New Neighborhood Data Offers Clues without Conclusions

A map used by the Seattle Housing Authority identifies neighborhoods, shaded in purple, where housing officials and researchers believe that poor children have particularly good odds of rising out of poverty.  Credit:  Seattle Housing Authority

Seattle    Flying into Seattle I had in my hands an article about neighborhoods in Seattle and how they influenced, and perhaps determined, the future of children raised in those neighborhoods.  The article was based on Census data tracked assiduously by Bureau statisticians and researchers from Brown and Harvard Universities.  When we think about predictive data, Seattle’s Amazon is also hard to avoid since the sites attempt to anticipate what you might possible buy from what you have bought in the past in an exercise that also seems fated.   Certainly, we could all agreed that this was just coincidence.

The same might be said of this huge data reveal.

The data seems invaluable.  Following children for years, particularly those born between 1978 and 1983 and tracking them from the census tracks they inhabited then to where they are now, including in one April Fools Day snapshot of time, the data crunchers were able to map with precision the neighborhoods where lower income children had the prospects of bettering their parents with higher income and possibly escaping poverty.

The article in the New York Times wasn’t really about Seattle of course or Charlotte, North Carolina, the other city that they highlighted.  This was also coincidence, though unlikely random.  Housing authority officials were quoted in both cities.  Using the data there seemed to be a plan to issue Section 8 vouchers that would attempt to place families with children in these seemingly better neighborhoods.  The value of the rent vouchers would have to be topped off though, because many of these neighborhoods with better schools and services were more expensive or post-gentrification, we might say.  The article didn’t mention that this HUD pilot of increasing voucher value to market rate in order not to ghettoize the placement of families is one of the programs that Trump’s HUD Secretary Ben Carson has tried to suspend and terminate.

Despite mentioning that in some census tracks federal and other programs have spent literally half-a-billion dollars, ostensibly to improve their prospects in bettering the conditions of lower income families, there’s no data that verifies that figure, other than saying community block grants and major housing developments had underpinned the expenditures.  I couldn’t read that without wondering whether those monies had been usurped for market rate, mixed-income developments or other wild developer re-purposing of CDBG monies from their intended use for lower income families to building castles in the sky for politicians and their donors.  The examples of both are legion!

The mystery that was at the heart of the data is still unsolved.  Why would the outcomes for moving forward be so different only a block away in the same school districts and with similar demographic characteristics?  Additionally, given the waiting list for housing vouchers in cities throughout the country, clearly there is no anti-poverty plan that would move everyone into these neighborhoods that have managed to stand up taller, so what does the data say about how to make existing neighborhoods better?  I don’t even want to mention that as more lower income families would be moved in, what would keep the higher income families from moving out?

There’s something going on here.  The data will surely help set a baseline, but until we know more and then do more in these neighborhoods to create change, we’re left with lots of clues, but no sure conclusions.

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Terrible Idea of the Day: Evict Public Housing Tenants!

New Orleans     Almost everyone else in America knows that we have a national affordable housing crisis.  Maybe someone in Washington could take a minute out of their day pop by or send an email to Dr. Ben Carson, the head of Trump’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) operation responsible for housing and give him a clue about the housing dilemma facing lower income families that is his responsibility by law.

Not having a clue, Carson is now proposing to take several draconian steps to punish the poor in public housing.  On one hand he is trying to time-limit public housing so that it is a temporary benefit rather than long term based on income.  This proposal affects millions of low income families.  Work requirements would be part of the package.  On the other hand, Carson wants to triple the rents of the poorest of the families in public housing or benefiting from section 8 housing support vouchers in private housing by raising the minimum rent from $50 to $150 over a period of time.  This proposal over time would hurt 750,000 people according to HUD.

I have to wonder where Carson and HUD, along with their governmental pushers and enablers, think that people will go if they are priced or timed out of public housing? Perhaps the streets?  No, that wouldn’t work.  The rich and politicians don’t like vast and increasing numbers of homeless on the streets.  The only thing certain is that they will hope and pray that the poor are invisible to them, which seems the only policy that has their full commitment.  But, wait, I must be pretending that they care about the consequences of these policies rather than allowing them to be purely vindictive.  My bad!

The puppet master for this proposal now being mouthed by Carson seems to be budget director Mick Mulvaney.  Yes, Mick Mulvaney, the same public servant who is doing double duty trying to destroy the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.  He rivals President Trump these days in dominating the news cycle.  Today he was not only trying to destroy public housing supports, but he was also trying to block public access to the CFPB’s popular database of complaints from consumers.  Even better he was revealing his “pay to play” policy while he was a congressman by meeting with lobbyists first and foremost if they had donated to his campaign.  He offered this obvious insight to a group of bankers about why they needed to put more dollars into buying other congressmen if they wanted to gut the CFPB and Dodd-Frank.

There’s a lesson here of course.  After decades of dismantling public housing, millions stuck on waiting lists around the country for section 8 vouchers which are not an entitlement, the crash of the real estate construction market after the housing speculation bubble burst, the creation of the credit desert and slowdown of construction financing for affordable housing, rising rents and record eviction rates, the problem turns out to be that these damn poor people didn’t pool enough money and food stamps together to pay lobbyists and bribe politicians like Mulvaney with campaign contributions.

Darned, why didn’t we think of that!

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