Residential Segregation & Suburban Poverty

New research published in the last few years has uncovered a recent phenomenon sweeping over residential housing all across the nation. Pockets and clusters of concentrated poverty are our most vivid images of residential segregation by income. But we are now in a time when we are having to reconceptualize our images of place and poverty to include areas that are much more familiar than ‘inner city neighborhoods’, ‘ghettos, or ‘the wrong side of the tracks’. Recent Trends: # of People in Poverty are Increasing...

Data has shown that concentrated poverty was on the decline in the 1990s. By the close of 2010, there had been a large reallocation of the population to the poverty line, and into regions, neighborhoods and areas of concentrated and extreme poverty. Much of this turn was the result of a slowing economy and the recent economic downturn. In this time span, the number of people living below the federal poverty line increased by over 12 million, pushing the national rate of poverty to 15% (1).

The percent of residents living in poverty in Sarasota County increased from 8.4% in 2002 to 12.7% in 2012. The percent of residents under the age of 18 almost doubled from 11.9% in 2002, to 21.5% in 2012 (9).

The most recent census data released at the end of June (2014), revealed that the total population grew by about 10 million people over the last decade, but the percent of people living in high poverty areas increased by over 50%. In 2010, four states had one third of their populations living in high poverty areas, but by the end of the decade, a greater total of fourteen states had a third of its population living in poverty stricken areas (3).

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies release annual data about housing in the United States. Most recent data show that 35.3% of American households (40.9 million) are cost burdened, meaning they spend about a third of their annual income on housing costs. Another 17.1% are severely cost burdened - shaving off at least 50% of their annual income for housing (4). This value has been increasing since the turn of 2000.

What does housing cost burden look like in Sarasota County? (households with a housing demand that is at least 30% of their income)

Owners with a Mortgage                            47.5% Owners without a Mortgage                     18.7% Renters                                                        55.4%

[Source: Sarasota County Property Appraiser]



[Image Source: Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, State of the Nation’s Housing 2014]

The number of people in poverty are increasing in new places….

Concentrated poverty is something that is often more pronounced and characterized in inner city neighborhoods, and has historically been an affliction of more urban places. However, we must be careful to say that it doesn’t exist here in our communities. Poverty is affecting greater parts of our nation that have historically been middle-class, American communities. The Brooking Institution released a study, called The Suburbanization of Poverty, which evaluated the change in the U.S. poor population by community type between 2000 and 2008. The study found that the population of people living in poverty in large metropolitan suburbs increased faster than any other community type (10). More people in the suburbs are living in poverty than ever before. At the same time, the rate of poverty in the suburbs is increasing faster than any other community type in the nation.

Change in the U.S. Poor Population by Community Type, 2000 to 2008  Population in Poverty

                                       2000                       2008                   Difference          % Change

Nation                           33,899,812           39,108,422           5,208,610             15.4%

Primary Cities              10,387,549           10,969,243           581,694                5.6%

Suburbs                        9,991,292             12,491,486           1,284,889             25.0%

Small Metro Areas       6,579,025             7,863,914             1,284,889             9.5%

Non-Metro Areas         6,941,946             7,783,779             841,833                12.1%

[Taken from: Brookings Institution, The Suburbanization of Poverty (2010)]

Suburban Poverty

Although residential segregation is still more pervasive by race (even in Sarasota County), recent research has revealed that residential segregation by income is on the rise, and has been for about three decades (6)(7). This is closely tied to the increasing income inequality that the nation has been experiencing. Not only are household incomes reaching greater levels of inequality, the housing market is mirroring these changes on our physical landscapes. In the last three decades, the percentage of housing marketed to middle-income households or mixed-income neighborhoods have decreased. On the other hand, the percentage of housing for low income, as well as higher level incomes, have increased (6). As we are seeing increasing polarization between low and high incomes, we are also seeing an increase divide between lower income and higher income housing affordability:

housing stock change

[Taken from: Pew Research Center, The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income (2012)]

Since housing is a durable good, the household profile to which the housing is marketed will not likely shift over time. In fact, as time passes, the value of the housing good decreases. (Unless, of course, processes of redevelopment, retrofitting and gentrification are swept over these areas.) This means that housing developed for lower income households today will always be housing for low income households, which will affect the socio-spatial layout of communities in the long run (7). In effect, the inequality that is being etched into our urban and suburban landscapes today will perforate far into the future.

