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Posts By Margery Turner
Margery Austin Turner is Vice President for Research at the Urban Institute, where she leads efforts to frame and conduct a forward-looking agenda of policy research. A nationally recognized expert on urban policy and neighborhood issues, Ms. Turner has analyzed issues of residential location, racial and ethnic discrimination and its contribution to neighborhood segregation and inequality, and the role of housing policies in promoting residential mobility and location choice. She served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 through 1996, and is co-author of Public Housing and the Legacy of Segregation.Links: http://www.urban.org/books/publichousing/http://www.urban.org/MargeryAustinTurner
| Posted: June 12th, 2012
In a speech at the Urban Institute today, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan made a compelling case that federal housing policies should expand affordable housing choices for poor families in thriving neighborhoods with good schools, safe streets, parks and playgrounds, and well-stocked grocery stores. He argued that the principle of housing choice infuses all of HUD’s programs—whether they offer portable housing subsidies, revitalize distressed neighborhoods, or promote sustainable regional development.
Donovan spoke to a room-full of housing practitioners, advocates, and researchers gathered for the 5th national conference on assisted housing mobility (cohosted by the Urban Institute and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council). Assisted housing mobility programs constitute one of HUD’s most effective tools for promoting choice—offering counseling and search assistance along with housing vouchers to families that want to escape from dangerous and distressed neighborhoods and move to better, safer, more opportunity-rich locations.
These programs typically include outreach to landlords who own rental properties in desirable neighborhoods; individual or group counseling to help families plan and prepare for their search; information about unfamiliar neighborhoods, schools, shopping, and transportation access; hands-on help with housing search; and follow-up counseling and supports.
From the outset, policymakers, advocates, and on-the-ground practitioners working on assisted housing mobility have taken research seriously. Their work is motivated by compelling evidence that living in severely distressed neighborhoods—with high crime, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, and no place to shop for healthy food—inflicts lasting damage on kids and families. They’ve been open to learning from research about what tools work—or don’t work—to help families find and lease housing in opportunity-rich neighborhoods. And they continually refine and strengthen their strategies to reflect emerging insights from research.
Partnering with researchers can be uncomfortable for advocates and program administrators. Honest research doesn’t always confirm initial expectations about what families need or how programs perform. It may conclude that programs need redesign, retargeting, or even replacement. But even if the partnership is sometimes rocky, I believe it’s been hugely valuable.
As a researcher, I’m always inspired by the commitment of advocates and practitioners to empower families to move to communities that offer health, safety, and access to opportunity. And I hope that—over the long haul—rigorous, independent research is helping make that work stronger and more effective, because in my view, the evidence is undeniable that past policies reinforcing residential segregation and poverty concentration produced terrible consequences—for kids, families, communities, and our society as a whole.
Filed under: Built Environment 1 Comment »
| Posted: May 24th, 2012
By nature, I usually see the silver lining in the darkest rain clouds, but the Treasury Department’s chief economist gave a speech on Monday that left me deeply discouraged. The current frenzy to rein in public-sector spending, balance budgets, and shrink the national debt may be cutting off our collective nose to spite our face—neglecting investments essential to future prosperity.
Here are the facts. In today’s economy, college graduates are more likely to find jobs and earn higher wages than those without college degrees. That’s not going to change in the years ahead, as decent-paying jobs require higher skill levels and adaptability. But the cost of college is rising, especially at state universities, which educate the vast majority of students. And states are contributing smaller and smaller shares of the total costs required to run their public universities, requiring students to pay larger and larger shares.
Advocates for shrinking state contributions to higher education argue that students (or their families) should pay most of the cost because they will benefit financially from their college degrees. But that argument suffers from two fundamental flaws. First, a highly educated workforce ultimately pays off for everyone in our society, not just for those who get the college degrees. If our system relies too heavily on individuals to self-finance their college educations, we won’t get as much investment—or as many college graduates—as we really need and our future prosperity will be reduced.
Second, requiring individual students to pay, rather than sharing the costs more broadly, perpetuates existing income and wealth inequalities because lower-income families will have the toughest time paying tuition. And even if you don’t care much about inequality per se, there’s mounting evidence that too much of it further inhibits economic growth and future prosperity.
What worries me even more is that those most likely to be priced out of a college education—young people of color—account for a growing share of our total population. The Census just reported that a majority of babies born in the United States last year were non-white and, as I’ve noted before, our country’s younger cohorts are already dramatically more diverse than the baby-boom generation (of which I’m a part).
