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Quality of Life Archive
Nancy La Vigne Laura Pacifici
| Posted: May 17th, 2013
For years, lawmakers on Capitol Hill watched as the federal prison system continued to grow. But as the federal government increasingly tightens its belt through furloughs and budget cuts, Congressional leaders are turning their attention to curbing this unsustainable growth.
This issue is increasingly receiving bipartisan support, as policymakers from across the political spectrum join together to take action. The Chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for federal prison expenditures, Republican Frank Wolf, has plans to join with the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Chaka Fattah, to create a task force to assess and identify ways to reduce prison population and spending growth.
The House Judiciary Committee also recently launched a bipartisan task force—dubbed the Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013—to review and streamline the nearly 4,500 federal offenses in the criminal code.
As they begin this work, policymakers are confronted with a bloated and ever-expanding system. In fiscal year 2013, for example, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) commanded a 25 percent share of the Department of Justice’s overall budget, representing a 4.2 percent increase from fiscal year 2012. If current rates of growth in the BOP’s budget continue, this agency is projected to consume nearly 30 percent of the DOJ’s budget by 2020.
The growth in the BOP’s portion of the budget is mirrored by dramatic increases in the federal prison population. The BOP population is now nearly 10 times what it was in 1980. In addition to posing substantial costs to taxpayers, the expanding BOP prison population prompts concerns about overcrowded facilities and the disproportionate impact of incarceration on certain subpopulations and communities.
So what can federal policymakers do to stem the tide of mass incarceration, saving scarce resources that could be better used to prevent cuts to essential services, such as federal law enforcement and state and local grants for drug courts, reentry programs, and gang reduction initiatives?
They can start by looking at the two main drivers of the growth in the federal prison population: increasing numbers of prisoners and longer sentence lengths. In particular, the increase in time served by drug offenders—who make up half of the entire BOP population today—was the biggest factor in the growth of the federal prison population between 1998 and 2010.
Reducing the prison population requires policies that both divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison and impose back-end sentence reductions for those already incarcerated. While the BOP plays a key role in implementing some of the back-end changes, its ability to do so on a large scale is limited by, and dependent upon, statutes and budget constraints controlled by Washington lawmakers.
Moreover, making policy changes to curb federal prison growth requires input and support from a wide array of federal criminal justice stakeholders, such as judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections officials, and victims’ advocates. Buy-in from these key decisionmakers will be essential to the success of attempts to drive down the federal prison population.
Levenworth Federal Prison, Map data ©2013 Google, DigitalGlobe
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: Federal, incarcerated, inmates, MetroTrends, politics, population, prison, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Laura Pacifici John Roman
| Posted: May 15th, 2013
Cities are actively searching for ways to reduce blight.
Abandoned properties and vacant lots abound in decaying Rust Belt neighborhoods struggling with manufacturing losses and entrenched segregation. The problem is no less serious in the Sun Belt, where overzealous developers left neighborhoods half-built and overconfident consumers now face waves of foreclosures.
And in every city there are investment property owners playing the moral hazard game—they will only clean up their property when enough others do so that they can profit.
Unfortunately, cities have few effective ways to fight blight. Although cities want to reduce the number and impact of blighted places and have owners of vacant or underutilized properties clean them up, they must tread cautiously. The worst case scenario is that they use too big a hammer, the owner walks away, and the burden is left to the city to develop and maintain these spaces.
But there may be a new tool in the war on blight: a relatively new financial instrument known as the social impact bond (SIB). The idea behind SIBs is that private investors, not the government, bear the risk for large-scale, pricey endeavors designed to build and maintain America’s social service infrastructure.
Social impact bonds are being used to inject private funds into public-sector programs to provide prevention services to vulnerable individuals.
Last year saw the first SIB transaction in the United States when the Bloomberg Foundation and Goldman Sachs invested nearly $10 million in a program aiming to reduce the recidivism rate of young men held at the New York City jail at Rikers Island.
