Who’s Moving In? Repopulation, Reinvestment, and Pathways to Revitalization in Baltimore

Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

For much of the last two decades, urban decline was taken as given. Nothing, it was thought, could be done to stem the exodus of middle-income families from the urban core. But in the past few decades, American cities have seen an unexpected reversal of fortune. Instead of collapsing, as was widely predicted, many former industrial cities are increasing in population for the first time since World War II. Almost overnight, the policy discussion shifted from large-scale demolition, “right-sizing,” “moth-balling,” and metropolitan annexation to neighborhood revitalization projects with the potential to reverse decades of neglect. But this trend generated concerns as well. If market forces are driving neighborhood revitalization, how can policy be structured to ensure that legacy residents – those could not or would not leave the neighborhood – benefit from the renewal? Will the revitalization process follow the well-documented pathways of gentrification and displacement, or is a third way possible – a virtuous cycle of renewal that recreates diverse mixed-income neighborhoods? Starting in 2015, researchers from the Poverty and Inequality Research Lab have set out to address these issues with an in-depth case study of East Baltimore. The research is focused on three questions:

1) What does the process of neighborhood revitalization look like?

2) What factors drive supply-side actors (landlords and developers) to invest in a neighborhood?

3) What effect are the changes having on community demographics – who’s moving in, who’s staying, and who’s leaving?

Brokering the Geography of Opportunity: How Landlords Affect Access to Housing and Neighborhood Quality Among HUD Assisted Renters

Funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy

The success of HUD’s housing voucher program depends on three groups: policymakers and administrators, low-income voucher recipients, and landlords. A growing literature exists on subsidized housing policy and the recipients of these subsidies, but we know very little about the landlords who manage the properties and receive compensation through these assisted programs, and next to nothing about those with properties renting at or below FMR who chose not to participate in the voucher program.

Historically, landlord decisions have been viewed as a simple manifestation of market responses to the voucher program’s various incentives and regulations. In other words, decisions such as whether or not to accept vouchers have been the presumed consequences of exogenous market forces and policy implementation. According to this view, landlords who can profit from participation do so. Strikingly, what little research we have on landlords suggests a portrait of landlord behavior that is far from economically rational. Instead, landlords operate within a context of limited information, financial constraints, and risk aversion.

In this study, we examine landlords in three cities: Dallas, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Specifically, we focus on landlords in the affordable housing market, who could potentially rent to HCV tenants. We rely on in-depth qualitative interviewing and ethnographic observation of landlords to ask: what role do landlord practices play in shaping how low- and moderate-income households (especially voucher holders) are sorted into different neighborhoods across the metropolitan are?

J. Van Story Branch Building Needs Assessment

Research now conclusively shows that context matters for wellbeing and life chances over and above individual attributes. Concentrated disadvantage comes in many forms, including government housing for the poor. Yet examinations of concentrated disadvantage have never, as far as we know, considered the living conditions and wellbeing of those public housing complexes devoted to housing the elderly and disabled poor.

The J. Van Story Branch Building (JVSB) is an elderly/disabled public housing high-rise in Baltimore city. Over the last decade, the area surrounding JVSB has attracted significant private and institutional investment, refashioning the North Avenue corridor as an arts and cultural district. But while the world changed all around them, the residents of the JVSB building have experienced few improvements to their quality of life. They remain triply disadvantaged: by their disability, their poverty, and their environment.

This project examines the needs of residents living in the J. Van Story Branch Building. We first conducted a survey administered to 161 residents highlighting issues of mobility, maintenance, safety, activities, community, and health. We are in the process of conducting semi-structured interviews will a random subsample of survey respondents.

Breaking the Divestment Cycle with Big Data: Predicting Abandonment & Fostering Neighborhood Revitalization

Funded by the 21st Century Cities Initiative and The Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science at Johns Hopkins University

In recent years we have witnessed fundamental technological shifts in the way cities collect and leverage data. With the advent of sensor networks and computerized record keeping of public data, research in this area is changing dramatically. A new branch of data-driven science aimed at improving the quality of city life is emerging, and being integrated into redevelopment policy and administration.

We apply this emergent approach to Baltimore’s most visible sign of urban decline: vacant and abandoned housing. After decades of population loss, the city is starting to see revitalization in some areas. Much of this improvement is catalyzed not by traditional heavy-hand urban policy, but by flexible and data driven programs such as Vacants to Value. This project will expand our knowledge of neighborhood change by developing a rich parcel-level longitudinal dataset merging administrative data from Baltimore Housing. We will not only evaluate the efficacy of the city’s programs, but also answer larger questions – examining empirically for the first time the mechanism of property divestment, neighborhood decline, and renewal.

Switching Schools and Navigating Neighborhoods: Can Housing Vouchers Improve Educational Achievement for Low Income Minority Youth?

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Abell Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation

Despite the rapid growth of school choice, the majority of American students continue to attend schools zoned for their residence. Where families live still largely determines the quality of their children’s schools – a connection with profound consequences for social inequality and economic mobility. This study capitalizes on the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, an innovative housing voucher intervention, to explore whether improvements in neighborhood access translate into gains in educational opportunity and achievement for poor minority children.

Since 2003, over 3,100 families have moved with the BHMP from poor, segregated neighborhoods in Baltimore city to more economically and racially integrated, opportunity rich communities in the surrounding suburban counties. Through a mixed methods approach, this study examines both the mechanisms and processes of change families experience when they make a dramatic shift in their social contexts, as well as the causal effect of moving with an intensive housing assistance program on children’s academic outcomes using longitudinal school administrative data. In-depth qualitative interviews with a stratified random sample of youth and parents, complement quantitative analyses of children’s academic outcomes by examining families’ experiences in new neighborhoods and schools, and the strategies parents and youth use to adjust to these new settings.

Check out what we have learned from past projects

Check out what we have learned from past projects