On average, minority families have lower incomes and substantially lower wealth than white families. These disparities stem in part from past patterns of discrimination and exclusion—some originally enforced through public policy. If today’s policies require families to self-finance their kids’ college educations, we run the risk of crystallizing long-standing disparities at the very moment when our country’s future depends on the skills, intelligence, and inventiveness of its African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian children.
Filed under: Government Add a Comment »
| Posted: April 16th, 2012
Earlier this year, the Manhattan Institute published an analysis by Ed Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor arguing that the twentieth century saw the end of segregation and that we should declare victory and turn our attention to other explanations for persistent (and widening) equity gaps.
I wish I could agree.
Residential segregation can be measured in many different ways. Sometimes, the metric that’s chosen drives the result. Glaeser and Vigdor focus on the extent to which blacks live separately from everybody else (whites, Latinos, Asians, people of mixed race or ethnicity). And indeed, this measure of segregation has declined substantially over the last few decades.
Take a look at the two pie charts below. The average black person’s neighborhood is dramatically more diverse today than three decades ago. But that’s mostly because many more Latinos and Asians now live in neighborhoods with blacks, not because very many more white people live there.
The average white person’s neighborhood—where more than three quarters of the neighbors are also white—also looks more diverse today than three decades ago, due to modest increases in neighbors of all non-white groups.
So Glaeser and Vigdor are right that blacks are less segregated from non-blacks than they were three or four decades ago. But blacks are only a little less segregated from whites.
Given our country’s bitter history of de jure segregation and systematic discrimination against African Americans, segregation of blacks from non-Hispanic whites (who possess the greatest wealth and power in our society) is a better measure than segregation of blacks from all non-blacks. By this measure, segregation is slowly declining, but it remains stubbornly high, especially in big metros with large African-American populations. And it’s in these metros that other measures of black-white inequality are also high.
Segregation certainly isn’t the only cause of racial inequality, but it’s inextricably entangled with gaps in school quality, employment and earnings, homeownership opportunity, and wealth accumulation. If we want to make progress toward a more equitable society, we can’t close our eyes to the persistence of residential segregation.
Filed under: Built Environment, People Add a Comment »
| Posted: April 6th, 2012
The New York Times recently touted the shiny retrofit of a Paris public housing tower.
Hard by the noisy highway, overlooking a cemetery and a former garbage dump, La Tour Bois-le-Pretre glimmers on a spring morning. Sheathed in a fresh cloak of glass balconies and corrugated aluminum panels, it rises on the edge of this city amid a landscape of decaying cement-and-brick blocks.
Source: The New York Times
Is it really that easy? All it takes is an architectural makeover to transform a distressed and dangerous housing project into a dignified and livable home for poor people?
No. In cities across the United States, we’ve learned from bitter experience that warehousing low-income families in huge apartment projects is a mistake, no matter how great the design might look at the ribbon-cutting. Too often, these projects are sited in poor neighborhoods that lack jobs, good schools, decent grocery stores, and safe places to play, isolating residents from economic opportunities. Over the years, unemployment, social alienation, crime, and violence exact huge costs—for management and maintenance, for the life-chances of children, and for the surrounding community.
A better solution is to integrate affordable housing into thriving communities, where residents can buy healthy food, send their kids to good schools, and venture outside without fear. That means building smaller-scale apartment buildings, subsidizing some landlords to make units in their existing properties more affordable, and letting families use vouchers to cover the rent for regular homes and apartments. It also means replacing failed high-rise projects and improving the distressed neighborhoods around them, bringing services, amenities, and opportunities that attract and serve residents well.
At first blush, a cosmetic retrofit may look like a bargain. But in fact, the long-term cost to taxpayers of leaving high-poverty housing projects in place exceeds the cost of an effective redevelopment effort. I’d far rather see decent, affordable housing in a thriving, opportunity-rich neighborhood than an architectural landmark in a still-blighted community.
Filed under: Built Environment 2 Comments »
| Posted: March 28th, 2012
Last week, DC’s mayor Vincent Gray kicked off a new Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force, mandated by law to update the city’s 2006 housing strategy. Finding an affordable place to rent or buy in DC is clearly a big challenge—not just for poor people but for many working families earning modest incomes.
