Category Archives: Laws & Public Policy
As poverty increases, affordable housing, access to public transportation, and linkages between housing, transportation, and job centers become more important for RVA region.
The recent New York Times story about suburban poverty is getting a lot of attention. The story notes the shifting growth of poverty from the urban core of New York to its suburban peripheries, but it’s based around Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, a book released today by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube at the Brookings Institution. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book yet (yet!), but this trend came up in some data I was looking at recently. In Virginia, Richmond and its immediate counties – Chesterfield and Henrico – are good examples of this trend in action.
The shift of poverty growth from the city to the suburbs is a trend we can see pretty clearly in the numbers. A look at data comparing poverty in the City of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield and Henrico, shows trends that aren’t far off from those outlined in the Times article.
The City of Richmond gets attention throughout the region for its poverty rate, which was 26.4 according to 2011 estimates. The city’s mayor, Dwight Jones, made the development of an antipoverty strategy one of the first priorities of his second term. But the bulk of the region’s poverty growth – numbers of people rather than rates – is happening in the suburbs.
From 1989 to 2011, which is as far back as the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates go, the City of Richmond’s population in poverty has grown by about 14%, or about 6,200 people. In terms of poverty rate, that’s a 3.4 point increase, from 23.0 to 26.4. In the same time period, Henrico has seen its population below poverty grow by 163% (20,500 individuals), and Chesterfield by 181% (14,500 individuals).
Suburban poverty rates remain lower the city’s 26.4, but poverty growth in the counties has outpaced total population growth. Point increases in the poverty rate of a suburban county – where the total population has been growing rapidly for decades – represent more people than point increases in the rate of the city – where the total population only recently reversed its shrinking numbers. Henrico’s poverty rate increased 5.0 points between 1989 and 2011 (5.8 to 10.8). Chesterfield’s increased 3.4 points (3.8 to 7.2). As noted above, Richmond also had a 3.4 point increase over those 22 years. But Chesterfield’s 3.4 point increase represents 14,500 individuals, more than double Richmond’s 3.4 point increase of 6,200 individuals.
The chart below shows pretty clearly just how significant those changes have been:
The growth of poverty in jurisdictions throughout the region is cause for concern, and the trend of more rapid suburban growth is important. As the suburban population of individuals below poverty increases, Richmond’s share of the region’s poverty drops. In 1989, the city’s share of poverty among the three jurisdictions was 68.5%. Today, it’s 47.9% (see the chart below). There are more people in poverty in the immediate suburbs of Richmond than there are in the city.
The shifting geography of poverty away from the region’s urban core has important implications for policy decisions at the local and regional levels. While there is still need for the antipoverty resources and strategies traditionally concentrated in the city, the counties are facing a growing problem. The more widely distributed suburban residential patterns may make addressing those needs more costly.
Urban poverty in the Richmond region isn’t shrinking, but that’s not for lack of attention or effort. Suburban poverty in Richmond has surpassed urban poverty in total numbers, presenting new challenges to the counties. As the population of suburban poor continues to expand, antipoverty resources and infrastructure – affordable housing, access to public transportation, and linkages between housing, transportation, and job centers – will only increase in importance across the region.
A Fair Chance in the Economy is Humanly Possible
George Mason University Economics Professor Don Boudreaux wrote recently: “I do not in the least care about income (or wealth) inequality.”
This seems a pretty bold and heartless statement, but he clarifies:
“I care – very deeply – whether the process for pursuing one’s life’s goals is fair or not. I want everyone to have as fair a chance in the economy as is humanly possible. I despise special privileges that stack the deck either in favor of Jones or against Smith. (We can have a debate about what the details of “fair process” and “special privileges” look like, but this post is not the place for such a debate.) But I do not care about differences in monetary income or wealth as such.”
Every American is entitled to a fair chance to succeed in our economy. But here’s an incontrovertible fact: human bias and prejudice actively prevent some Americans at a fair shot.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about housing discrimination.
Zenobia of Petersburg Virginia wanted to move her family to a better neighborhood so her four children could attend better schools and build a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, she was turned down for housing repeatedly because she uses public assistance to pay for rent. This type of housing discrimination reduced the fair shot Zenobia is entitled to.
