Living close to work

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke tweeted earlier this week about the ability of workers to live near their place of work:

https://twitter.com/BetoORourke/status/1171238016289034240

There is a lot to think about here. A little historical context: most workers lived very close to work up until the Industrial Revolution and the urbanization that came with it. The separation of home and work life is a relatively recent phenomenon for humans.

A little data on commute times. The 2017 American Community Survey showed the average commute time was 26.9 minutes. Commuting time can differ quite a bit across metropolitan regions:

McKenzie says the East Stroudsburg, Pa. metro area has among the longest average one-way travel time, clocking in at about 37.9 minutes. The U.S. Census Bureau contacted NPR with new information to include the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area, which has a travel time of 37 minutes. Travel times for the two metro areas are not statistically different from one another.

Among the shortest average travel times, usually less than 20 minutes, were in Cheyenne, Wyo. and Grand Forks, N.D.

There is an academic term that addresses this issue: spatial mismatch. In this theory, jobs available to lower-income workers are located far from their residences. Imagine a typical well-off suburb: can the workers at the local Target or McDonald’s or gas station or hotel live in that community or nearby? Patterns of residential segregation and exclusionary zoning can mean that cheaper or affordable housing is not available close to certain jobs. This can be a more hidden form of inequality as longer trips to work mean less time for other activities.

This might get trickier for people with more resources and the options of where they want to live. A common American trade-off for the middle-class gets at this: should a homeowner move further out from work to purchase a larger home or live closer to work and job centers (which can include urban downtowns as well as suburban job centers dozens of miles away from urban downtowns)? Is a shorter commute worth having if it comes with paying more money for (possibly smaller) housing?

And perhaps the wealthy can truly live the closest to work if they so choose. Some of them might even locate their business or firm to where they are. Others might have multiple homes, including ones significant distances away where they can get to work by means not available to many such a private jets and helicopters.

So perhaps the issue here is not really living close to work but deeper issues involving mixed-income neighborhoods and moving away from resources (income and wealth) determining where people can life. O’Rourke gets into this a bit more, calling for smarter and denser cities that he says will lead to numerous positive outcomes – which could include shorter commutes.

Plans for more mixed-income housing at Cabrini-Green site

New plans are in the works for more mixed-income housing on the site of the former high-rises at Cabrini-Green:

As Cabrini-Green continues its march into history books, new residential developments are springing up throughout the 65 acre site of the former public housing project. Enter the Parkside of Old Town development, which is bringing hundreds of new residences to the former Cabrini-Green site. The first couple of phases of the development started a few years ago, but now Holsten Real Estate Development and the Local Advisory Council of Cabrini plan on starting the next phase of the project, which will bring even more new apartments and townhouses to the area. In total, 106 apartments and seven townhouses will make up the new Phase IIB complex, with 36 units reserved for CHA residents, 27 units at affordable rental rates, and 43 apartments will be rented at market rate. 94 apartments will be housed in a nine story building, with the seven townhouses connected to the back of the building. A second three story building will be situated nearby, with the remaining 12 apartment units. Designed by Landon Bone Baker Architects, the new mixed-income development is certainly a departure from the monolithic towers that once stood at the site.

As some of the residents noted in response to plans from the city to tear down the high-rises, this is some valuable property. At the same time, this isn’t a “huge” development and one of the images showing the new buildings suggests there is still a good amount of land left in the area for even more development.

parkside-4.jpg

Putting together plans for the final redevelopment of Cabrini-Green

All the high-rises at Cabrini-Green are gone but the planning of what will replace them continues:

Next week, CHA officials will hold open houses for developers who will learn what parameters the agency has designed for construction of new housing and retail. The land boundaries are North Avenue to Chicago Avenue and Halsted to Orleans…

Last spring CHA unveiled Plan Forward as a way to wrap up the final stretch. Former CHA CEO Charles Woodyard resigned last fall amid sexual harassment allegations, but also because City Hall became disenchanted with the slow pace of progress.

The goal is for Cabrini construction to start by 2015 on the mostly vacant 65 acres. The Cabrini rowhouses will remain but not be 100 percent public housing – much to the chagrin of many residents. Of the 583 units, 146 have been redeveloped into public housing and will stay that way. The others are empty. Originally, CHA had planned to keep the row houses all public housing.

“We felt that in order for Plan Forward to work, in order to have a very vibrant community and what works for the residents to move toward self sufficiency, it was important to do mixed income. Not to leave that area to be the only secluded area that remained 100 percent public housing,” Brown said…

“We’re adamant that the row houses be rehabbed to 100 percent public housing like it was supposed to be,” [row-house resident activist] Steele said.

This seems like an appropriate path forward based on the prior history of redevelopment at Cabrini-Green:

1. The CHA’s difficult history continues with yet another new leader plus plans that stretch on longer than anticipated with funding problems.