The following images are taken from the aforementioned Pew Research Center report. They show the degree of residential segregation in the nation’s 10 most populated metropolitan areas. These are also some of the most highly residentially segregated areas by income. The red shade represents low income areas, the blue shade represents high income areas. The neutral shade represents a middle or mixed income area.

Segregation ATLSegregation LA     Segregation Miami


Segregation NYC     Segregation Washington DC [Source: Pew Research Center, Social & Demographic Trends]

What would Sarasota County look like if a map such as those above were created?

 Unfortunately, there are consequences to residential income segregation. One of which being economic growth. This has been associated with spatial mismatch and skill complementarity (8).

→ Spatial mismatch speaks to a sociological idea that residents in concentrated, low income neighborhoods have greater difficulty in finding employment because they are often located at great distances from centers of high employment. They face challenges in long commuting times, as well as additional costs for travel that place a greater financial burden on households.

→ Skill complementarity is a concept that refers to the ratio of high-skilled workers to low-skilled workers that is optimal for economic growth in an area. When high skilled (often higher income) workers and low skilled (often lower income) workers are physically separated in the areas of the city they inhabit, economic growth can be hindered. Low skilled workers are not able to access to service- or manual- employment that is more demanded in higher income areas. On the other, high skilled labor is not available (or incentivized) in low income areas where high-skill services are needed.

Extreme concentrated poverty, in itself, has many consequences. Research has proven that poverty is related to underperforming and lower ranking public schools, poor housing and health conditions, barriers to private services and job opportunities, and higher crime rates (2)(5). A lack of quality education and opportunities for employment has led to high rates of local unemployment, increased instances of crime, and disincentives for children to stay in school.

With very high housing cost burdens, renters in low-income and impoverished neighborhoods are not meeting the higher rents needed for property owners to properly maintain buildings. Building neglect further leads to deteriorated housing conditions. Negative outsider perception and physical deterioration of the housing stock and built environment can lead to disinvestment of businesses and services in the area (5). Areas and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or low-income households do not provide incentive for redevelopment without large governmental intervention to coax housing developers.


So let’s brainstorm solutions…

Income inequality is leaving an imprint on the physical place we live in every day. In a time of economic recovery, these are the issues we must consider as development regains momentum. The crux lies in the kind of development that we want to promote.

Mixed income housing is a growing field of interest in development of affordable housing. The principles of mixed income seeks to provide housing options wherein households of various income levels can share the same residential location. Such developments can be created at the street, block, or neighborhood scale.

Most interest in mixed income communities comes from the proposed benefits that these kinds of communities can have on lower income households. Such as:

→ Investment in housing in new, ‘up and coming’, neighborhoods that low income households would not otherwise have the means to invest in, thus increasing wealth and net worth. The ability to invest in housing of higher value are usually restricted to middle or higher income households.

→ As mentioned previously, low income households are traditionally geographically isolated from services. Mixed income housing can give low income households the same access to social services as other income level households.

→ Spatial mismatch is the concept that households are not located near areas that provide employment. Low income households are often located in neighborhoods that require long commutes to access employment - hindering accessibility, increasing household costs, and reducing hireability. Mixed income communities can connect lower income households to better paying jobs that are located closer to home.

→ The last major benefit that mixed income communities can have in lower income households lies in the neighborhood life and social benefits. Traditional neighborhoods do not connect people of varying income levels since these neighborhoods are usually physically divided or geographically distant. The benefits associated with social networks, lower crime rates, safer environments, and greater solidarity between people of different incomes can be paramount in improving social cohesion among people of varying incomes. (11)

Mixed income housing is an evolving concept. Its success depends on many factors and must evolve to the community in which it will be developed. The benefits described above are only a few that propose mixed income development as an aspect of affordable housing. Perhaps mixed income communities are an aspect of more inclusive communities in which people of all walks of life can share easy access to jobs, services, the corner market or the cafe down the street.

This is one type of solution that can ease residential segregation by income and associated consequences. There is no one solution and solutions are often a dynamic of different ideas and concepts that cover many different bases.

What do you think is another aspect of a solution to the recent trends we have been seeing across the country?

Have you seen these changes take place?

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