Expanding Chicago’s downtown zoning; a good deal for poor neighborhoods?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just released his plans to expand Chicago’s downtown which could provide new monies to help other parts of the city:

This week more details have emerged regarding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitious plan to expand the high-density “downtown” zoning designation to approximately 1000 additional acres outside the city’s central core to help fund improvements in underserved neighborhoods.

Under the scheme, the city will charge developers for the privilege of increased height and density permitted under the expansion. Each payment will be calculated by multiplying amount of additional space sought by 80 percent of the median price per square foot. In other words, if a builder wants to build an additional 5,000 square feet beyond what’s allowed under old zoning in an area where the median price is $30 per foot, the city will net an extra $120,000 for neighborhood reinvestment…

This week’s announcement also sheds some light on how the mayor plans to spend the extra cash. As reported by Greg Hinz of Crain’s, the administration plans to spend 80 percent of the money to help incentivize the construction of new grocery stores and cultural facilities in otherwise deprived neighborhoods. The remainder of the fund is earmarked for historic preservation efforts and streetscape and transit improvements.

The creation of this new value-capture mechanism is also aimed to supplement — if not help replace — Chicago’s reliance on its controversial TIF districts.

It sounds like Emanuel hears the criticism that poorer neighborhoods in Chicago need more resources and capital. However, is this the best way to do that or is it a deal with the devil? The idea seems to be that developers want new spaces to create downtown-like buildings and some of the revenue from this can be sent to help poor neighborhoods. The Neighborhoods Opportunity Fund – a description starts on page 2 of the proposed ordinance – can provide a unique pot of money to provide basic services, cultural and recreational opportunities, and help launch small businesses.

How much money will this generate?

The city says the plan will pull in about $50 million over the next several years. Eighty percent of the money would go to develop grocery stores, restaurants and cultural facilities in underserved neighborhood commercial corridors. The remaining 20 percent would be split among preserving landmark buildings, neighborhood streetscapes and public transit facilities.

I’ll leave it to others to consider how this money balances out with the goodies developers and others will get from the expanded downtown zoning…

Wealthier kids go to nearby schools; poorer kids travel further

Living in a poorer neighborhood means the resident children travel further to go to school:

Julia Burdick-Will found it was actually children in affluent neighborhoods who stayed close to home for school. In lower-income neighborhoods, kids in search of better options dispersed to dozens of other schools, often commuting alone for miles.

In Chicago neighborhoods with a median household income of more than $75,000, most students attended one of two or three schools. But when the neighborhood median income dropped to less than $25,000, students dispersed to an average of 13 different schools…

In affluent neighborhoods almost no one traveled 4 miles to school; the average commute was about 1.7 miles. But in disadvantaged neighborhoods, the average commute for children was 2.7 miles, with 25 percent of the kids traveling more than 4 miles. Ten percent of the low-income kids traveled more than 6 miles…
In low-income neighborhoods the problem isn’t just access, Burdick-Will said, but the potential social costs of traveling far across the city every day, possibly alone—costs that don’t apply to similarly achieving students in higher income neighborhoods.

An interesting paradox. Typically, wealth means mobility: they can seek out opportunities far and near, move to new locations when need by, afford the transportation costs. We imagine poorer residents stuck in neighborhoods with little opportunity to leave – and evidence from Robert Sampson in Great American City suggests even when afforded the opportunity to leave, many poor residents turn to similar poor locations.

Yet, public schools are one of the more local institutions in the United States. People move to neighborhoods and communities for the quality of their schools. The majority of property taxes go to local schools. Local school board officials are often elected and want to shape their local institutions. Community events are often held in these schools. They are a source of pride if the schools do well, a source of concern if they are not doing well.

Given that, it makes sense that Burdick-Will would suggest it is a burden for kids to go further for school. And that burden is on top of the other obstacles children in poorer neighborhoods face.