2. The city continues its interest in mixed-income development which gives developers some great opportunities to build on the North Side (and profit) while also providing some public housing units but not having to provide for all of the public housing residents.

3. The public housing residents, particularly compared to some of the other Chicago housing projects, continue to speak out and challenge the city’s plans.

Sixty-five acres of land in this part of Chicago will be attractive to numerous people and I hope the public gets to see the competing proposals.

New luxury NYC condo building gives affordable housing residents their own back entrance

A new luxury condo building in New York City has space for affordable housing – but those residents have to use a separate, back entrance:

The poor will use a separate door under plans for a new Upper West Side luxury tower — where affordable housing will be segregated from ritzy waterfront condos despite being in the same building.

Manhattan developer Extell is seeking millions in air rights and tax breaks for building 55 low-income units at 40 Riverside Boulevard, but the company is sequestering the cash-poor tenants who make the lucrative incentives possible.

Five floors of affordable housing will face away from the Hudson River and have a separate entrance, elevator and maintenance company, while 219 market-rate condominiums will overlook the waterfront…

“It’s a blatant attempt to segregate people,” fumed Rosenthal, who is demanding that HPD deny Extell’s request for tax breaks. “It’s just not a good thing for the city of New York to be supporting.”“I hate the visual of market-rate tenants going in one door and affordable tenants going in another, but that’s a visceral reaction,” Diller said.

I’m not sure we should be all that surprised. Developers generally don’t want to construct affordable housing because it cuts into the profits they could make. This is particularly the case in dense areas like Manhattan where land is at a premium and using some of the space for affordable housing means leaving money on the table. So, if the city is going to offer tax breaks for including some affordable housing units (and this is a common strategy for encouraging affordable housing), why wouldn’t a developer want to separate the exits so the wealthy can think they live in a building solely with other wealthy people (and will pay more for this appearance)?

On the other hand, perhaps New York needs to add to what it means by “affordable housing.” It is one thing just to require units. It is another to place wealthier and less-wealthy residents closer together so they might actually interact. This is the sort of “black box” behind mixed-income neighborhoods that replaced public housing high-rises in many American cities. The idea is that more regular contact between wealthier and less wealthy residents will help those less wealthy residents in the long run.

Update on public housing residents in Chicago mixed-income developments

Chicago and other cities have pursued ambitious plans in the last two decades to tear down public housing high-rises (like at Cabrini-Green) and replace them with mixed-income neighborhoods where public housing residents and market-rate homeowners would live near each other. Here is an update of how this is working out in one mixed-income neighborhood in Chicago:

But the common thread that binds many of these theoretical effects is the same: For them to occur, residents of extremely different incomes must connect on a deeper level than hellos in the hallways. And that doesn’t seem to be happening. Joseph, along with Robert Chaskin of the University of Chicago, documented and analyzed the interactions of residents in two of Chicago’s new mixed-income developments. Far from job networking, most of the encounters between residents were paper-thin. Nearly 25 percent didn’t know a single neighbor well enough to ask them a favor or invite them into their home. In the rare instances of deeper exchanges, like “looking out” for a neighbor with an illness, these interactions occurred almost exclusively between people who were in the same income group…

Community building doesn’t need to mean picnics in the park, however, says Joseph. “It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone becoming friends and having dinner. It means a set of neighbors who appreciate the fact that living in a diverse place means having to build common ground with people who are different than yourself.” He calls this positive neighboring.

If positive neighboring is happening at Parkside, though, so is negative neighboring. The day I visited, a sign taped to one apartment window had a picture of a handgun pointed at me, along with the words, “I Don’t Call 911 — No Loitering.”  There have been reports of market-rate tenants being the targets of derogatory name-calling, and subsidized tenants having the police called on them anonymously for hosting parties. A feature in Harper’s magazine reported that when market-rate families felt threatened by large groups hanging out in the lobby at one mixed-use development, the management removed all the furniture. The same article described the fates of two different Parkside families that held loud gatherings at their apartments one night: The next day, the public-housing unit got an eviction notice; the market-rate unit did not. “They can get buck wild, but as soon as we get buck wild, they want to send an email blast to CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] to complain,” said one of the subsidized tenants.

Critics of the model have asserted that this is what happens when cities engage in “social engineering.” But it might be more accurate to say that the social engineering that the city was counting on isn’t happening. Parkside’s residents might have been more interested in a killer deal than building a community. (The market-rate condo prices, in the $150,000s, are a steal for the location, a mile from downtown and steps from the Gold Coast.) “Could it be — and could people be afraid to admit — that market rate buyers simply don’t want to live right next door to government subsidized renters?” asked one Internet commenter.