But in tough fiscal times, the city can’t do everything, so in his January State of the District speech, Mayor Gray set three priorities for the city:
- Creating a new economy for the District that is growing and diversified,
- Ensuring that District residents are prepared for the jobs of the new economy, and
- Improving the quality of life for all.
He also made an impassioned case for investing in kids’ earliest years as critical to their success in school and (ultimately) work:
Research shows that some of the most critical brain development occurs between birth and 3 years of age, and that investments in early childhood development pay huge dividends in closing and even preventing achievement gaps caused by environmental factors. That is why we are focusing significant resources on my “early success” initiative.
Where does affordable housing fit? I can make a strong case that decent, affordable housing in safe neighborhoods plays an essential role in the mayor’s aspirations for the success of DC kids.
When rent consumes more than half a household’s income, families have to cut back somewhere. Evidence suggests that they often cut back on food, and kids who aren’t regularly eating healthy foods come to school at a huge disadvantage.
Poor families paying unaffordable rents also teeter on the brink of missing a rent payment and facing eviction and homelessness. We know that residential instability undermines kids’ emotional development, not only because it disrupts school attendance but also because the stresses of insecurity and instability inflict lasting harm to their emotional and physical health.
In a city with high and rising rents, low-income families too often settle for a more affordable house or apartment in a dangerous neighborhood. And exposure to violence loads more fear and insecurity on the lives of young children, further damaging their health and their ability to learn.
Finally, the neighborhoods in DC with the strongest schools tend also to have the highest rents and house prices. Creating more affordable housing in these neighborhoods—so more low- and moderate-income kids can attend these high-performing schools—is another way to improve educational outcomes.
City budgets everywhere are painfully tight these days, and it makes sense to focus public dollars where they matter most. So I hope the new Housing Task Force offers concrete recommendations for investments in affordable housing that will pay off in the lives of the city’s kids—reducing residential instability and exposure to violence and expanding access to high-performing schools.
Filed under: Built Environment 2 Comments »
| Posted: March 7th, 2012
In recent weeks, a lot of the economic news has been cautiously optimistic, especially when it comes to unemployment. But the housing crisis is far from over. National numbers tell us that—although they might not be in free fall any longer—home sales prices remain low, many homeowners are still underwater, mortgage lenders continue to issue foreclosure notices, and big inventories of unsold homes glut the market.
Like so many economic stories, this one varies dramatically from one metro to another. The latest MetroTrends interactive map shows trends since 2000 in the House Price Index (published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency) for each of the nation’s 100 biggest metros. In all 100, prices were still lower in the fourth quarter of 2011 (the most recent data available) than when the recession officially ended. But in many metros, the House Price Index edged up slightly at the end of 2011, suggesting that markets may finally have hit bottom (click below for interactive map).
Source: Urban Institute analysis of LAUS, HPI, NUHC, OES, and LPS data
Things still look grim in metros where house prices climbed the highest during the boom years preceding the Great Recession. Take a look at Orlando, for example. Between 2000 and the fourth quarter of 2006, house prices almost doubled. Then prices plummeted, falling to 7 percent below their 2000 levels. Although prices rose throughout the second half of 2011, the gains were small. Price trends in the Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Sacramento metros (to name just a few) look just as bad.
Source: Urban Institute analysis of HPI (Home Price Index) data
In contrast, house prices in the Oklahoma City metro rose much more modestly between 2000 and 2006 (only about 20 percent). The subsequent decline was even more modest. At its lowest (in the third quarter of 2011), Oklahoma City’s House Price Index was still 7 percent higher than in 2000, and the last quarter of 2011 showed a small increase. Other metros with similar trajectories include Denver, Pittsburgh, and Houston.
In metros like Orlando, weak housing market conditions seem likely to act as a serious brake on the painfully slow recovery, while metros like Oklahoma City have an easier road ahead of them. You can use our interactive map to explore these trends for your metro, or to make comparisons of your own.
Filed under: Built Environment, Quality of Life, Urban Culture 2 Comments »
| Posted: February 15th, 2012
At the time of Martin Luther King's death, most American urban areas, in the North as well as the South, were highly segregated, and African Americans were denied equal access to good schools, well-paying jobs, and homeownership—all essential pathways to economic success. Today, more than four decades later, the disparities have narrowed considerably, and growing numbers of black Americans have succeeded in climbing the ladder of social and economic opportunity. But African Americans (on average) still don’t enjoy the same school quality, job opportunities, or homeownership access as whites.