Poor residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina moved to better places

Sociologists typically find poor city residents have difficulty leaving poor neighborhoods but a large event like Hurricane Katrina may provide a bigger push:

One of the tragedies of Katrina was that so many of New Orleans’ residents were forced to move. But the severity of that tragedy is a function of where they were forced to move to. Was it somewhere on the Salt Lake City end of the continuum? Or was it a place like Fayetteville? The best answer we have is from the work of the sociologist Corina Graif, who tracked down the new addresses of seven hundred women displaced by Katrina—most of them lower-income and black. By virtually every measure, their new neighborhoods were better than the ones they had left behind in New Orleans. Median family income was forty-four hundred dollars higher. Ethnic diversity was greater. More people had jobs. Their exposure to “concentrated disadvantage”—an index that factors in several measures of poverty—fell by half a standard deviation.

The women weren’t going to Fayetteville but, rather, to places like Houston. “For low-income people in the South, Houston is a pretty darn great place,” Hendren said. “It’s not a beacon of phenomenal upward mobility like Salt Lake City. But it’s kind of the Salt Lake City of the South.” The odds of going from the bottom to the top in Houston are 9.3 per cent, which puts it fifteenth out of the top fifty U.S. metro areas.

“I think that what’s happening is that a whole new world is opening up to them,” Graif said. “If these people hadn’t moved out of the metro area, they would have done the regular move—cycling from one disadvantaged area to another. The fact that they were all of a sudden thrown out of that whirlpool gives them a chance to rethink what they do. It gives them a new option—a new metro area has more neighborhoods in better shape.”

That is, more neighborhoods in better shape than those of New Orleans, which is a crucial fact. For reasons of geography, politics, and fate, Katrina also happened to hit one of the most dysfunctional urban areas in the country: violent, corrupt, and desperately poor. A few years after the hurricane, researchers at the University of Texas interviewed a group of New Orleans drug addicts who had made the move to Houston, and they found that Katrina did not seem to have left the group with any discernible level of trauma. That’s because, the researchers concluded, “they had seen it all before: the indifferent authorities, loss, violence, and feelings of hopelessness and abandonment that followed in the wake of this disaster,” all of which amounted to “a microcosm of what many had experienced throughout their lives.”

Nearly ten years later, tracking the outcomes to this “natural experiment” is providing plenty of material for social scientists. Few major cities experience such catastrophes so there aren’t even many comparisons that can be made. Yet, Katrina helped spark interest in studying resilient cities as leaders and citizens think about ways that cities can bounce back from a broad range of major issues.

All whites fleeing minorities bought McMansions?

In an article about the reconcentration of poverty, the journalist includes this description of how white residents responded to more minorities moving to the suburbs:

As newly middle-class minorities moved to inner suburbs, though, the mostly white residents of those suburbs moved further away, buying up the McMansions that were being built at a rapid pace. This acceleration of white flight was especially problematic in Rust Belt towns that didn’t experience the economic boom of the mid-2000s. They were watching manufacturing and jobs move overseas.

The use of McMansions is interesting here. It could be doing three things:

1. It could simply be referring to larger houses. The size of new American homes has increased in recent decades and McMansions are often held up as the exemplar of this.

2. It could be shorthand for suburban sprawl. McMansions are often viewed as emblematic of big lots and expensive houses in whiter communities. Using the phrase McMansion here could reinforce the idea that all wealthy suburbanites live in McMansions.

3. This could be more negative as substituting “large homes” for “McMansions” doesn’t carry the same kind of negative connotations.

And for the data on the number of Americans living in neighborhoods where more than 40% of residents are under the poverty line:

The number of people living in high-poverty areas—defined as census tracts where 40 percent or more of families have income levels below the federal poverty threshold—nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, to 13.8 million from 7.2 million, according to a new analysis of census data by Paul Jargowsky, a public-policy professor at Rutgers University-Camden and a fellow at The Century Foundation. That’s the highest number of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods ever recorded.

Not a good trend.

