Bio: 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
Sharkey sheds new light on the persistence of racial inequality, forcing us to confront our tragic lack of progress in closing the income gap between blacks and whites. He shows that the cohort of blacks born after the end of legally sanctioned discrimination and segregation is actually doing worse economically than their parents’ generation.
Stuck in Place also reveals new insights on the intergenerational effects of living in severely distressed neighborhoods. For example, he shows that children whose families lived in poor neighborhoods for two generations score dramatically worse on reading and problem-solving tests than those whose parents grew up in non-poor neighborhoods, other things being equal. Surprisingly, the parents’ neighborhood exposure may be more important than the child’s neighborhood exposure.
The book’s key message for policy is that narrowly targeted, point-in-time interventions will inevitably fall short. What’s required instead are sustained policies operating at multiple levels that recognize the reciprocal effects between people and the places they live.
One of the features I like most about Sharkey’s analysis is that it underscores the need for effective policy at multiple geographic scales: federal, state, local, and neighborhood. Narrowing the racial equity gap requires:
a healthy national economy, shaped by federal policies that expand decent-paying jobs with adequate benefits, offer reasonable work supports for low-wage earners, and provide a compassionate safety net for the most vulnerable;
contributions at the state level, like Medicaid expansion and alternatives to mass incarceration;
vibrant metropolitan economies, reinforced by city and regional policies that promote growth, expand opportunities, and ensure equal access; and
targeted investments in the most distressed neighborhoods and intensive supports for struggling families.
Too often, policy debates pit one of these essential elements against another when in fact, the success of policies and investments at every level depends on what happens at other levels.
Sharkey makes it so abundantly clear that if we care about racial equity, we need a web of “place-conscious” policies that expand opportunities, ensure equal access, and provide supports for workers, families, and kids.
Two new books—Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone’s Confronting Suburban Poverty in America and Patrick Sharkey’s Stuck in Place—have gotten people talking about poverty, race, and place. Berube and Kneebone explore the recent growth in suburban poverty, while Sharkey sheds new light on the devastating, long-term effects of concentrated poverty for African Americans.
Together, these books argue for a new generation of vigorous and sustained “place-conscious” strategies that systematically tackle poverty, inequality, and neighborhood distress in both city and suburban communities across whole metro regions. Although the basic outlines of the policy prescription apply nationwide, the details will vary from one metro to another. The history, geography, and politics of individual metro regions all matter profoundly, and any serious policy strategy must be tailored to local realities.
To help take the policy conversation from the general to the specific, we offer a new mapping tool. It lets you explore changes from 1980 to 2010 in where poor people of different races and ethnicities lived, for every metropolitan region nationwide.
Changing geography of poverty—two illustrative metros
Take a look at two very different metro areas—Milwaukee and Houston. Back in 1980, Milwaukee’s poor blacks were quite tightly clustered, while poor whites were much more widely dispersed. The region was home to relatively few Hispanics or Asians. Today, poverty is much more evident across the whole Milwaukee region, but the patterns still differ quite starkly by race and ethnicity. Poor blacks occupy a much larger area than in 1980, extending northwest from the city. Farther south, we see a significant cluster of Hispanic poverty. Several smaller clusters of poor Asians appear within areas of black, Hispanic, and white poverty. And poor whites are still far more dispersed geographically than are poor minorities—scattered across the metropolitan landscape.
The Houston metro has also seen big changes in both the composition and the geographic dispersion of poverty since 1980. But here our 2010 map shows considerably less clustering and less separation along lines of race and ethnicity. Poor blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians all appear to be sharing neighborhoods across the metro area.
Data can inform policy conversations
These differing patterns certainly don’t dictate policy solutions. But they provide essential context for answering questions like: Are some poor neighborhoods isolated from the region’s job opportunities? What would it take to connect them? Where should family support services be targeted? Which neighborhoods should be prioritized for improvements in essential amenities and opportunities? How can poor people across the metro landscape be better connected to the services and opportunities they seek?
For metro regions to systematically reduce poverty and expand opportunity, local civic and political leaders, advocates, and practitioners should start by sitting down together to understand the evolving realities of poverty, race, and place in their communities. We hope our maps help catalyze these conversations.
Tuesday, Secretary Donovan announced the findings from HUD's latest paired-testing study of discrimination against minority homeseekers. The Urban Institute conducted the study, the third national paired-testing study we've done for HUD. Although the most blatant forms of housing discrimination have declined since the first national paired-testing study in 1977, we found that minority homeseekers are still told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than equally qualified whites.
