In her rigorous study of Montgomery County, Maryland, schools, low-income students whose subsidized housing assignments enabled them to attend very low-poverty schools closed more of the achievement gap with their high-income peers than did low-income students in higher-poverty schools who received an additional $2,000—monies which were devoted to extended learning time, smaller classes, and specialized professional development.The passage suggests the importance of exposing young people from less fortunate backgrounds to the life management skills of young people from more fortunate backgrounds, particularly to those life management skills that perpetuate the fortune or provide the way out of poverty. Implicit in the passage is the presence of successful people to seek advice from, as well as sufficient support to untether from your class. Left unstated, though, is the requirement that deconcentration of poverty must mean serious deconcentration of poverty, lest the bad habits of the chronically disadvantaged diffuse to new neighborhoods.
Effective policies exist to de-concentrate poverty and desegregate schools. Montgomery County showcases one of the smartest: laws that require developers to set aside a proportion of new housing units for subsidized housing, so that rather than creating ghettos of all-poor families (and resource-poor schools to go with them), lower-income families are able to reside in higher-income areas, and their children attend higher-income schools. Counties and cities across the country are exploring and adopting less restrictive zoning laws, since minimum-acreage lot requirements inherently lead to income segregation and force the concentration of poverty in less-restricted regions. The Century Foundation’s recent book, The Future of School Integration, advocates school “choice” focused on integrating students through voluntary inter-district transfer, and magnet schools that draw students of different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds without busing, by making the case to today’s parents that a twenty-first-century education requires no less.
As the United States increasingly regresses toward a Gilded Age of haves and have-nots—in terms of income, education, and opportunity—taking on concentrated poverty is critical. Indeed, Richard Rothstein and Mark Santow assert in their recent paper that, until we do so, education reform efforts are all but doomed. Continuing to consign so many children and families to communities devoid of pathways out of poverty is tantamount to throwing away our greatest resource for the twenty-first century: human potential.
[University of Memphis criminologist Richard] Janikowski began working with the police department in 1997, the same year that Barnes saw the car with the bullet holes. He initially consulted on a program to reduce sexual assaults citywide and quickly made himself useful. He mapped all the incidents and noticed a pattern: many assaults happened outside convenience stores, to women using pay phones that were hidden from view. The police asked store owners to move the phones inside, and the number of assaults fell significantly.The Section 8 exports crime argument has a long pedigree, and it is often invoked locally, particularly when the police have a busy weekend on the northwest side of town. It's also contested. Shortly after the Atlantic article that provides the long extract was published, this site asked a number of good questions about the quality of the evidence. A University of Minnesota study offered a qualified "it depends" to the argument that deconcentrating poverty reduces future poverty.
About five years ago, Janikowski embarked on a more ambitious project. He’d built up enough trust with the police to get them to send him daily crime and arrest reports, including addresses and types of crime. He began mapping all violent and property crimes, block by block, across the city. “These cops on the streets were saying that crime patterns are changing,” he said, so he wanted to look into it.
When his map was complete, a clear if strangely shaped pattern emerged: Wait a minute, he recalled thinking. I see this bunny rabbit coming up. People are going to accuse me of being on shrooms! The inner city, where crime used to be concentrated, was now clean. But everywhere else looked much worse: arrests had skyrocketed along two corridors north and west of the central city (the bunny rabbit’s ears) and along one in the southeast (the tail). Hot spots had proliferated since the mid-1990s, and little islands of crime had sprung up where none had existed before, dotting the map all around the city.
Janikowski might not have managed to pinpoint the cause of this pattern if he hadn’t been married to Phyllis Betts, a housing expert at the University of Memphis. Betts and Janikowski have two dogs, three cats, and no kids; they both tend to bring their work home with them. Betts had been evaluating the impact of one of the city government’s most ambitious initiatives: the demolition of the city’s public-housing projects, as part of a nationwide experiment to free the poor from the destructive effects of concentrated poverty. Memphis demolished its first project in 1997. The city gave former residents federal “Section 8” rent-subsidy vouchers and encouraged them to move out to new neighborhoods. Two more waves of demolition followed over the next nine years, dispersing tens of thousands of poor people into the wider metro community.
If police departments are usually stingy with their information, housing departments are even more so. Getting addresses of Section 8 holders is difficult, because the departments want to protect the residents’ privacy. Betts, however, helps the city track where the former residents of public housing have moved. Over time, she and Janikowski realized that they were doing their fieldwork in the same neighborhoods.
About six months ago, they decided to put a hunch to the test. Janikowski merged his computer map of crime patterns with Betts’s map of Section8 rentals. Where Janikowski saw a bunny rabbit, Betts saw a sideways horseshoe (“He has a better imagination,” she said). Otherwise, the match was near-perfect. On the merged map, dense violent-crime areas are shaded dark blue, and Section8 addresses are represented by little red dots. All of the dark-blue areas are covered in little red dots, like bursts of gunfire. The rest of the city has almost no dots.
Betts remembers her discomfort as she looked at the map. The couple had been musing about the connection for months, but they were amazed—and deflated—to see how perfectly the two data sets fit together. She knew right away that this would be a “hard thing to say or write.” Nobody in the antipoverty community and nobody in city leadership was going to welcome the news that the noble experiment that they’d been engaged in for the past decade had been bringing the city down, in ways they’d never expected. But the connection was too obvious to ignore, and Betts and Janikowski figured that the same thing must be happening all around the country. Eventually, they thought, they’d find other researchers who connected the dots the way they had, and then maybe they could get city leaders, and even national leaders, to listen.
The potential of mixed income developments to deconcentrate poverty depends on the ability of these projects to attract middle income people to developments that are partially subsidized. This requires design features and amenities to attract moderate income and market-rate renters to neighborhoods they may not typically consider. Studies have shown that though this is difficult, it is quite possible to achieve.There's material for further study here.
In the past few weeks, though, we've been looking at the creation of safe Congressional districts. One wonders what a successful policy of de-concentrating poverty and inculcating bourgeois habits among the young would do to the re-election chances of Gwen or Maxine or Bobby or John.