To complicate matters further, immigration has made our population dramatically more diverse. So the picture of racial inequity in urban America is no longer so stark—or so clearly evident. Some metros perform a lot better than others for their minority residents. And some serve members of one minority well but not others.
To explore this complex picture, the Urban Institute developed a "report card" that ranks the nation's 100 biggest metro areas on five factors: residential segregation, neighborhood affluence (for the average black, Latino, and non-Hispanic white), public school quality (for the average black, Latino, and non-Hispanic white student), employment (among working-age adults), and homeownership.
How does the DC region score? Not as well as you might think. For African Americans, it ranks 50th of 100 big metro areas (a C if we're grading on a curve). Residential segregation is high by national standards (although it has declined substantially over recent decades). The average African American in the DC region lives in a much lower-income neighborhood than the average white, and the average African American child attends a lower-performing school than the average white child. The DC region appears to be performing better for African Americans with respect to employment and homeownership opportunities. Although blacks are less likely than whites to have jobs or to own their own homes, these gaps are narrow by national standards.
Opportunity Gaps Among Whites, Blacks, and Latinos in the Washington, DC Metro Area
Source: Urban Institute analysis of Brown University US 2010 and 2010 Census data
Now let’s look at Latino-white equity. The DC region scores a C again—45th among the nation's 100 biggest metros. Latinos are less segregated from non-Hispanic whites than are blacks, but the DC region's Latino-white segregation levels are high by national standards, and they've been climbing for the last several decades at the same time the Latino population has been growing. The average Latino lives in a neighborhood that's higher income than the average African American's, but still lower than the average white's. And the average Latino child attends a school that performs better than the average African American child's but, again, not on par with the average white child's. Employment is high among working-age Latinos, and—as for African Americans—homeownership rates are high by national standards.
So when it comes to opportunities for its growing minority population, our region's performance is respectable but by no means laudable. Closing the remaining opportunity gaps is no simple matter. Historically, public policies played a central role in establishing and enforcing patterns of racial segregation and inequality, alongside discriminatory practices by private-sector institutions and individuals. But no single causal process explains the persistence of these opportunity gaps in the Washington region—or other American metros—and no single policy initiative can eradicate them. Instead, the evidence argues for combination strategies to address interconnected barriers like unaffordable mortgages, neighborhood distress, failing schools, and weak job markets.
I hope policymakers and civic leaders in metropolitan Washington will use our report card to start a constructive metro-wide conversation, asking “What can we do to narrow the opportunity gaps in our region?”
Filed under: Built Environment, Economy, Government, People, Urban Culture, Washington DC Add a Comment »
| Posted: February 2nd, 2012
In December, MetroTrends graded America’s 100 biggest metros on measures of economic security. Today we offer a new report card, with grades reflecting the opportunity gaps facing African Americans and Latinos.
We’re all well aware of the national story. Despite the huge achievements of the civil rights era, neither African Americans nor Latinos (on average) enjoy the same school quality, job opportunities, or homeownership access as whites. But the picture isn’t the same in every metro area. So our report card scores metros on five factors: residential segregation, neighborhood affluence (for the average black, Latino, and non-Hispanic white), public school quality (for the average black, Latino, and non-Hispanic white student), employment (among working-age adults), and homeownership.
Let’s start by looking at the grades for black-white equity.
Equity for African Americans (click image for interactive map)
Source: Urban Institute analysis of Brown University US2010 and 2010 Census data
Surprised? The top scorers are mostly small- to medium-sized metros in the south and west (Charleston, SC, and Riverside, CA, for example), while the worst performers are big metros in the midwest and northeast (including New York, Boston, and Chicago).
When I first saw these results, I thought perhaps that so few African Americans live in the high-scoring metros that their high performance is irrelevant. For some top scorers (like Albuquerque and San Jose), that’s definitely the case. But lots of other metros scoring As and Bs on this report card have substantial African American populations.
So my second thought was this: maybe outcomes for African Americans are better in big, prosperous metros like New York, Boston, and Chicago, even though the gaps between African Americans and whites are wider there. Not true. Average outcomes for African Americans (on all five factors) are best among metros scoring As and worst among those scoring Fs. African Americans in Charleston, SC, and Oklahoma City are more likely to be employed, own their homes, live in prosperous neighborhoods, and attend high-performing schools than their counterparts in Milwaukee or Boston.