There can be no question that the housing circumstances of whites and minorities differ substantially. Whites are more likely to own their homes, to occupy better quality homes and apartments, and to live in safer, more opportunity-rich neighborhoods. However, it’s far less obvious whether—or how much—these disparities result from current racial and ethnic discrimination in the housing market, because whites and minorities differ systematically in employment, income, assets, and debts.
Paired testing solves this problem by directly observing differential treatment of equally qualified homeseekers, essentially catching discrimination in the act.
How does paired testing work?
In a paired test, two people, one white and the other minority, pose as equally qualified homeseekers and inquire about available homes or apartments. Paired testing originated to support the enforcement of federal fair housing protections, and researchers have adapted the tool to systematically measure how often discrimination occurs across housing markets.
Applying this tool to produce rigorous national discrimination estimates is a daunting logistical undertaking. For the latest study, our team conducted over 8,000 paired tests in a nationally representative sample of 28 metropolitan areas. We partnered with local organizations, which hired testers to carry out the tests to our (very exacting) specifications.
In each test, two trained individuals—one white and the other black, Hispanic, or Asian—contacted a housing provider to inquire about a housing unit randomly selected from recently advertised homes and apartments. The two testers in each pair were matched on gender and age, and both presented themselves as equally and unambiguously well qualified to rent or buy the advertised unit. Each tester independently recorded the treatment he or she experienced, including information about all the homes or apartments recommended and shown. All the data came back to the Urban Institute, where our statistical experts crunched the numbers to systematically compare how minorities and whites were treated.
The stubborn persistence of discrimination
I’ve been working on paired-testing studies since 1989, and it’s encouraging to see that our country is making progress in battling housing discrimination. But I’m also disappointed by our latest findings, that 45 years after passage of the Fair Housing Act, minority renters and homebuyers still don’t get the information and access that they would if they were white.
Yesterday, my blog postsummarized findings from the latest paired-testing study of discrimination against minority homeseekers. In a nutshell: the most blatant forms of housing discrimination have declined since the first national paired-testing study in 1977, but minority homeseekers are still told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than equally qualified whites.
For much of the twentieth century, discrimination by landlords and real estate agents blocked minorities from moving into white neighborhoods and produced high levels of residential segregation. Too often, blacks and other minorities were excluded from neighborhoods with high-quality housing, schools, and other public services. And lenders have been less willing to invest in predominantly minority communities or have offered predatory loans and loan terms that stripped wealth from minority homeowners.
Over the past three decades, black-white segregation has declined steadily (although it remains high in many metropolitan areas) and immigration has transformed the country’s population, bringing greater racial and ethnic diversity to the neighborhoods of both blacks and whites. Hispanics and Asians are considerably less segregated from whites than are blacks. And most whites live in more diverse neighborhoods today than they did three decades ago.
Consistent with this trend, racial and ethnic prejudice is generally waning among Americans, and attitudes toward residential diversity are more open today—especially among young people. Most adults know and approve of the fact that federal law prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. A declining share of the population expresses prejudice against blacks or distaste for black neighbors. And recent surveys show a big decline in the share of whites opposed to living in communities with black neighbors.
We should celebrate this progress, but we’ve still got a very long way to go. Prejudice has by no means disappeared and, as our latest paired-testing studydocuments, minorities still face significant barriers to housing search, even when they are well-qualified as renters or homebuyers. Levels of black-white segregation remain high in many metro areas, and Hispanic-white segregation may be on the rise. Today, even middle-class minority neighborhoods have lower house price appreciation, fewer neighborhood amenities, lower-performing schools, and higher crime than white neighborhoods with comparable income levels. Volumes of research document the high costs of racial and ethnic segregation—not just for individuals but for society as a whole.
The levels and forms of present-day housing discrimination can’t fully explain the stubborn persistence of residential segregation and neighborhood inequality. Policymakers and fair housing practitioners must look beyond present-day discrimination to other contributing factors—many of which reflect the legacy of past discrimination and legally enforced segregation.
Information gaps, stereotypes and fears, local regulatory policies, and disparities in purchasing power all work together to perpetuate segregation today, even though many Americans—minority and white—say they want to live in more diverse neighborhoods. Meaningful reductions in neighborhood segregation and inequality can only be achieved if we tackle all these causal forces at the same time.
The evidence argues for a multipronged strategy that includes vigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination protections along with education—about the availability and desirability of diverse neighborhoods; local regulatory reforms and affordable housing development—to open up exclusive communities and preserve affordable options in gentrifying neighborhoods; neighborhood reinvestment—to equalize the quality of services, resources, and amenities in minority neighborhoods; and new incentives—to encourage and nurture stable diversity.