If the program is successful—that is, if the recidivism rate is less than would be the case without these services—New York City will re-pay Goldman its investment plus a profit. If the program fails, Goldman will not be compensated.
SIBs are currently being used to invest in people, not places. But, for cities looking to innovate, SIBs may provide a promising model for funding reclamation of blighted areas that cities inherit or want to develop.
Under this model, private capital would be used to support revitalization projects, and cities would provide investors a cut of the revenue if the developments prove profitable.
Using SIBs this way has some advantages over people-focused prevention programs. Unlike the Rikers SIB, where ‘savings’ from reduced recidivism are unlikely to flow back in the government’s coffers, cities would clearly identify savings in development and maintenance costs, plus reap the reward of increased revenue from more successful uses of now dormant properties.
This is exactly what happened in Nashville when the city joined with private investors to revitalize an industrial wasteland into a mixed-use community known as The Gulch, which is one of the country’s first LEED-certified “green” neighborhoods. According to a report by Smart Growth America and Strategic Economics, The Gulch’s revenue substantially outweighed its development costs.
The Gulch produced over $115,000 per acre in net revenue and generated $3,300 per unit in property taxes, sales taxes, and additional revenue each year, but cost the city only $1,400 per unit in annual maintenance fees for infrastructure upkeep as well as fire and police response services.
So the calculus here is simple. The SIB funds the takeover of problem properties. Then, the city works with commercial developers to design a vision for the space that does more than turn a quick profit, with the SIB investment covering the difference between a socially beneficial project and one focused solely on profit maximization.
The government receives more than twice the revenue that it pays for maintenance, guaranteeing a long-term stream of revenue that is more than enough to pay back the SIB principal plus a profit, and to finance future investments.
Development of blighted areas is both a top priority and a risky financial endeavor for cash-strapped cities. But American cities would benefit immensely by incentivizing the development of these areas through social impact bonds.
Abandoned houses photo from Shutterstock
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: blight, Bloomberg Foundation, cities, development, Goldman Sachs, john roman, laura pacifici, nashville, neighborhoods, SIB, Smart Growth America, social impact bonds, Strategic Economics, the gulch Add a Comment »
| Posted: May 15th, 2013
In recent weeks, the growing economic disparities between younger and older Americans, as well as between whites and families of color, received a lot of media coverage. Yesterday, my colleagues Signe-Mary McKernan, Eugene Steuerle, and I told the Treasury Department’s Financial Literacy and Education Commission what we know about these trends and what we think can be done to address them.
The commission is charged with the very important role of educating the public about the complexities of personal finance, and as a part of that, maintaining an informative web site and hotline. We hope the knowledge we shared today can help the commission in its vital mission.
So first things first: how wide are the wealth gaps? Pretty wide.
Let’s start with a broad look across the wealth distribution.
Using data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, we saw that the average American family’s wealth doubled between 1983 and 2010. However we also saw that only the wealthiest households saw anything like that level of growth.
Indeed, while the top 20 percent of wealth holders had an average wealth increase of 120 percent between ’83 and ’10, middle-wealth families only got 13 percent wealthier. On the other end of the distribution, the bottom 20 percent actually saw their relative wealth plummet, from an average debt of $400 in 1983 to an average debt of $17,000 in 2010.
Looking at the data through the prism of race shows a similar gap.
As white people transition from their 30s to their 60s, their average household wealth continually builds. Families of color, on the other hand, don’t have the same increasing trajectory and the disparity gets more pronounced the older people get.
For example, when Americans are in their 30s and 40s, whites have about three-and-a-half times more wealth than African Americans and Hispanics. By the time they reach their early to mid-60s, near the peak of their wealth accumulation, whites have about seven times the wealth of these groups.
The question is why? The answer is that African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to acquire traditional wealth building assets, such as homes and retirement savings.
