Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Infographics of the Week: Underwater Mortgages, NYC Tech

Home prices web site Zillow is out with an interactive map showing the percentage of of the mortgages in America that are believed to be underwater. It’s pretty scary. Here’s a static version:

h/t Atlantic Cities

NYC Tech

Mashable ran a recent article noting that New York City is now America’s fastest growing tech hub that included this infographic:

Richard Florida also chimed in with a follow-up on New York’s tech scene.

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

“Sick Housing Market” Ranking Shows Why Many “Top-10” Lists Should Be Deep Sixed by Drew Klacik

The financial news and opinion site 24/7 Wall St. recently ranked Indianapolis number two in its list of America’s 10 sickest housing markets.

I’ve always been fascinated by top-10 lists. Fellow Hoosier David Letterman delivers one every evening. Purdue fans get excited when their basketball team makes the top 10. IU fans hope to earn that distinction too, because recent recruits are ranked in the top 10. Then, of course, there’s the Big 10, which is so enamored of top-10 lists that it retains its name despite having 12 teams.

The Big 10 (12) example points to a big challenge for top 10 list makers. Sometimes, there’s little difference between number 10 and number 11 – or even number 25 for that matter.

A second challenge is that often, a list’s creator fails to fully or even partially explain how the list came to be.

A third challenge is that two different organizations, each ranking the same thing, can come to different conclusions. Take football, for example. The various polls often disagree as to who’s number one.

Given these list-making challenges, I decided to examine Indianapolis’ housing ignominy to determine whether we are justifiably bottom-of-the barrel.

To start, I compared some of the 24/7 Wall St. data for Indianapolis to a few cities that didn’t make the bottom 10.

The key criteria used in this ranking were homeowner and rental vacancy rates for either the 75 largest U.S. cities or, more likely, their metropolitan areas. They excluded from their list any locale that improved its vacancy rate over the last year or quarter and then enhanced the data set with unemployment rates and median home prices.

Of the 75 areas considered, Indianapolis had the fifth-highest home vacancy rate and tenth-highest rental vacancy rate. These are troubling statistics that clearly suggest a supply-and-demand issue. Indianapolis likely needs to reduce the supply of homes and rental units and/or increase demand by attracting more owners and renters.

Tucson, the one city deemed to have a sicker housing market than Indianapolis, had the highest home vacancy rate and sixth-highest rental vacancy rate.

But here’s where it gets confusing: When considering some other housing-market fundamentals, Indianapolis appears very sound. For example, between 2008 and 2010, the median sales price for a home in the Indianapolis metro area increased by $12,100 or 10.9 percent.

The only community on the 10 sickest-housing-market cities list to experience a greater increase in median sales prices was Oklahoma City (13.7 percent). Only two others had any increase at all.

To further confuse matters, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Minneapolis didn’t make the sick-housing-market cities list, yet all experienced a decline in median sales prices – Minneapolis with a precipitous 15.5 percent drop. That’s certainly sickening to would-be sellers.

In addition to its sales-price success, Indianapolis was one of six sick-housing-market cities to experience a decline in unemployment (from 10 percent in June 2010 to 9.1 percent in June 2011) – generally a positive indicator for the housing market. Meanwhile, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Nashville (also not on the list of 10) all experienced an increase in unemployment during the same period. If people aren’t working, they struggle to buy houses.

Then there’s population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Indianapolis grew by 12.6 percent – fourth fastest among the sick-housing-market communities. Only three on the list (Detroit, Dayton and St. Louis) experienced population loss. Yet other cities suffering losses – including Cincinnati and Milwaukee – were somehow deemed healthy for housing. Go figure.

By now, you might be asking yourself how Indianapolis can be increasing employment and gaining population yet still have high vacancy rates and a sick housing market?

At least part of the answer is that between 2000 and 2010, while Indianapolis added 39,963 people, it also added 36,893 new housing units. That’s a lot of property per resident.

While there’s plenty of room to debate the details of Indianapolis’ sick-housing-market ranking, we undoubtedly have serious and difficult work to do if we’re to address our supply-and-demand imbalance while keeping local housing affordable (we rank in the top 10 for that!).

On the other hand, it might be best to not be in the top ten in either the “sick” or “affordable” lists. Then, Indianapolis would have more balanced market fundamentals, fewer vacant houses and better price appreciation.

As for top-10 lists in general, they’re about image. The data provide the real substance. And when it comes to substance, fundamentals matter, as the Butler University men’s basketball team taught us the past two seasons by proving that you don’t need to be in the top 10 to make the Final Four.