When government policy reinforced and added to residential segregation

The federal government may today be viewed as a party that wants to end residential segregation (see a recent argument by conservatives) but this was not always the case:

On how the New Deal’s Public Works Administration led to the creation of segregated ghettos

Its policy was that public housing could be used only to house people of the same race as the neighborhood in which it was located, but, in fact, most of the public housing that was built in the early years was built in integrated neighborhoods, which they razed and then built segregated public housing in those neighborhoods. So public housing created racial segregation where none existed before. That was one of the chief policies.

On the Federal Housing Administration’s overtly racist policies in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s

The second policy, which was probably even more effective in segregating metropolitan areas, was the Federal Housing Administration, which financed mass production builders of subdivisions starting in the ’30s and then going on to the ’40s and ’50s in which those mass production builders, places like Levittown [New York] for example, and Nassau County in New York and in every metropolitan area in the country, the Federal Housing Administration gave builders like Levitt concessionary loans through banks because they guaranteed loans at lower interest rates for banks that the developers could use to build these subdivisions on the condition that no homes in those subdivisions be sold to African-Americans.

Both of these policies had long-term effects that helped lead to poor urban neighborhoods and whites moving to the suburbs. The federal government had enforcement power and resources to do things that other parties could not.

But, the federal government wasn’t the only force at work. Take Chicago, for example. Local government units, such as the city or the Chicago Housing Authority, made decisions about segregated public housing projects (a few projects were initially all white while the majority were non-white) and where they were to be located (largely in existing poor areas and as a burden to punish certain aldermen). Realtors weren’t exactly open to showing housing to blacks outside of the Black Belt. Residents tended to react angrily for decades when blacks moved in with little interference from police or local officials; see cases from the late 1910s to the 1951 case in Cicero where white mobs made their voices known. This all happened even until the late 1960s where Martin Luther King Jr. was opposed in fighting for open housing during the summer of 1966 and Wheaton was the first Illinois community with an open housing law (passed July 3, 1967 – as a point of comparison, this was nearly one year before Oak Park in May 1968).

It wasn’t just a tyrannical or misguided federal government that promoted residential segregation or that still continues to promote similar ideas today…

DuPage County one of the best counties for poor kids to move up

A recent study by two economists shows DuPage County is one of the best in United States for social mobility for those who start toward the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder:

On the other extreme, poor children raised in DuPage, Illinois, have the best shot at climbing the economic ladder. The Chicago suburb is home to several large corporations, including McDonald’s and Ace Hardware, and is one of the nation’s wealthiest counties. Children from poor families in DuPage grow up to earn 15%, or $3,900, more than the national average by the time they are 26.

To conduct the study, Professors Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren looked at tax records for more than 5 million children whose families moved from one county to another between 1996 and 2012. Their analysis showed that where children are raised does have an impact on their chances of moving up economically. In addition, the younger a child is when he or she moves to a neighborhood with more opportunity, the greater the income boost. Neighborhoods matter more for boys than for girls.

Chetty and Hendren did not say why neighborhoods have such an impact on children’s success. But it did find that counties with higher rates of upward mobility have five things in common: less segregation by race and income, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower crime rates and more two-parent households.

The duo, along with Harvard Professor Lawrence Katz, also released Monday a second study that examined the impact of a federal program from the mid-1990s to move low-income families to better neighborhoods. It found that children who relocated when they were younger than 13 made 31% more, on average, than their peers whose families were not given vouchers to move. The relocated children were also more likely to attend college and less likely to be single parents.

DuPage County is not the most diverse place  nor is the most integrated but it is pretty wealthy, has a number of good school districts, and has lots of jobs (across a range of sectors). It also has a reputation of being quite conservative and wasn’t that open to non-whites in the decades after World War II. Yet, I don’t find it too surprising that it would be a good place for social mobility though I imagine this might differ quite a bit across communities within the county.