Getting on a firm path to wealth building can be more difficult for families of color. African American and Hispanic families, for example, are about five times less likely than white families to receive large gifts or inheritances that could be used for major family investments like a down payment on a home or attending college.
The data also show that age is an important factor in wealth accumulation disparities.
Members of the baby boom and silent generations on average acquired a lot more wealth than Americans who were the same age a quarter century ago. For example, the average wealth of today’s Americans aged 56 to 64 is more than twice the amount held by people in the same age range in 1983.
Today’s Americans under 40 haven’t done nearly so well. People in their late-20s to late-30s have 21 percent lower wealth than those in the same age range 25 years ago.
So why do younger Americans have less wealth than prior generations had at their age?
The answers have to do with home equity and student loans.
- Home equity fell by roughly 60 percent between 2007 and 2010 and a lot of younger Americans bought their first home just before the housing crash, when home prices were at their peak, or close to it. So when the housing market crashed, these homebuyers were the hardest hit.
- Ranking only behind mortgage debt, student loans are the second largest source of debt for today’s Americans in their late-20s to late-30s. By way of comparison, student loans were a relatively small component of debt for their counterparts in the 1980s.
And large student loan debts can be especially debilitating by delaying traditional wealth-building behaviors, such as: homeownership, retirement savings, and building a rainy day fund.
So what can be done to help these vulnerable groups?
A great place for the Financial Literacy and Education Commission to focus is on finding innovative ways to prevent young Americans from burying themselves in student loan debts that are likely to prevent them from making wealth-accumulating investments after they finish school.
But teaching financial literacy at younger ages is also critical. The earlier in life a person begins to build wealth, the more time those assets have to compound and become more valuable. So the key is to teach more people to make sound financial decisions earlier in life.
Building a national financial education strategy that permeates throughout our financial and academic institutions can get more people off on the right foot and headed towards a more secure financial future.
Filed under: Economy, Quality of Life |Tags: caroline ratcliffe, changing wealth of americans, eugene steuerle, Homeownership, race, signe-mary mckernan, Urban Institute, wealth 1 Comment »
| Posted: May 14th, 2013
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.
Neighborhood photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: Annie. E. Casey, low-income, making connections, MetroTrends, poverty, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
Molly M. Scott
| Posted: May 13th, 2013
In recent years, national foundations and policy organizations as well as cities across the country have focused their efforts on advocating for and designing interventions for “disconnected youth”—that is, young people usually between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor going to school. With good reason too—these young people face tremendous obstacles as they transition to adulthood and are at very high risk of getting stuck in the poverty trap. However, focusing exclusively on this one measure of youth vulnerability can blind us to the unique issues of our fast-growing immigrant communities.
For example, consider three different communities in the state of Maryland—Cumberland, Landover, and Langley Park. All have roughly 20,000 residents and poverty rates between 15 and 21 percent. But their underlying demographics are very different. In Cumberland, native born Caucasians are the most prominent group, while in Landover most residents are African American. In Langley Park, Latino immigrants and their children make up the largest segment of the population.
If you look at the numbers from the 2006-2011 American Community Survey (ACS) on enrollment in school and employment status for young men between the ages of 16 to 19, you quickly start to see clear differences across these three communities.
About the same proportion of young people is dedicated exclusively to school in all three places, but while youth in the African American and Caucasian communities have higher rates of disconnection, they also more frequently stay in school if they choose to work. In contrast, nearly 40 percent of all young men in Langley Park withdraw from school altogether to seek employment.
Narrowly focusing on the “disconnection” statistics, folks in the policy and foundation worlds alike have commented to me on several occasions things like, “We don’t have to worry about Latino youth as much. They’re really not that vulnerable.” But these assumptions overlook the tough realities of many of these youth’s lives.