Drew Klacik is a policy analyst for the Indiana University Public Policy Institute at IUPUI. He focuses on public policy related to economic development, state and local taxation, affordable housing and neighborhood development.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Megan Cottrell: Eviction Is to Black Women What Incarceration Is to Black Men

[ Here’s another piece from Megan Cottrell’s incredible blog on poverty and housing issues, One Story Up. If you saw the article on Matt Desmond’s work in the New York Times, just for the record, Megan had the story first – Aaron. ]

Among young black men in America, about 10 percent are currently incarcerated. It’s shocking, but we’ve almost grown used to it.

But while those young men are in prison, what’s happening to their wives, girlfriends, mothers and sisters?

Eviction. A new study coming out of Milwaukee shows that eviction is for black women what incarceration is for black men. One in 20 households there are evicted every year. In predominately black communities, that rate doubles to 1 in 10 families.

For those of us who are affluent, with relatively stable incomes, we’ve never even had to think about what it would be like.

Getting the eviction notice in the mail. The knot in your stomach, knowing you can’t pay the rent you owe. The court case, and the eventual knock on the door from the sheriff, telling you it’s time to go.

We’ve been talking about eviction a lot lately, from the near eviction of three orphans and their guardian, to the protested eviction of a Cabrini-Green mother, to the Chicago campaign to stop evictions from happening this winter.

Matt Desmond
Matt Desmond

When I heard about Matt Desmond’s research out of Milwaukee, I was shocked and intensely interested. It turns out, while many people have studied poverty and poor communities, no one has ever really studied evictions before, at least not the way Matt has.

“Eviction is probably the most under-studied process affecting the lives of the urban poor,” said Matt, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We know nothing about it.”

To figure it out, Matt dove into neighborhoods where evictions are common place. He took up residence in a trailerpark outside of Milwaukee, living there for several months before he moved into an inner-city neighborhood. He talked with people, poured over eviction records, and asked people to record their experiences with eviction through a large survey effort.

What he found, he said, surprised him.

“Eviction isn’t rare. It’s quite common in the lives of poor families,” he said

I asked him about families that he got to know – people he spent hours talking with. Was it hard to see them face these troubles?

It’s always hard to tell over the phone, but I could swear I heard a quiver in his voice as he replied.

“It was difficult,” he said, “It’s a bit hard to talk about, actually.”

It’s not just that eviction happens a lot in poor neighborhoods, but Matt’s was also stunned by who eviction was happening to.

“Eviction is disproportionately experienced by women and black women. It’s the feminine equivalent of incarceration,” he said. “There’s a lot of young black men being locked up and young black women being locked out.”

And eviction has consequences, more consequences than just getting put out on the street. One eviction on your record makes it harder to find your next apartment. Your security deposit might be higher. Your rent might be greater. For families who are already struggling that much, that kind of pressure leads to more trouble, more evictions. Many of the families Matt talked to were paying 80 to 90 percent of their income in rent per month.

It’s just not sustainable, he said. We’ve got to do something about it.

“We’ve reached a breaking point, Megan,” he told me. “We can’t go on like this.”

The solutions, he says, aren’t so easy. Just because eviction is bad, he says, doesn’t mean no one should be evicted. It means we have to pay more attention to this process that’s directly impacting the lives of the poor.

“We know a lot about the consequences of incarceration. That doesn’t mean that no one should be locked up,” he says. “But it probably means that not so many people should. It may be the same for eviction.”

That means anti-poverty programs need to listen up. Free school lunches are nice. But no amount of school lunches make up for not having a home and not being able to get one. We’ve got to figure out what’s going on in our communities and what solutions can help.

We’ve still got a lot to learn. But to begin, I think we need to start seeing eviction – witnessing what’s happening in our city.

Imagine it’s you. You lost your job. The bills are piling up. The rent is three months late. You’ve borrowed money from everyone you can think of, and there’s nothing left. The notice comes, and you pray it won’t happen, but it does. Your stuff – in boxes. Your children don’t have a place to come home to after school. Where will you go? And how will you put your life back together?

Hundreds of families in Chicago are experiencing this right now. We have to listen to their experience, open our eyes and figure out what can be done.

This article originally appeared in One Story Up. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Michael Scott: Robert Clifton Weaver’s Quest to End Housing Segregation – Has Anything Changed?

