SOME URBAN THOUGHTS, Page 4 of 5


MILITIAS IN THE STREETS?

Such an illicit economy supported by organized violence might foster political support in the suburban mainstream for a military-type action to reclaim the inner-city ghetto areas.

Another factor behind suburban political support for such action would be the threat to the various "big civic projects" that were placed in or adjacent to the inner-city during the 1970s-90s in an attempt to stimulate their economy; e.g., hospitals, universities, government offices, cultural centers (such as Newark's Performing Arts Center, Akron's Football Museum, and Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), etc.

WELFARE REFORM EFFECTS

In sum, welfare reform may speed up current inner-city dynamics, i.e. assimilation and move-out by many families, with an increasingly isolated remnant faction. The first five years of the Personal Responsibility Act of '96 were seen as a success; the welfare roles were cut by half, and the employment rate for single mothers went up. As such, more families will probably leave the inner-city and achieve a better life amidst the lower rungs of the suburban mainstream. At the same time, a remnant faction comprised of those who used up their time limit and did not achieve stability in the workforce (despite placement efforts) may become increasingly reliant on criminal activity and may increasingly deviate from mainstream values. The rise of street gangs as economic support mechanisms for many young people -- mostly male, but female street gangs do exist -- lends evidence to this theory.

THE MAINSTREAM STRIKES BACK

At some point, the American mainstream culture will not allow an independent cultural and economic aberration like the inner city to continue. Rap music videos, the 92 LA riot, gangs and organized ghetto crime, and the Personal Responsibility Act of 96 are all a warning. They warn of the ghetto's growing cultural independence and the mainstream's growing intolerance of it (i.e., the "new ghetto race consciousness" discussed above).

ARE CDC's STILL COMMUNITY-BASED?

As the ghetto becomes more "hard-core" (i.e., a more clearly identifiable sub-culture increasingly isolated from mainstream values) and the typical CDC becomes more institutionalized, the CDC will have less and less claim to being "community-based"; the CDC will remain closer to the mainstream culture than to the diverging ghetto sub-culture.

OTHER CURRENT THEORIES ON WHAT MIGHT HELP:

1.) Microenterprise; 2.) assets and Individual Development Accounts; 3.) the elementary and pre-elementary school system; and 4.) resettlement (the Gautraux case in Chicago, followed by HUD's current Moving To Opportunity Program):

In regard to microenterprise: the primary barrier to inner-city residents starting their own successful businesses regards their poverty and the poverty of their neighbors. Welfare mothers aren't going to make a living selling trinkets to each other. A CDC can attempt to help poor entrepreneurs as a marketing bridge to the suburbs, where there is significant discretionary income. But unless the inner-city microentrepreneur learns what the suburban culture wants and expects in terms of product and service, they will not be able to "tap in" to the economic mainstream by this route, either.

In regard to Individual Development Accounts: since Michael Sherraden's book Assets and the Poor, the notion of asset creation within the inner city has become popular. The one manifestation of this is the IDA, which offers to lavishly subsidize any savings that poor families make, so long as they eventually use those savings for asset-related purposes, e.g. homeownership or education. This recognizes that the sub-culture of the inner-city has a very short time horizon and a very high rate of savings indifference. That is to say that the inner-city dweller has more utility for today and less for tomorrow as compared with the mainstream culture. It is generally accepted that the urban poor are economically consumption-oriented. They generally do not maintain savings accounts (whether at a bank or through a mutual fund), but instead live with relatively high levels of debt used to finance immediate consumption. In regard to human capital, the sub-culture relatively de-emphasizes education, patient parenting, "orderly behavior" (avoidance of crime and drug use), birth control, and other behaviors that impose short-run inconvenience but long-run benefits. There are good reasons why the sub-culture has developed this bias; the experience of vicious racism and extreme agrarian poverty would obviously foster survivalistic behavior. But these cultural adaptations are now a hinderance to economic progress.