Immigrant kids often need to grow up too fast. In focus groups and interviews with immigrant families, I routinely hear stories about young people dropping out of school early to take on very adult responsibilities, even when they’re doing as well or better than their peers in school. They want to help support their families and make their way in the world, often with little or no help from our traditional federal safety net programs.
We can all learn something from their work ethic and commitment. The only problem is that they don’t have the education they need to escape intergenerational poverty. Nearly 80 percent of the young men not in school in Langley Park lack a high school diploma, compared with only around half of similar Landover and Cumberland youth.
Unlike our more established Caucasian and African American communities, the problem for the children of immigrants often isn’t too much disconnection. It’s too much connection to low-skill employment too early, at the cost of adequate education and long-term economic stability.
Given that immigrant youth will account for the great majority of our population growth in the coming decades, we can’t afford to ignore this important difference. We must tailor our policy responses to reflect the diversity of youth experiences.
Filed under: Quality of Life Add a Comment »
| Posted: May 10th, 2013
Everyone agrees that the firearm debate would benefit from better data. In the last few weeks, several new data points have been released. Like much social science, the data show important correlations, but not necessarily causal connections. Thus, generalizing from these data is difficult. Here is what I think you would say about each, if you were trying to be scrupulously objective (which I am).
Let me begin with the most controversial.
Three days ago, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a study showing that firearm homicides are way down, as are the number of non-fatal shootings. The report has not gotten much attention, only a handful of articles that are more partisan bickering then news. I’m surprised, because you don’t have to look at the graphic below for very long before a critical relationship becomes obvious; that is, that the period when firearms violence declines the fastest matches almost exactly to the period when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was in place.
In 1994, when the ban was enacted, there were 17,527 firearm homicides in the United States. In 2004, when the ban expired, there were 11,624. In 2011, after seven years with no assault weapon ban, there were 11,101 firearm homicides, virtually unchanged from 2004. If you adjust for population growth, the change from 2004 to 2011 is slightly bigger: from 2.5 per 100,000 to 2.3 per 100,000.
As always, beware of the logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc (“before this, because of this”), which is just a fancy way of saying correlation does not equal causation. However, if you back the series out a little bit more in terms of years, you get an even more startling correlation. While we would like to look at firearms-related homicides before 1993, data on whether a homicide was caused by a firearm only go back to 1993. Therefore, we have to rely on homicide alone. But, since the decline in all homicides (my calculation) and the decline in firearms homicides were both 39 percent, it seems a fair assumption that the rate of homicide change approximates the rate of firearm homicide change.
When you extend the series back to 1960, the period where the assault weapon ban was in place is clearly the time period with the largest decline.
Of course, it must be noted that a lot of other things were going on: prison populations were growing rapidly, the crack epidemic and associated violence was declining, 20 years had passed since lead was removed from gasoline and abortion was legalized. And there are many other explanations. The problem is that many of these relationships are virtually impossible to unpack—for instance, prison population’s increase was caused by increased crime, so figuring out the effect of mass incarceration on crime is a tricky business at best.
And the evidence about the effect of the Federal Assault Weapons ban on gun crime is pretty weak (the evaluation of the Ban reported that the violence reductions were due to restrictions on the size of magazines). But it sure is a striking coincidence.
Unpacking Pew and polling data
On the same day as the BJS report, researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts released some analysis of similar data, along with poll results about American's perceptions about whether the number of firearms-related crimes is growing or shrinking. The short version is that firearms crimes are decreasing, but the public thinks they are getting worse.
On April 8, the New York Times published an op-ed from two Democratic pollsters that reveals some startling facts about the gulf between gun law perceptions and reality. They summarize it quite succinctly: “Americans don’t really know what gun laws are on the books and [we] falsely construe that to mean they don’t want common-sense gun laws passed — when they clearly do.”
The findings of that poll are this: By a slight majority, Americans favor better enforcement of existing laws over new gun control laws. However, among those who favor better enforcement, about half believe background checks are currently required to buy a gun at a gun show or in a private transaction (which is only true in a handful of states).
