider how much that opportunity costs, even though planners around the country must grapple with the typically higher cost of providing housing in opportunity areas. We offer concrete guidance to planners about how to best overcome these barriers. We argue for a streamlined measure called the school–violence–poverty (SVP) index based on three contemporary metrics that research shows enhance economic mobility for children: school quality, violent crime, and poverty. Combining the SVP index with data on rental prices in New York City (NY) and Greater Boston (MA), we identified a collection of high-opportunity bargain neighborhoods with lower rents than expected given their opportunity metrics and housing characteristics. We found that high-opportunity bargain areas tended to be more affordable because they lacked amenities such as restaurants and proximity to the city center that are associated with higher rents but are unlikely to be very related to children’s economic mobility. Takeaway for practice: Here we provide a streamlined, easy-to-use index for planners to identify high-opportunity bargain areas in their communities. It has direct implications for planners attempting to stretch limited budgets by helping planners decide where to get the most opportunity for their taxpayer dollars when building affordable housing and how to empower low-income families to weigh tradeoffs about where to live and achieve better neighborhood matches. The simplicity of the index can empower families to access areas that are more affordable and offer robust public services for their children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-281
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • crime
  • housing
  • opportunity
  • schools
  • vouchers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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