The IDA movement may help some urban families to change their unspoken assumptions about the value of tomorrow, although it is questionable whether their enthusiasm will be maintained once the 2 dollars for every invested dollar rate of interest that an IDA offers is replaced by the 5 cents per year rate of interest that a bank passbook offers, or even the 25 cents per year that the stock market offers in good years. As to changing values regarding human capital decisions, e.g. education, development of long-term thinking and behavior, and patient and attentive methods of parenting, an IDA equivalent has not yet been designed.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND URBAN POVERTY

In regard to the elementary school system: much noise and some effort has been made to improve the inner-city school system, in keeping with the idea that elementary schools and pre-school interventions (daycare programs, Head Start, New Jersey's Abbot v. Burke mandates) can influence young lives and set them apart from the "cycle of poverty" that grips their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts. Unfortunately, children are only in school for about 1/3 of their waking hours. The other 2/3 belongs to the predominant sub-culture. And even the school's operation itself cannot be hermetically sealed from the ghetto sub-culture. Janitors, cooks, guards, and even teachers and administrators who live in the neighborhood may bring in some of the attitudes and values of the street (e.g., the typical job patronage system existing in urban public schools may bring in underqualified staff).

Studies of well-run pre-K programs have indeed shown that IQ's do increase because of them. However, these increases in tested IQ (IQ tests probably don't measure a deeply fundamental cognitive capacity but do seem to measure the person's facility with ways of thinking that are relevant to success in the modern economy, according to sociologist Brigitte Berger) are usually lost by the time the child becomes 11 or 12. Many think that this is probably due to the poor social environment that the child is returned to after the early intervention. In sum, the school and pre-school system can help, but cannot itself buck the trends of the inner-city sub-culture.

WHAT ABOUT ENCOURAGING FAMILIES TO LEAVE?

As to the Gautreaux / MTO approach, which facilitates the immediate resettlement of inner city families to suburban areas with better job prospects: it seems to work, but sometimes "too much too fast" is not beneficial. A real class and cultural gap exists between the inner city and the suburb. To place an urban ghetto family in the suburbs (even a mixed-race or mixed-income suburb) without preparation is to risk cultural shock. The individual or family should first have their existing life concerns stabilized (emotional and mental health, substance abuse, family relationships, employment) before attempting to adjust to a new social backdrop. Assimilation should be gradual. The results of the Gautreaux experiment in Chicago affirm the economic benefits of assimilation into the mainstream suburban culture, but also evidence the cultural stresses involved.

Gautreaux involved families who wanted to leave the urban sub-culture, and were arguably ready to accept and adapt to a different culture (MTO used a similar selection policy, but set up a control group; see footnote below). It hints that a possible anti-poverty approach would be some sort of organization that facilitates and supports families who willingly and knowingly wish to leave the inner-city neighborhood and culture behind, who wish to adapt their behavior and values to the mainstream culture. But what about those who don't want to go? Given the mainstream culture's democratic and Constitutional values, persons wishing to remain within the ghetto cannot be forced to leave. But as things get worse, more and more persons may wish to abandon the urban sub-culture, especially if a helping hand is offered.

CDC's are supposed to use "Place-based economic strategies". What if the place can't be saved? What if Gautreaux, MTO and other experience show that "place" is too closely tied with sub-culture, and that you've got to move out to do better economically??? What if the "gradual assimilation" approach requires move-out and abandonment of the old neighborhood (as it usually has, e.g. Passaic and the Poles, Brooklyn and the Jews, etc.).

THIRTY YEARS OF BUILDINGS & BUSINESS: A FAILURE?

Overall, 30 years of the "building & business" economic approach to inner city redevelopment have failed, as have organizing, civil rights, public housing, social services, Head Start, and presumably asset building. Neighborhoods cannot reverse the strong winds of social and economic change, despite the valiant efforts of their CDCs, organizers, and municipal leaders (as Nicholas Lemann points out in his 1994 NY Times Sunday Magazine article "The Myth of Community Development"). As urban commentators like Herbert Gans and Jane Jacobs pointed out in the early 60s, city neighborhoods are organic entities with complex lives of their own; they cannot be "brought back" to what they once were, any more than a old man or woman can be brought back to vigorous youth. A human development / gradual assimilation model is probably the best hope for today's inner city population.

Lemann points out that there is currently no political or foundational support for what is perceived as a "social services" approach. That approach to inner-city poverty relief is seen to have failed. However, Lemann also points out that the economic / CDC movement will also eventually be seen as a failure, in the sense that it was not the 'magic bullet' that converted inner city ghettos into functional working class neighborhoods (although, like the social services approach, it did and does help many residents in many ways).

THE POLITICS OF ASSIMILATION

What would be the political implications of an assimilation-based approach? The biggest problem would come when suburbanites with pre-conceived notions regarding inner city blacks and Hispanics realize that an assimilation policy means that "ghetto people" may soon be moving into their neighborhoods. This would be a predictable manifestation of "the new ghetto race consciousness" discussed above.

