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Housing and Urban Planning (Research)

The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of Its Troubles

In August 2014, a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. Michael Brown’s death and the resulting protests and racial tension brought considerable attention to that town. Observers who had not been looking closely at our evolving demographic patterns were surprised to see ghetto conditions we had come to associate with inner cities now duplicated in a formerly white suburban community: racially segregated neighborhoods with high poverty and unemployment, poor student achievement in overwhelmingly black schools, oppressive policing, abandoned homes, and community powerlessness.

Media accounts of how Ferguson became Ferguson have typically explained that when African Americans moved to this suburb (and others like it), “white flight” followed, abandoning the town to African Americans who were trying to escape poor schools in the city. The conventional explanation adds that African Americans moved to a few places like Ferguson, not the suburbs generally, because prejudiced real estate agents steered black homebuyers away from other white suburbs. And in any event, those other suburbs were able to preserve their almost entirely white, upper-middle- class environments by enacting zoning rules that required only expensive single family homes, the thinking goes.

No doubt, private prejudice and suburbanites’ desire for homogenous affluent environments contributed to segregation in St. Louis and other metropolitan areas. But these explanations are too partial, and too conveniently excuse public policy from responsibility. A more powerful cause of metropolitan segregation in St. Louis and nationwide has been the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises.

Seamless Transit


SPUR identifies the barriers the Bay Area needs to overcome in order to improve the transit experience for riders.

The Bay Area economy and labor market is increasingly regional: 29 percent of Bay Area commuters cross a county boundary to get to work each day. These long commutes, many of which traverse the bay, put incredible stress on constrained transportation corridors. Two-thirds of Bay Area commuters drive to work alone, creating significant congestion on the region’s freeways and bridges.  Dramatic growth in employer-run shuttles over the last few years demonstrates the demand for alternatives, both to car travel and to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain, which are running short on room for passengers. As people move further out to find affordable places to live, the expectation is that the use of regional travel will grow.

For these reasons and others, such as managing sprawl and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Bay Area invests heavily in transit. It is spending $21 billion over the next 25 years to build public transit infrastructure and $159 billion to operate and maintain the transit system. Despite similar expenditures in the past, overall transit ridership has not been growing in the Bay Area. Download the report using the link below.

Foreclosure in California, A Crisis of Compliance

Assessor-recorderThe City and County of San Francisco’s Office of the Assessor?Recorder retained Aequitas Compliance Solutions, Inc. to review 382 residential mortgage loan transactions (the “subject loans”) that resulted in foreclosure sales that occurred from January 2009 through October 2011.1 Over this period, there were 2,405 foreclosure sales. The subject loans thus represent approximately 16% of the total. (See Appendix B – Methodology.) We analyzed the subject loans to determine the mortgage industry’s compliance with applicable laws. Specifically, we focused our analysis on important topics relating to six Subject Areas: • Assignments • Notice of Default • Substitution of Trustee • Notice of Trustee Sale • Suspicious Activities Indicative of Potential Fraud • Conflicts Relating to MERS Our Subject Areas and the topics we explore therein may not be exhaustive. Nonetheless, we believe our analysis presents an accurate picture of the nature and frequency of the mortgage industry’s performance respecting compliance with important aspects of California’s nonjudicial foreclosure laws. Overall, we identified one or more irregularities in 99% of the subject loans. In 84% of the loans, we identified what appear to be one or more clear violations of law.