This seems to fit with other research that suggests that although people may live near each other, they don’t necessarily interact in ways that are helpful to both groups. This is a sort of “black box” still to be figured out by reserachers: in living with more middle- and upper-income residents, how exactly will public housing residents move up to the working class or middle class? Earlier research suggests this may take some time; kids benefit from going to better schools while adults have a harder time crossing pre-existing socioeconomic and social boundaries.

The article suggests that some look at these mixed-income neighborhoods and call them “social engineering.” Deconcentrating poverty is a goal worked at by a number of groups since sociologists like William Julius Wilson started talking about this in the 1970s and 1980s. HUD has pursued or promoted policies like these throughout the country. It is not like the market-rate residents don’t have a choice in this matter; the housing units can often be cheaper than comparable units nearby. For example, some of the market-rate units in the mixed-income neighborhoods on the former site of Cabrini-Green are quite cheaper compared to units in nearby Lincoln Park or other “hot” neighborhoods. Additionally, the city of Chicago is certainly happy that the public high-rises are gone as they attracted negative attention. (Whether the city cares about the fate of the public housing residents displaced from the high-rises is another story.) Overall, however, some social policy is needed in the area of housing as cities like Chicago offer have severe affordable housing shortages.

Three kinds of segregation in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty

Sociologist Lincoln Quillian discusses three kinds of segregation that are present in minority neighborhoods of concentrated poverty:

Lincoln Quillian, professor of sociology and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, analyzed data from the 2000 census and found that the disproportionate poverty of blacks’ and Hispanics’ other-race neighbors plays an important role in creating racial disparities in neighborhood poverty. The other-race neighbors of black and Hispanic families are disproportionately likely to be poor regardless for black and Hispanic families of all income levels.

Concentrated poverty in minority communities results from three segregations: racial segregation, poverty-status segregation within race and segregation from high- and middle-income members of other racial groups, according to the study. Past work has emphasized racial segregation and poverty-status segregation within race, but has missed the important role played by the disproportionately low-income levels of other-race neighbors of blacks and Hispanics…

“Nationally there is evidence that as racial segregation has been slowly going down that income segregation has been going up,” Quillian said. “Blacks and Hispanics often are co-residing with poorer members of their racial groups.”

White middle-class families overwhelmingly live in middle-class neighborhoods and send their children to middle-class schools. But many black and Hispanic middle-class families live in working-class or poor neighborhoods and send their children to high-poverty schools.

This seems like more evidence for the value of having mixed-income neighborhoods. This idea was behind the two-decade HOPE VI housing program from the Department of Housing and Urban Department which demolished public housing high-rises and moved some of the residents to new mixed-income neighborhoods with people of other races and income groups on the site of the former projects. Whether this program works in the long run is still up for grabs and also highlights how it is difficult to create such neighborhoods solely through the private sector.

“Missionary work” selling new mixed-income neighborhoods in Chicago

In the 1990s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Chicago Housing Authority, and the City of Chicago developed plans to tear down the public housing high-rises in Chicago and replace them with new mixed-income neighborhoods that would include units for public housing residents as well as market-rate units. Recently, it has been difficult to sell some of these units and the neighborhoods:

“Every single Plan for Transformation (community) is in exactly the same predicament,” said Ziegenhagen, vice president of operations. “They’re looking at their pro forma and they’re looking at a huge loss. The lenders have been more willing to work things out with these developments because they invested in them knowing they were really community development, and we were all assaulted by the same economic development.”…

Even in the good times, Williams said, buyers in a development like Oakwood Shores, on the site of the former Ida B. Wells housing complex, had to be what he calls “trailblazers.”

Now, those trailblazers aren’t happy because the price cuts of 25 to 35 percent have negated their equity, while their property tax bills have increased. Newer buyers need to be trailblazers who are much better educated about just what it is they are buying into at a Plan for Transformation community, Williams said…

“If you believe in real estate, you just have to believe that you keep building a neighborhood. Otherwise, you’ll continue to have a decline in the values of the existing neighborhood. These transformation sites are hard work,” Williams said. “This is missionary work. I didn’t start out thinking this is missionary work, but that’s what I think I’m doing now.

Some of this is certainly due to a depressed housing market. However, this also sounds like it is part of the growing pains of these new mixed-income neighborhoods: even though the units might be on in desirable locations, particularly at the Cabrini-Green site, some homebuyers might be turned off by the idea of living near public housing residents or being part of a newly-formed neighborhood and having to be “trailblazers.”

It will be interesting to see down the road whether this is just a blip in the development of these neighborhoods which were supposed to be transformational or whether they hint at deeper issues that are exacerbated by this economic crisis. I assume time will help take away some of the stigma of these neighborhoods, particularly their historic connection to notorious public housing projects, but this will still be a process.