Therefore, an assimilation approach would have to unite with and help to revive the civil rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so as to overcome this subtle form of bigotry. Without it, the "Willie Horton" style of glib political spin will keep an assimilation-based approach from ever accessing the wells of federal and state revenues.

Another positive political argument is that the human development / gradual assimilation paradigm is consistent with the current welfare-to-work / "workfirst" policy direction. The Personal Responsibility Act and the wave of welfare reform efforts now under way could turn out to be an opportunity for CDCs to promote an urban policy shift from the building and business approach to the human development / assimilation model.

As to the public impression that a social-services ("person-based") approach is too expensive and doesn't work, prototype programs show that a spending level of $10,000 to $15,000 per family for a coordinated human development program would achieve at least a 50% success rate in placing impoverished families into permanent, self-sufficient life situations. Federal agencies currently cite subsidy limits for economic development in the range of $10,000 per job (e.g., the HHS / OCS economic development grant program). In addition, such projects often receive local tax abatements. Still, economic development grants for urban projects do not have long-term success rates much in excess of 50%. Also, housing development subsidies range from $10,000 to $100,000 per unit (including the federal housing tax credit). Thus, there is a counter-argument to the public perception that a human development / assimilation approach would be too expensive, relative to what is currently being spent and accomplished.

Members of the urban "underclass" can be helped and can be brought into the American mainstream, despite economic barriers and the new variants of race consciousness; but their neighborhoods (and the negative aspects of their sub-culture) cannot. Over the course of American history, many different peoples have been assimilated, but at the price of abandoning their ghettos. Nothing would indicate that the black and Hispanic ghettos of today should experience a different fate, for better or for worse. The urban CDC now has the historic opportunity of becoming the agent of that long-delayed fate, if the CDC and its supporters are willing to change stripes, to abandon their "place-based" motif.

THE CDC MOVEMENT IN THE 21st CENTURY:
CAN CDC's BE CHANGED FROM PLACE-BASED DEVELOPERS TO PERSON-BASED ASSIMILATORS?

What has been the CDC's role in urban history so far? The CDCs kept the recent aid cut-backs from coming sooner, and kept the inner cities from boiling over into violence in the 80s and 90s. By all rights, the riots of the 60s should have started up again by 1985, as things grew much worse (factory jobs disappeared, poverty levels spiked, etc.). The CDCs put up new buildings, hired some residents, and gave some hope. Thus, CDCs defused the potential for riots, but did not quell on-going urban criminal violence.

But some CDCs are increasingly losing touch with the community, because of "factionization" of the CDC and "hardening" of the neighborhood culture; the CDC may also lose support from the mainstream public through repeated financial failures (a variety of CDCs have failed in recent years). CDCs, as the last significant vector of public support for the cities, will then start to shrink. The stage may thus be set for increased disorder (riots or uncontrollable gang activity) in the 00s and an urban reclamation action in the 10s.

NEW URBAN UPHEAVALS?

As to possible violent disturbances in the next decade: these could be triggered by the combination of an economic recession and the time-limit cut off provisions in the welfare reform law. However, given continued depopulation and impovertization of ghetto areas, any riots will be relatively small affairs, probably more like raids on surrounding better-off neighborhoods and commercial districts.

Even without outbreaks of social disorder, urban CDC operations in the poorest neighborhoods will be disrupted by increasing criminal activity. Accommodations may have to be made with increasingly formalized criminal operations. If these factors eventually touch off a semi-military reclamation action (recall the Philadelphia MOVE incident), there might be a role for the place-based CDCs to operate and police the post-reclamation "reservations" predicted by Herrnstein and Murray. However, if the former ghetto areas are reclaimed and gentrified, the heyday of the place-based CDCs will be over, possibly by the year 2020. By then, suburban culture will have reclaimed and gentrified most of Newark, Bed-Sty, South Chicago, West Philadelphia, Roxbury, Detroit, etc.

The CDCs and PHAs that survive such an urban reclamation action would probably become the Indian reservations of the surviving inner-city culture. Given the rapid growth of arrest, incarceration and prison building in recent years, along with the burgeoning use of privately operated prisons, it would not be surprising if the housing stock now owned by PHAs and CDCs became low-security prisons or parole houses, where the remnant minority poor would contemplate an impoverished but culturally independent existence within guarded and regulated zones.