All these elements are essential if we want to achieve the fundamental goals of free and fair housing choice and healthy, opportunity-rich neighborhoods.
Yesterday, Secretary Donovan announcedthe findings from HUD's latest paired-testing study of discrimination against minority homeseekers. An Urban Institute team conducted the study, the third national paired-testing studywe've completed for HUD (see video).
What did we find?
When well-qualified minority homeseekers contact housing providers to inquire about recently advertised housing units, they generally are just as likely as equally qualified whites to get an appointment and learn about at least one available housing unit. However, when differences in treatment occur, white homeseekers are more likely to be favored than are minorities. Most important, minority homeseekers are told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than whites.
Here are the numbers:
Click to view the full infographic
Although the most blatant forms of housing discrimination (refusing to meet with a minority homeseeker or provide information about any available units) have declined since HUD's first national paired-testing study in 1977, the forms that persist (providing information about fewer units) raise the costs of housing search for minorities and restrict their housing options.
How did we produce these results?
In a paired test, two people, one white and the other minority, pose as equally qualified homeseekers and inquire about available homes or apartments. Paired testing originated to support the enforcement of federal fair housing protections, essentially catching discrimination in the act. Researchers have adapted the tool to systematically measure how often discrimination occurs across housing markets and what forms it takes.
Despite its power, paired testing can't capture all forms of discrimination that might occur during a housing search. For example, it doesn't encompass differences in advertising practices that may limit a homeseeker’s knowledge about available housing options. And it can't measure differences in treatment that might occur after an initial inquiry––when homeseekers submit applications, seek mortgage financing, or negotiate lease terms. Moreover, the latest results don't reflect the experience of the average or typical minority homeseeker, because testers presented themselves as unambiguously well-qualified for the advertised homes and apartments about which they inquired.
For all these reasons, the latest study probably understates the total level of discrimination that occurs in the marketplace today. Nonetheless, the long-term trends in patterns of discrimination suggest that the attitudes and actions of rental and sales agents have changed over time, and that fair housing enforcement and public education are working.
What do our latest results mean for policy?
Fair housing enforcement and education are still needed as long as significant discrimination persists. And today's discrimination is very difficult for victims to detect, so enforcement strategies can't rely primarily on individual complaints of suspected discrimination. HUD should encourage the local fair housing organizations it funds to conduct more proactive testing, especially in the sales market, where discrimination appears higher than in the rental market.
Proactive testing can reveal discriminatory practices that would otherwise go unpunished. And when housing providers know that testing is ongoing, they are more likely to comply with the law. In addition, more locally targeted testing may be needed to pinpoint the types of neighborhoods, housing providers, or homeseekers where discrimination is most prevalent. In particular, minority homeseekers with lower incomes, less wealth, weaker English language fluency, or blemished credit may face higher levels of discrimination than documented in this national study.
Finally, local fair housing organizations should expand and strengthen their relationships with Hispanic and Asian communities to tackle the discrimination experienced by all people of color. Historically, the fair housing movement has focused on discrimination against blacks. Although some local organizations have extended their scope in light of changing demographic realities, others have yet to do so.
What do these results tell us about the persistence of residential segregation and neighborhood inequality? I’ll have thoughts on that question tomorrow.
About 15 percent of Americans are living in poverty and many more experience one or more spells of poverty over the course of a year. Thanks to Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone’s new book, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,people are talking about this bleak reality and what to do about it.
Over the past few months, the two of us have been focusing on an even more distressing reality: the 6.6 percent of Americans—more than 20 million adults and children—who live in deep poverty.
Deep poverty is commonly defined as having cash income below half the poverty line—in 2012, that’s less than $1,000 a month for a family of four. Other measures change this picture slightly, but even the Census Bureau’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure puts deep poverty at about 5 percent after factoring in cash transfers, tax credits, and tax liabilities, as well as major expenses like the cost of commuting to work, out-of-pocket medical costs, and child support payments.
People suffering from deep poverty are diverse and their circumstances defy simple characterizations. Their needs reflect multiple and often interacting disadvantages. They include single mothers and their children, people who are homeless or formerly incarcerated, disabled veterans, and people with serious mental illnesses. They include many immigrants. While people of color have among the highest levels of poverty, the poor and deeply poor are predominantly white. About half of those living in deep poverty are under age 25. Most deeply poor adults aren’t working.
Many people in deep poverty face significant personal challenges: disabilities and other major health problems, very low levels of education and work skills, criminal background histories, and limited social networks that can buffer them in hard times. Any of these challenges makes working difficult and research shows that combinations of multiple challenges make it especially hard for people to escape deep poverty. They also make it hard to provide a stable and nurturing environment for children.