The second study mentioned above looks at the Moving To Opportunity program which didn’t have immediate influence for adults who move but may just have good long-term impacts for kids. Read more about the latest findings here.

Less residential segregation for black residents over the last few decades; better outcomes?

A sociologist discusses changes in where black Americans live over recent decades:

Over the past 70 years, housing segregation in America has decreased to the point where most African Americans no longer live in neighborhoods that are mostly black, said Mary Pattillo, a Northwestern University sociology professor who spoke Thursday at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems.

Ms. Pattillo, who studies and writes about the black middle class and residential patterns, said that from 1940 to 2010, the percentage of African Americans nationwide who lived in a majority-black neighborhood fell from 62 percent to 42 percent. Even in the Chicago metro area, which historically has had high segregation rates, the percentage living in majority black neighborhoods fell from 90 percent in 1940 to 68 percent today…

Efforts to reduce official housing discrimination and the rise of the black middle class have led to many more African Americans living in the suburbs. And while many suburbs have become mostly black, the majority of them have not, she said.

Another national trend that has reduced the concentration of blacks in certain city neighborhoods has been the destruction of large public housing complexes and their replacement with more mixed-income housing plans.

Finally, in many major metropolitan areas, the growth of the Latino population has created many mixed black-Hispanic neighborhoods. South Central Los Angeles, long an iconic black region, is now mostly Latino, she noted.

Still, the news is not all good even if residential segregation has declined.

1. Residential segregation for blacks is still persistent and white-black segregation is still higher than for other groups.

2. Moving to the suburbs or altering housing projects may be good but it doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. What are the economic conditions in these suburbs (often majority-minority communities and/or inner-ring suburbs) or where do these public housing residents go (it is unknown or to similarly poor neighborhoods)?

3. Declining residential segregation may need time before we can see significant effects. Simply moving poor black residents to communities with more resources – like in the Gautreaux Program or Moving To Opportunity – doesn’t immediately change things. It may be a generation or two before we see improvement.

Comparing the overall diversity of cities versus neighborhood diversity within cities

Nate Silver looks at how large cities can be diverse overall but still have high levels of residential segregation:

This is what the final metric, the integration-segregation index, gets at. It’s defined by the relationship between citywide and neighborhood diversity scores. If we graph the 100 most populous cities on a scatterplot, they look like this:


The integration-segregation index is determined by how far above or below a city is from the regression line. Cities below the line are especially segregated. Chicago, which has a -19 score, is the most segregated city in the country. It’s followed by Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington and Baltimore.

Cities above the red line have positive scores, which mean they’re comparatively well-integrated. Sacramento’s score is a +10, for instance.

But here’s the awful thing about that red line. It grades cities on a curve. It does so because there aren’t a lot of American cities that meet the ideal of being both diverse and integrated. There are more Baltimores than Sacramentos.

Furthermore, most of the exceptions are cities like Sacramento that have large Hispanic or Asian populations. Cities with substantial black populations tend to be highly segregated. Of the top 100 U.S. cities by population, 35 are at least one-quarter black, and only 6 of those cities have positive integration scores.

So perhaps the Chicago School was correct: it is really neighborhoods that matter, even within cities with millions of people. This is what an interesting recent map of Detroit showed where there are clearly clusters of the city that have traditional neighborhoods while other parts are more vacant urban prairies. The sociological literature on poor neighborhoods that emerged starting in the 1970s gets at a similar concept: there are unique conditions and processes at work in such neighborhoods. And, Silver’s analysis confirms sociological research on residential segregation that for decades (perhaps highlights most memorably in American Apartheid) has argued that black-white residential segregation is in a league of its own.

Based on this kind of analysis, should sociologists only use city-wide or region-wide measures of segregation in conjunction with measures or methods that account for neighborhoods?