A majority of those polled believe a gun cannot be sold to someone on a terrorist watch list (it can). One-third believe law enforcement is notified when large numbers of guns are purchased in a short time (it is not). Almost half believe ammunition cannot be legally bought over the internet (it can).
The problem, however, is that the pollsters are partisan and many wonder what that means for their results. There is no analogous poll by a Republican pollster, and the nonpartisan Pew poll does not ask these questions.
Finally, deep in the Pew data, there is support for a hypothesis first put forth by noted criminologist Alfred Blumstein: that young African-American youth with cheap handguns were responsible for much of the spike in violence in the 1980’s. Indeed, the largest declines in firearms-related homicides are among 12 to 17-year-olds, and declines among African Americans are larger than any other group. But without having the data, it would be an ecological fallacy to generalize to individuals from these general trends.
So what then are we to make of all these new data? My opinions—and they are only that—are that:
- The Federal Assault Weapons Ban’s contribution to the crime decline was real, but modest (but it could be made bigger).
- The opinion poll is probably right that Americans believe all kinds of laws are on the books that aren’t.
- Blumstein’s hypothesis is probably correct.
But until we can get better data on the correlation between violent crime and the availability of fire arms, we’ll all be relying too heavily on opinion and partisan rancor.
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: assault weapon ban, firearms, gun, homicide, MetroTrends, Urban Institute 1 Comment »
| Posted: May 10th, 2013
While we like to think of motherhood as a happy, even idyllic, state, in fact it is a stressful and difficult time for many women. Depression is widespread, particularly among low-income mothers. Studies at the Urban Institute find that 8.8 percent of all low-income mothers with young children experienced a major depressive episode in the past year and more than two-thirds of them were having difficulty coping with daily tasks.
Maternal depression is a two-generation problem because the children of depressed mothers also suffer. In the most severe circumstances, they may be neglected or abused. Further, these problems are often hidden due to stigma associated with mental health problems or fear of losing custody of children.
The good news is that when depression is identified, there are many effective treatments, including talk therapies and drug therapies. However, 37.3 percent of depressed low-income mothers with infants reported that they did not get any treatment. An important reason for the lack of mental health treatment is that low-income mothers often lack health insurance coverage or have poor access to mental health providers.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers the best hope for helping these mothers get treatment because it will provide new insurance coverage to many who are uninsured. A recent study from Oregon published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that providing Medicaid to previously uninsured low-income adults reduced their depression. It is too soon to know how many states will choose to expand Medicaid, but about 2.7 million currently uninsured parents nationwide would be eligible.
The ACA also includes provisions to improve the connection between primary care and mental health care. These two sectors have historically been in separate “silos,” with little communication between providers. Low-income mothers often have frequent contact with their child’s provider, but pediatricians may not have been trained (or do not have time) to screen for maternal depression and provide mental health counseling and drug therapy for adults. New initiatives (some funded by the ACA) are experimenting with placing counselors or “health navigators” in primary care providers’ offices to help mothers find the help they need.
Depression is a serious problem that many mothers are struggling with now, but we have reason for optimism that health reform will improve their opportunities for getting treatment.
Depressed Mother image from Shutterstock
Filed under: Quality of Life Add a Comment »
| Posted: May 9th, 2013
An uncomplicated birth experience resulting in a healthy baby was all I wanted when I became pregnant. I decided that the best way to achieve this was to seek prenatal care from a midwife, understanding anecdotally that midwives advocate for minimal intervention and a natural, well-supported birth experience.
In late March, I achieved my goal—giving birth naturally to a healthy baby boy. I fit the typical profile of women cared for by midwives: white, highly educated, and relatively affluent. I have no medical, emotional, and social history that would put me at greater risk of complications; plus, I have already given birth naturally to two healthy children.