Over the course of months and years, many people cycle in and out of poverty. A job loss, a divorce, a natural disaster, or time away from work to care for a newborn or tend to an ill family member can all push a family into poverty—even deep poverty—temporarily. Many of these families climb back out of poverty fairly quickly. Indeed, about half the people who fall into poverty are poor for less than a year, and about three-quarters are poor for less than four years.
But about a third of people who become poor in a given year will remain poor for half or more of the next 10 years. Persistent poverty year after year is very debilitating. Children raised in persistently poor families have far worse outcomes later in life than those who were poor for just a year or two.
Poverty is, by definition, a lack of income. But deep and persistent poverty reflects deficits that are much more profound. Addressing them requires intensive and sustained supports that span conventional policy and programmatic silos. The work requirements and other conditions imposed by many of today’s federal safety-net programs may make sense for people experiencing short spells of poverty, but they are clearly failing to meet the needs of people in deep and persistent poverty.
As the nation tackles poverty in the aftermath of the Great Recession—and develops strategies that reflect new economic and geographic realities—let’s remember people living in deep and persistent poverty. The portfolio of anti-poverty tools deployed in any community should include the intensive, multi-faceted, and long-lasting supports needed by individuals and families trapped in deep and persistent poverty.
Photograph by JOAKIM ESKILDSEN from "Below the Line: Portraits of American Poverty," photo-essay commissioned by Time magazine, November 2011, and forthcoming in Joakim Eskildsen and Natsha Del Toro, American Realities (Steidl). Used with permission.
Kudos to Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone for igniting a new national conversation about poverty and place. Their book, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, highlights the fact that more poor people now live in America’s suburbs than in central cities. This comes as a surprise to many and shatters old assumptions about who should care about poverty and where solutions may lie.
Suburban poverty isn’t new, but the latest evidence about its prevalence should dispel outdated stereotypes of distressed (mostly minority) cities surrounded by affluent (mostly white) bedroom suburbs. American metros have been evolving away from this stereotype for decades but our thinking about poverty—and especially about poor communities—hasn’t kept up. Many of the public policies designed to combat poverty deliver help regardless of where people live. But those that target poor places mostly focus on the inner city.
Place still matters. Where we live largely determines where our kids go to school; the length and cost of our commute to work; how safe we can feel on our streets and in our parks; whether there’s a grocery store nearby that sells healthy food at affordable prices; and where we turn for public assistance, employment services, or social supports during tough times. To be effective, strategies for helping poor families stabilize their lives and climb out of poverty must meet them where they live and strengthen the opportunities there.
But that doesn’t mean everything poor people need should be delivered within the boundaries of their neighborhoods. Instead, the places they live and the helping hands nearby should connect to opportunities in the metropolitan economy as a whole. In other words, anti-poverty strategies should be “place conscious” rather than “place based.”
Race still matters too. Berube and Kneebone show that poor suburbanites are remarkably similar to poor people who live in cities. But they differ quite dramatically with respect to race and ethnicity. More than three-quarters of the city poor are people of color, compared with 56 percent of poor suburbanites. And people of color are far more likely than whites to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, most of which are still in cities.
The map below shows how the geography of poverty and race has played out in the Washington, DC region over the past two decades. Even though three-quarters of the region's poor live in the suburbs, poor blacks are much more likely to live in DC than either poor whites or poor Latinos.
Slide the bar to compare 1990, 2000, and the most current data (2005-09). You'll see the growth in suburban poverty, but you’ll also see that the spatial concentration of black poverty remains largely unchanged, while poor whites and Latinos are increasingly scattered across the region's neighborhoods.
In metros across the country, today’s poverty map reflects the legacy of discrimination, legally sanctioned segregation, and racial inequality. So as we develop the next generation of place-conscious antipoverty policies—policies that tackle today’s realities and engage suburbs as well as cities—we must acknowledge that legacy and address the persistent connections between poverty, place, and race.
Berube and Kneebone have gotten people talking about poverty and what to do about it. Let’s keep the conversation going, even though it’s sure to be complex and controversial.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has just released a very frank and thoughtful summary of lessons learned from its Making Connections Initiative, which focused funding and technical assistance on poor neighborhoods in 10 cities with the goal of improving outcomes for both people and places. One of the things I like best about this piece is that it doesn't sugarcoat the difficulties the initiative encountered or hide the more disappointing results. It acknowledges that Making Connections failed to achieve population-level improvements in family and child well-being, even though sites did succeed in implementing important new programs that improved the lives of individual families and kids.