Chief economist for Zillow says “homeownership is not for everyone”

The chief economist for Zillow suggests we need alternatives to homeownership for low-income American residents:

All this leaves us with a conundrum: Overall, homeownership is a tremendous boost to millions. But in some specific cases, it simply does not deliver as advertised. Depending on circumstances, homeownership is not for everyone. And our steadfast belief that homeownership is always the better option has led us to worry less about the one-third of Americans that rent,leading to a crisis in affordable rental housing.

Please don’t get me wrong. None of this is to say that lower-income Americans should not aspire to homeownership, nor be given opportunities to access its tremendous benefits. But we also need to be steely-eyed about the realities and foster a wider diversity of options on housing, crafting innovative solutions that address the reality we face, not the one we imagine.

If we truly believed this, we could do different things. We could focus on the creation and maintenance of more affordable rental housing. We could find innovative new ways to build wealth, aside from homeownership. Given the prevalence of single-family rentals in the aftermath of the recession, we could explore the feasibility of renting-to-own on a wider scale. We could narrow and sharpen our focus on addressing the fundamental sources of inequality that drive differences in homeownership in the first place.

Yet, even with the strong negative effects of the recent economic crisis/housing bubble, I wonder if it is easier to promote homeownership than it is to advance other policies. Here are several reasons why this might be the case:

1. Americans really do seem to prize homeownership. Homeownership is closely tied to the American Dream, making this issue both politically and culturally important. As far as I know, every president since the 1920s has promoted homeownership. Suggesting that everyone can’t access the American Dream can be problematic.

2. Renting may be a good short-term solution but because of the status conferred to homeowners, renters receive the opposite sentiments: transient, less committed to their community, more prone to social problems, etc. Plus, how many wealthier residents want to live near cheaper rental housing?

3. Speaking of cheaper housing, affordable housing is a very contentious issue. Where will these units be built? Wealthier neighborhoods and communities want little to do with affordable housing. Which developers will go this route rather than chasing bigger profits with larger and more expensive housing units?

4. Getting at the fundamental issues behind the the differences in homeownership is a huge task. Which shall we tackle first – Race? Social class? Residential segregation? Large disparities in wealth? Unequal access to resources?

Perhaps the price to be paid in housing bubbles is more palatable to those in charge than the other options…

When broken sidewalks limit mobility

This story from Shreveport, Louisiana discusses how poorer neighborhoods in the city tend to have more problems with sidewalks:

But Murphy’s citation for walking in the street along Highland’s crumbling sidewalks spotlights the city’s infrastructure failures in the era of the new mayor’s promises to repair and beautify Shreveport’s streets…

For now, there’s no set date when Shreveporters can expect to see most sidewalks installed or fixed, though plans are in progress. And 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect, unsafe sidewalks with missing or poorly-maintained ramps are a common sight…

“If they contact our offices and let us know, we will do what we can to correct those places and make it accommodating for them because a lot of the places around town don’t have those ramps available and we are aware of the issues,” Harris said.

But in terms of fixing the city’s roads and sidewalks, Harris said residential neighborhoods take a back seat to downtown and other highly-trafficked areas…

The Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan includes a transportation component to address pedestrian issues, but it likely will be years before Shreveport is brought in line with major cities, according to Loren Demerath, a Centenary sociology professor who studies the importance of pedestrian spaces to communities and has been active in local efforts to make Shreveport more bikeable and walkable.

An interesting mix of race, social class, and disabilities all having to do with a simple piece of infrastructure: sidewalks. Without well-maintained sidewalks, it is difficult to be a pedestrian as it either requires a more dangerous route on the road or walking through grass or other areas. If anything, this would be a safety issue in many neighborhoods and discussing safety, particularly when it comes to kids or others who need more protection or space (the disabled or perhaps the elderly), tends to lead to better outcomes. But, it sounds like Shreveport has some work to do in this area and I would guess the city would cite funding issues as a reason the sidewalks are so uneven.

And for those who subscribe to broken windows theory, do broken sidewalks have a similar effect? While the residents may not have much to do with breaking sidewalks, it might just suggest that the city doesn’t care as much about the neighborhood.