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Building Environmentally Sustainable Communities: A Framework for Inclusivity

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has decided to include two key goals in all of its programs: encouraging sustainable communities and enhancing access to opportunity for lower-income people and people of color. This paper examines the relationship between these two goals through a literature review and an original empirical analysis of how these goals interact at the neighborhood and metropolitan area levels. We also offer policy recommendations for HUD.

The literature review demonstrates that sustainability means different things to different people. To many, sustainability focuses purely on traditional environmental metrics, such as carbon emissions or water pollution. To others, sustainability must include measures of equity, such as the access of people of color and lower-income people to neighborhoods with good schools and jobs. While sustainability and access to opportunity often reinforce each other, in some cases, they are in tension with each other. To examine the potential synergies and tensions between the two goals, we focus on the narrower view of sustainability, which we call “environmental sustainability,” but we take no normative position as to how one should define sustainability.