I played a small part in the Making Connections Initiative, working on the NORC-Urban Institute team that designed, conducted, and analyzed an ambitious longitudinal survey of families living in the target neighborhoods. Casey's decision to invest in this expensive survey effort paid tremendous dividends, not only by providing information to the sites to help shape the work underway, but also by producing new field-building insights about the dynamic interactions between people and places. There's still a lot to learn from this unique data resource.
One of the important insights generated by the Making Connections survey is the critical importance of family mobility. Neighborhoods clearly matter to people's lives and life-chances, but that doesn't mean that "fixing" conditions within a neighborhood—school quality, healthcare for kids, job opportunities, or safety—automatically benefits the people living there. Families move back and forth across neighborhood boundaries; break apart and re-form; send their kids to out-of-boundary schools; and engage with religious, cultural, or family networks that transcend place. Increasingly, we're realizing that anti-poverty and family-strengthening initiatives have to be "place conscious" but not myopically "place based."
The design and implementation of Making Connections varied across sites and morphed considerably over time, introducing a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity into the task of defining its scope and assessing its effectiveness. But this reflected lessons learned from previous rounds of experimentation in the field of comprehensive community change efforts. Now the experience of Making Connections contributes to the body of knowledge from which the next generation of experimentation can draw.
We have to acknowledge that achieving meaningful improvements in the well-being of poor people and poor communities requires intense multi-faceted interventions, tailored to local circumstances and residents' priorities, responsive to change, and sustained over many years. There's no way such efforts can be formally evaluated using conventional methods. But they can hold themselves accountable by setting ambitious population-level outcome goals, being clear about how specific investments or activities are expected to advance these goals, and using data to find out what's working—and not working—to make progress toward them.
This may mean that one of the most important tasks for a place-conscious initiative is to build and support an enduring local capacity for inclusive, evidence-based collaboration around a shared set of goals. Building this kind of human infrastructure takes time (and money) and may not pay off immediately with tangible accomplishments. But if a community's residents, service providers, civic leaders, and public servants were able to work together respectfully over the long term, using data to assess progress and refine cross-sector strategies, we might begin to see the big improvements in peoples' lives that we seek.
Last week, my blog post explored the role investor-buyers play—for good or ill—in recovering housing markets like my Prince George’s County neighborhood. What about housing vouchers, aka Section 8 housing? I’ve studied the performance of the federal Housing Choice Voucher program for years but was still a little surprised to see a sign saying “We welcome Section 8” around the corner from my house.
Housing vouchers help low-income families pay the rent for housing available in the private market. Recipients choose the house or apartment where they want to live and contribute about 30 percent of their income toward rent, while the program pays the difference up to a locally defined “payment standard.” Today, the housing voucher program supplements rent payments for about 2.2 million low-income families and individuals nationwide.
One of the voucher program’s greatest virtues is that it gives recipients choices about where to live, rather than requiring them to live in a publicly subsidized housing project. And the program works best when it gives poor families the opportunity to live in good neighborhoods, where they can benefit from safe surroundings, well-performing schools, well-stocked grocery stores, and a healthy environment. My own research (along with others’) shows that when families who’ve used vouchers to escape from distressed, high-poverty neighborhoods can live (for several years) in low-poverty communities, their physical and mental health improves, parents work and earn more, and kids do better in school.
Often, people who live in middle-class, suburban neighborhoods object to the idea that properties in their neighborhood might accept vouchers. They fear that the arrival of subsidized renters will increase crime and undermine property values. But careful research has found these fears to be unfounded as long as the voucher program is properly administered. In fact, because vouchers provide landlords with reliable rent payments each month, they can support good property maintenance, contributing to the well-being of the surrounding neighborhood.
However, if the local public housing agency fails to effectively monitor and manage housing vouchers, they can sometimes play a role in neighborhood distress and decline. Specifically, local housing agencies should:
Reach out to encourage rental property owners in every neighborhood to accept vouchers, so recipients aren’t forced into just a few locations.
Make sure inspections, lease approvals, and rent payments all occur on time and with minimal red tape, so responsible landlords want to participate.
Monitor the locations of voucher holders to make sure they’re getting access to as many different neighborhoods as possible, rather than clustering in just a few.
Promptly investigate any community complaints about voucher holders or landlords and require participating landlords to maintain their properties and enforce lease terms.
Identify both poor-performing landlords and tenants who violate lease terms and exclude them from participating further in the program.
Prince George’s housing agency scores “high” on HUD’s management assessment scale. So I’m optimistic that housing vouchers will help recovering neighborhoods like mine, at the same time they benefit low-income families struggling to find affordable housing in healthy communities.