I should note that we’re grading on a curve here. Even in metros scoring As, the average African American lives in a lower-income neighborhood, attends lower-performing schools, is less likely to find a job, and is less likely to own a home than the average white. But these gaps are two to three times wider in the metros scoring Fs.
Now let’s look at the grades for Latino-white equity.
Equity for Latinos (click image below for interactive map)
Source: Urban Institute analysis of Brown University US2010 and 2010 Census data
The overall picture looks pretty similar. And indeed, many metros either score well for both African Americans and Latinos (like Palm Bay, FL, Colorado Springs, and Raleigh, NC) or score poorly for both (like New York, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). But a few metros—like San Jose, CA—stand out for scoring high on equity for their (small) African American population but low for their (much larger) Latino population. And the reverse is true in metros like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, which perform poorly for African Americans but quite well for Latinos.
You can find any metro’s score (and all the underlying factors) on our map by mousing over and clicking on it. But you can also modify our scoring system. Maybe employment matters more to you than homeownership, or you don’t care about residential segregation at all. Change the relative importance of the five factors in the box, and MetroTrends will recompute the scores and display your new rankings.
Closing these opportunity gaps is no simple matter. And the solutions—such as targeted school investments, fair housing enforcement, and job training—have to be crafted locally to tackle fundamental sources of inequality. So policymakers and civic leaders in metros across the country should be using our report card to challenge themselves, asking “How does our region perform?” and “What can we do to narrow the opportunity gaps in our region?”
Filed under: Built Environment, Economy, Government, People 4 Comments »
| Posted: January 16th, 2012
“Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought not only for civil rights, but also for economic justice. At the time of his death, most American urban areas, in the North as well as in the South, were highly segregated and African Americans were denied equal access to good schools, well-paying jobs, and homeownership—all essential pathways to economic success.
Today, more than four decades later, African Americans (on average) still don’t enjoy the same school quality, job opportunities, or homeownership access as whites. But the disparities have narrowed considerably and growing numbers of black Americans have succeeded in climbing the ladder of social and economic opportunity.
To complicate matters further, immigration has made our population dramatically more diverse. So the picture of racial inequity in urban America is no longer so stark—or so clearly evident. Some metros perform a lot better than others for their minority residents. And some serve members of one minority well, but not others.
Take a look at Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example. The region’s average white elementary-school student attends a school that scores in the 70th percentile on state assessment tests. The average black student’s school scores 13 points lower and the average Latino’s 25 points lower. But those school performance gaps are even wider in most other metros. In the New York region, the average black student’s school scores a shocking 42 points below the average white’s, and the average Latino student’s school 41 points below. And in Pittsburgh, the average Latino student’s school scores 2 points higher than the average white’s school, while the average black’s school scores 38 points lower.
State Test Scores For Elementary Schools Attended By The Average White, Black And Latino Student
Source: Percentile ranking on state standardized tests (in 2004) of the school that the average child of a racial/ethnic group attends
The racial homeownership gap varies across metros as well. In all five metros shown here, whites are far more likely than either blacks or Latinos to own their homes. But the black-white gap is narrowest in the DC region (24 points) and widest in the New York region (35 points). Albuquerque performs relatively well on this score for Latinos (only an 8 point gap), while New York performs even more poorly for Latinos than for blacks.
Share Of White, Black, And Latino Households Who Are Homeowners
Source: Share of households owner-occupants, ACS (2010)
How about job opportunities? In the Washington, DC, region 67 percent of working-age whites are employed, compared with only 62 percent of blacks, but 74 percent of Latinos. The black-white employment gap is narrower in both Albuquerque and Oklahoma City. And again, Pittsburgh seems to perform well for Latinos but poorly for African Americans.
Share Of Working-Age Whites, Blacks, And Latinos Employed
Source: Share of adult population employed, ACS (2010)
Closing these opportunity gaps is no simple matter. And the solutions—such as targeted school investments, fair housing enforcement, and job training—have to be crafted locally. So today, as we celebrate King’s vision of racial opportunity and equity, policymakers and civic leaders in metros across the country should be asking: “How does our region perform?” and “What can we do to narrow the opportunity gap?”
Filed under: Built Environment, Economy, People 1 Comment »