CDC's: BECOMING IRRELEVANT

CDCs can regain their critical role in urban anti-poverty efforts; but not in the way they have so far envisioned. If urban CDCs continue on their present course, they will become increasingly irrelevant (the main CDC support group, NCCED, recently shut down for lack of financial support). The "CDC Movement" will be added to the junkheap of failed urban initiatives cited by Lemann (i.e., Urban Renewal, Community Action, Model Cities, UDAG, probably Enterprise Zones). But if they adapt to what many of their constituents are doing anyway, i.e. pursuing an assimilation policy, they can regain their lead in the anti-poverty effort.

Urban CDCs should thus reduce their emphasis on the development and operation of housing and other buildings. There is now little chance of changing the existing ghetto neighborhood, with its existing populace, into a functional, working-class neighborhood. Assimilation and resettlement are and will continue to be the predominant vector to a family's economic improvement; and resettlement needs to be flexible, not tied to one town or one area. Real estate projects should only be pursued when closely integrated with a human development program, e.g. transitional housing for homeless men seeking permanent jobs, group housing for teen parents who should not live with parents (due to severe family problems), etc. Such projects will usually be small, e.g. 10 to 20 units.

CDC's AND HOUSING

What about the pressing need for affordable permanent housing and the on-going homelessness crisis in the cities? Urban CDCs have received their best marks so far in the area of affordable housing development. But despite press releases from CDC supporters, community-based housing development has not led to economic revitalization. (See Lemann's observations in his 1994 NY Times article.) Despite the urgency of the need, housing is still a symptom of the real problem, and not the real problem itself. The core of the urban crisis still lies with under-developed human potential and depressed family earnings, and not with under-developed real estate.

The current stock of subsidized housing (including "safety net" facilities for the homeless) is not sufficient if you assume that the ghetto poor must stay in place; but under a gradual assimilation and resettlement paradigm, affordable housing will play more of a transitional role. One positive step that would increase the supply of subsidized housing for those who really need it would be to require that households with income levels sufficient to pay market rents or support a mortgage move out after a certain time limit. Possibly 10 to 15% of families currently living in PHA or Section 8 housing move in with very low incomes, but over time improve their earnings as to no longer require rental subsidy (i.e., they pay market-equivalent rental rates). However, current regulations allow such families to stay in place indefinitely. Along with a time limit to move, such families should concurrently be given assistance in making a transition, e.g. homeownership counseling, fair housing enforcement, etc.

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FOOTNOTE ON MTO: In September, 2003, HUD published an Interim Impacts Evaluation of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment. It was found that families who were resettled from public housing in high-poverty urban neighborhoods to outlying low-poverty areas experienced certain beneficial effects, such as improved mental health and reduction of obesity. Teenage girls showed a reduction of deliquency, risky behavior and arrests, while boys experienced an increase in such behaviors. Student achievement rates did not improve, nor did employment rates and average earnings for adults. However, the researchers from ABT Associates who wrote the study suggest that such effects should not be expected only 4 to 5 years into the program, since many of the students surveyed had spent most of their school years in the high-poverty neighborhood. The ten year study to be performed in 2007 may show better results, as it will include more youth who started school in the low-poverty neighborhood, and will track employment and earnings for 18 to 21 year olds who enter the job market after residing in lower-poverty areas for 5 to 10 years.

The interim study also admits that the MTO experiment is not as "robust" as one might have hoped for. Ultimately, only 701 families recruited for the program in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York actually moved from high-poverty public housing to private housing located in outlying low-poverty areas (1136 other families from those cities were included in a control group that remained in urban public housing, and 641 families were included in a "semi-control group" whereby they were given rental vouchers and moved from public housing to wherever they chose). And of those families, all were allowed to move after one year in the low-poverty area; 373 families moved to neighborhoods with higher poverty rates within 4 years of initial relocation (147 of which went back to areas with poverty levels equivalent to where they came from. This was about 21% of the treatment group. Also, about 43.1% of the "semi-control" group moved to such neighborhoods. This supports what I said on page 2 under "Assimilation in America", consideration #2). Thus, the average poverty rate where the treatment group resided rose over time. Also, move-outs by the control group, along with neighborhood demographic changes tended to decrease the average neighborhood poverty rate for the control group over time. This obviously weakens the overall experiment and its ability to test the effects of high-poverty versus low-poverty environments on families that came from impoverished urban communities. However, MTO could not help but be impacted by the effects of welfare reform and the implementation of a deconcentration strategy in public housing, e.g. the HUD HOPE IV and HOPE VI programs.