Building Sustainable, Inclusive Communities


HUDBy David Rusk

HUD’s new “Sustainable Communities Initiative” (SCI) represents the best of the new administration – looking forward creatively towards a new metropolitan future, and crossing bureaucratic silos to engage transportation policy, environmental policy, and housing policy in the same program. However, the SCI program also demonstrates the potential pitfalls of trying to move progressive policies without engaging the real continuing divisions of race and class in our society. We believe that the SCI program has the potential to advance the goal of racially and economically integrated and environmentally sustainable regions. However, to achieve this goal, the program needs to take these issues on explicitly. We are encouraged by recent comments made by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who all stated, in effect, that “sustainable must be equitable” at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference on February 2010. That commitment was memorably reinforced by HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims in his inspiring remarks to conclude the conference. HUD and its partners, DOT and EPA, have been provided with very broad latitude in designing the SCI planning grant program through the very general explanatory language of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of December 16, 2009; thus, in terms of developing national models for achieving both greater social justice and enhanced environmental sustainability, HUDDOT- EPA must set the bar very high for the pilot planning grant program – and must take into account their mutual obligation to affirmatively further fair housing in any federal program affecting housing and urban development.

Fostering Equitable Foreclosure Recovery


Policy Liink - Foreclosures

The foreclosure crisis, which began in 2006 and is ongoing, has left few communities untouched and has been particularly devastating for low-income communities and communities of color. By the time the crisis abates, 10 million homeowners will have lost their homes to foreclosure. Many of them will lose their standing in the middle class and suffer tremendous economic and personal losses. But the crisis does not only affect those who undergo foreclosures themselves. Foreclosures also affect neighborhoods, dragging down the prices of nearby homes, dampening the housing market, and draining cash- strapped municipalities of precious resources. In many hard-hit neighborhoods, another destabilizing force is the wave of investors who swept in and bought much of the distressed property stock. Foreclosures also affect the economy, since strong neighborhoods are integral to the economic health of the regions in which they are located. In the face of the crisis, communities and consumer advocacy organizations have organized around a range of strategies at a variety of scales and points in the foreclosure cycle, including preventing further foreclosures, protecting tenants living in foreclosed homes, holding banks accountable, and reclaiming foreclosed properties for community benefit. They also have taken action to reform the broader financial system that created and perpetuated the crisis.

Their advocacy helped shape the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, created in July 2010 to write and enforce new, transparent standards for mortgages and other financial products. At a time when federal programs are on the chopping block, these organizations have fought against cuts to critical homeownership counseling and foreclosure recovery programs.

While these efforts have been important, too few people have been engaged in this policy debate. All residents have a stake in how their communities recover from the foreclosure crisis, and all should be involved in the search for solutions. Those working to reduce poverty and increase economic and social inclusion, in particular, should contribute their voices to the ongoing discussions and needed reforms.
This report provides essential information to inform policy discussions about foreclosure recovery.

Suburbanization of Poverty in the Bay Area

FRBDespite its persistent association with the "inner city," poverty has shifted toward the suburbs in the San Francisco Bay Area over the past decade. Using data from the 2000 census and the 2005-2009 ACS 5-year estimates, this research brief examines the changing geography of poverty in the Bay Area and its implications for the community development field. Using data from U.S. Census Bureau, this research brief analyzes the changing geography of poverty in the Bay Area, yielding the following conclusions: Household poverty rates have risen across the Bay Area, both in urban and suburban areas. The Bay Area’s total household poverty rate increased 1.1 percentage points during the period of analysis, from 2000 to 2009. The population in poverty rose faster in suburban census tracts and varied across racial groups and nativity status. The number of people living in poverty rose 16 percent in the suburbs, compared to 7 percent in urban areas. Blacks and Hispanics saw the greatest percentage growth in suburban poverty, as did the native?born population. The share of the poor living in suburban tracts has increased across all racial groups, but the change is highest among Blacks. The share of the poor Black population living in the suburbs increased more than 7 percentage points, whereas the next highest group, Asians, increased 2 percentage points. Changes in the percent of urban and suburban residents in poverty also varied between racial categories and nativity status. Poverty rates increased across almost all groups – except Asians and the foreign?born population living in suburban areas. The poverty rates for suburban Blacks and urban Hispanics each rose more than two percentage points. Access to transit decreased for the population in poverty. While the percent of people living within 0.5 miles of a rail station did not change significantly for the total population, it did decrease 1.5 percentage points for the poor population. Furthermore, the percentage of poor people living more than 4 miles from a rail station increased 3 percentage points.


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