A recent study found that many low income Americans are trapped in areas with fewer opportunities:
One of the most disappointing results of the study, Tegler says, is that the majority of recipients of the Housing Choice Voucher Program still live near low-performing schools, even though the program is designed to provide greater housing options.
It is humanly possible to give these folks a fair chance in our economy. We have to eliminate discrimination against people using public assistance for housing. When people are able to choose great neighborhoods themselves, they will have the fair shot they are entitled to in our economy. We must also make sure that there is affordable housing in great neighborhoods.
Virginia is getting more money from a national settlement stemming from the foreclosure crisis. The Virginia General Assembly will be getting $3.5 million from a settlement over “robo-signing” and “surrogate signing” of mortgage loan default servicing (aka foreclosures). This money is supposed to be used for housing, but the Virginia General Assembly now gets to decide where and how to spend this money.
Robo-signing was a significant problem in Virginia that raised serious questions about the sanctity of property rights in the Commonwealth. It was such a serious concern, that a community group in Northern Virginia organized citizen volunteers to investigate this problem in Prince William County.
The Virginia General Assembly moves pretty fast, leaving citizens with many concerns about what is happening with transportation. Despite the extensive media coverage, the details keep changing and many Virginians aren’t quite sure of the details lawmakers are proposing and debating. To help educate everyone about what’s going on, I’m summarizing the most recent developments and policy concerns.
Transportation is deeply connected to housing and we have to ask some serious questions about the current transportation proposal moving through the Virginia legislature. We know that the lack of affordable housing has forced Virginians to live farther away from their jobs which adds more congestion on our roads. We need a 21st century transportation solution.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has put forward a transportation proposal which basically:
- Raises the sales tax
- Permanently diverts more of the sales tax away from the General Fund (which also funds core services like education and health care) toward transportation
- Eliminates the gas tax
- Increases some transportation related fees, such as a fee on hybrids
As the 2013 Virginia General Assembly comes close to passing a significant new transportation package, there are critical questions that must be answered if all Virginians will be paying more taxes for transportation.
Will new transportation developments improve access that low and moderate income Virginians have to areas of high employment growth? Over the past few decades, the spatial mismatch between job creation in the suburbs and low‐income workers in the inner city has become more severe. This imbalance between jobs and housing deprives citizens living in areas where housing is affordable from accessing employment opportunities in high job‐growth areas. New transportation developments must focus on increasing access low income Virginians have to areas of high employment growth. This means not only roads, but also options such as mass transit.
For example, only 53% of the region’s jobs are served by the Greater Richmond Transit Corporation. Very few bus routes even extend into the surrounding counties. Those that do are primarily express lanes serving people coming into the city for jobs, not people going out of the city for jobs. This data was published in a report by HOME in December 2012 entitled Where You Live Makes All The Difference: An Opportunity Map of the Richmond Region.
Problem: Virginia’s transportation system is outdated and inhibits economic growth.
Solution: Connect transportation to housing, education and job growth.
Understanding and improving the connections among jobs, transportation, and affordable housing needs to be a top priority for decision makers and citizens across the commonwealth. Development in the suburbs has been largely auto‐centric. As such, there is now more demand placed on Virginia’s roadways than ever before as sprawl development has forced people to drive farther to get to work, school, and other activities.
Over the past few decades, the spatial mismatch between job creation in the suburbs and low‐income workers in the inner city has become more severe. This imbalance between jobs and housing deprives citizens living in areas where housing is affordable from accessing employment opportunities in high job‐growth areas. Often, public transit options are non‐existent or severely limited in suburban employment centers. Virginia should move away from subsidizing sprawl and towards promoting mixed income, mixed‐use developments. We should eliminate regulatory barriers to more compact development with a mixture of residential and commercial uses and housing with a mixture of styles, sizes, and prices. We should promote regional planning, incentives to guide new development to designated growth areas, and developments which serve a range of incomes. Virginia should provide greater transportation options by reorienting state and local expenditures to advance alternatives to driving.