[ This post by Michael Scott is the first of two that will appear this week in honor of Martin Luther King Day. – Aaron ]

Surprisingly few Americans have heard of Robert Clifton Weaver. His name, in fact, was foreign to me until I stumbled across his biography at the infamous Powell’s Book in downtown Portland. Entitled Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City: The Life and Times of an Urban Reformer, this book offers a fascinating look at Weaver’s work as economist, academic and civil rights advocate under the backdrop of the New Deal movement prevalent in the 1930s and 1940s. His claim to fame though came in 1965 when he was selected by then president Lyndon Johnson to lead the recently formed Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD)—a distinction which made him the the first black presidential cabinet official in American history.

In his public service work Weaver courageously walked a fine line between the white power structure prevalent at that time and a dispirited African-American community whose lives he devoted his career to improving. His brand of “Radical Liberalism”—an approach which attempted to minimize the focus on race in resolving disputes—made him the go-to person at the federal level in terms of mediating divisive issues commonplace during the Jim Crow era. Weaver was most notably a staunch advocate of urban revitalization and its role in replacing segregated ghettos with integrated communities. He believed that public housing integration could serve as the catalyst for dismantling the myths of prejudice, leading to greater racial harmony.

Picture of Robert Clifton Weaver

Weaver’s steadfastness in remaining true to the belief that government action could ameliorate the segregation of our nations cities is to be admired. Unfortunately, it could be argued that the urban environments to which he dedicated his life remain as deeply divided today by race and poverty as they were during his time.

It pains me deeply that this division continues to exist in a nation as great as ours. The city of Chicago, where I resided for many years, offers just one example of the systemic nature of this problem as it remains one of the most segregated cities in North America. It currently has a segregation index of around 81, which means that in order for every Chicago neighborhood and suburb to have a racial mix commensurate with the overall racial demographics of metropolitan Chicago, an astounding 81 percent of the residents would have to move. Oakland, California paints a picture much the same: Colleagues of mine living in this area talk of the racial tension and class segregation serving as a barrier to meaningful progress for the city. And in my own community, a suburban enclave just outside of Sacramento, the lack of resident diversity has been cause for my only African-American neighbor up the street to refer to the two of us as the “only flies in the buttermilk.”

Despite his rising stature Weaver himself had problems securing middle-class housing in segregated Chicago when he was selected chairman of the city’s Committee on Race Relations in 1944. With no other options afforded to him outside of the predominantly black areas on the south side of Chicago, he eventually found respite at the famed Hull House, the settlement founded by progressive leader Jane Addams.

Interestingly enough, Weaver’s experience mirrors that of a colleague of mine during a career move of his in the mid-nineties. During the process of looking for a new residence he and his wife became puzzled as to why the real estate professional kept steering them to exclusively black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side when their stated desire was to live in one of the city’s more integrated communities. Having come from Washington D.C. where they raised a family in a diverse setting, they were dumbfound to find that this was still an accepted, albeit illegal practice among a fair number of real estate agents in the Chicago metro region.

The vestiges of these housing practices are historically rooted in what are known as restrictive covenants—laws from back in Weaver’s day that barred homeowners from selling or leasing their properties to people of color. While segregationist proponents argued that these practices were necessary to protect property values—the proverbial “there goes the neighborhood” argument—Weaver claimed that there was no factual evidence to support this contention, noting that the ghettoized areas that blacks lived were economic rather than racial in their cause.

In the 50s and 60s Weaver initially attempted to bridge these gaps by advocating for public housing as a mechanism for creating integrated neighborhoods and overcoming the barriers to prejudice. While the development of public housing projects such as Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini-Green were a noble attempt to move our nation beyond “single class”, racially restricted neighborhoods, they actually fueled the very exclusionary practices that Weaver had hope to overcome.

Weaver deserves a great deal of credit for fostering dialogue around housing integration and the role that it plays towards achieving a color blind society. Yet his efforts are arguably still a work in progress—likely to gain traction only when the barriers that which continue to perpetuate this divide are brought out into the open.

Michael Scott is the president of Visions for Downtown America, Inc, an economic development firm supporting the growth and sustainability of downtown central-cities. He can be reached at

This post originally appeared at Urban Engagement Webcity. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Related: Chicago Is America’s Most Segregated City

Also by Michael Scott: Is Sacramento an Indianapolis Wannabe?

Extra: Robert F. Kennedy in Indianapolis

The day Martin Luther King was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy was visiting Indianapolis. On being told the news, he decided to move forward with his planned speech to an audience that included a large number of blacks. His words on that day were credited with averting violence in Indianapolis when it struck so many other cities.

Here is a film of RFK delivering the message that night. If you don’t see the embedded video, click here.

I previously noted what we would consider today very unusual in a speech to any audience: references to the tragedian Aeschylus. I previously wrote about this in a post called “An Odd Occurrence.”

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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