Research on the impacts of midwife care on moms and babies have typically studied women like me, since women like me are more likely to be seen by a midwife. Many argue that this has confounded findings that midwifery care results in improved birth outcomes. However, African American women and low-income women, who are disproportionately more likely to experience maternal and infant complications during birth, might actually benefit the most from approaches endorsed by midwives.
A study of the Family Health and Birth Center (FHBC) in Washington, D.C. offered us the opportunity to test this hypothesis. The FHBC is a freestanding birth center designed to provide comprehensive midwife-directed care to low-income, mainly African American women who live in the District’s Wards 7 and 8. Care delivered here is designed to meet the varied needs of women at risk of having poor birth outcomes because of stress, inadequate social and emotional support, poor education, and poverty.
Our recent research, which compares outcomes for women cared for at the birth center with similar women who gave birth in D.C., finds that women who received prenatal care at the FHBC were more likely to carry their babies to term, less likely to have a C-section, and, on average, had babies that weighed more than the babies of similar women in the District who were not cared for at the birth center.
These findings suggest that, by reducing C-sections, increasing average birth weight, and prolonging gestational age, the care delivered at the FHBC results in improved or as good maternal and infant outcomes. Given rising health care costs and a continued trend of increasing C-sections nationwide, these results suggest that alternative models of maternity care can be safe and effective in promoting non-interventionist approaches, can improve maternal and infant outcomes, and perhaps address the seemingly intractable problem of low-birth weight and preterm babies in the United States. Using this model more often among women with low medical-risk pregnancies, including those with increased social risk factors, could contribute to better outcomes for mothers and their babies.
Baby image from Shutterstock.
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: birth, child care, health, low-income, MetroTrends, midwife, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
| Posted: May 9th, 2013
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.
Filed under: Government, Quality of Life Add a Comment »
Nancy La Vigne
| Posted: May 8th, 2013
Talk with any mother behind bars and it won’t take long before she starts sharing about her kids. Whether parent to a two-year old or a twenty-two year old, an incarcerated woman’s attachments to her children are typically quite strong. As part of our longitudinal study of prisoner reentry in Texas, we asked incarcerated women what they were most looking forward to after leaving prison. The overwhelming response was “reuniting with my children.” The number-one response for male prisoners? A tie between “calling my own shots” and “pizza.”
This stark contrast between how women and men view the prospect of returning home illustrates one of many differences in their respective incarceration experiences. Although all prisoners face major hurdles during the reentry process, several unique factors make women’s challenges distinct from those of men:
- Women are more likely to get prison time for property and drug possession offenses. They often have serious, long-term substance abuse histories and are more likely than men to have mental and physical health problems, such as clinical depression, asthma, and sexually transmitted diseases, none of which are conducive to a smooth transition.
- Women often struggle to secure stable employment and housing following their release from prison. They are much less likely than men to have been employed before prison, to receive any job training while in prison, or to participate in job placement services upon their release. These employment challenges may thwart efforts to find and maintain housing; 59 percent of women had moved at least once in the eight to ten months after release, compared to only 39 percent of men.
Despite these obstacles, most incarcerated women have a key asset that their male counterparts often lack: strong ties to their children. Our research found that women with minor children are more likely to have jobs and less likely to use drugs following release from prison, suggesting their children provide a strong incentive to lead clean and law abiding lives.
The power of these strong maternal ties suggests that policies and programs that maintain and enhance contact with children behind bars are crucial to successful reentry. Policies should be implemented that allow mothers to stay in close contact with their children and family members while they are incarcerated, such as housing them in prison close to their communities, creating family friendly visitation environments, and allowing for flexible visitation schedules.
By promoting strong family ties, policy makers can help women navigate the challenges they face during reentry and enable them to return to what they look forward to the most: reuniting with their children.
Image from California Prison Industry Authority
Filed under: Quality of Life |Tags: jail, MetroTrends, mothers, prison, reentry, Urban Institute, women Add a Comment »