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Study Finds No Evidence That Controversial Public Housing Had Negative Impacts On Yonkers, New York Neighborhoods

A study by researchers at Columbia, Harvard, and Michigan State Universities has turned up no evidence that public housing built under a desegregation court order in Yonkers, New York had negative impacts on the receiving neighborhoods.
New York-A study by researchers at Columbia, Harvard, and Michigan State Universities has turned up no evidence that public housing built under a desegregation court order in Yonkers, New York had negative impacts on the receiving neighborhoods. In spite of vehement opposition a decade ago to the construction of 200 units of "scattered-site" public housing townhomes in mostly white neighborhoods of that city, the study, published this month in the Journal of the American Planning Association, showed no negative impacts on surrounding property values or on neighbors' plans to move or sense of community.

The news has major implications for the development of affordable housing and regionwide access to housing opportunity by blacks and Latinos, especially as the strong job economy pushes rents and home prices upward in many parts of the country.

Funded by The Ford Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the study used a dozen years of home sales data and a survey of homeowners to test claims that the development of public housing occupied primarily by very low-income Latinos and African-Americans would lead to the deterioration of receiving neighborhoods-including the decline of property values-where white, middle-income homeowners are the majority.

The study was led by Xavier de Souza Briggs of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Also participating were Joe T. Darden of Michigan State University and Angela Aidala of the Columbia School of Public Health. The researchers are part of the Yonkers Family & Community Project. Based at Teachers College, Columbia University, the project aims to understand the long-run impacts of housing desegregation on families and neighborhoods.

The Significance of the Study


Observers of America's changing metropolitan landscape have long asserted that expanded geographic access to housing opportunities is critical to ending the high rates of racial/ethnic segregation and poverty concentration that harm families, undermine race relations, and lead to a politics of division. Thirty years ago, the Kerner Commission Report on urban riots warned of two nations "separate and apart"-one group white and more affluent moving quickly to the suburbs and another group poor and overwhelmingly minority, restricted to decaying cities. In most metro areas, suburbs continue to attract mostly white middle-income families away from the urban core, increasing city poverty rates and weakening the tax base that cities need to invest in quality services, high performing schools, and economic development.

But efforts to promote wider access to affordable housing in suburban areas for all racial and income groups have long been undermined by fear and resistance. The fear is that subsidized housing in general, and public housing most of all, inevitably threatens property values, social fabric, and community safety. This "not-in-my-backyard" resistance, or NIMBY-ism, was especially vehement in Yonkers, New York, where a landmark 1986 federal court order called for the creation of public housing in previously "protected" white neighborhoods. Led by white-run homeowner associations and their political allies on the city council, the City of Yonkers earned national press coverage for defying the court-until escalating fines that approached $1 million per day threatened the City with bankruptcy in 1988.

A total of 200 units of low-rise, townhouse-style public housing were sited across seven sites and occupied between 1992 and 1994. Conforming to the court order, the tenants came from public housing and waiting lists for public housing in the high poverty, mostly minority neighborhoods of Southwest Yonkers. The court ruled that since the 1940s, city leaders had conspired with the local housing authority to build over 97% of all public housing in nonwhite neighborhoods in the Southwest quadrant, further concentrating poor and minority families in one small area of the city.

"As a place to debate and build subsidized housing in new areas, Yonkers was as extreme a context-politically and socially-as anyone could imagine, " said Briggs, now a Deputy Assistant Secretary at HUD in Washington. "Furthermore, the region suffered a real estate depression at the very time that this housing was, at last, sited and occupied. That would have fed into fears that public housing was to blame for weak sales prices in particular neighborhoods. The fact that we looked at over a decade of property sales and talked to hundreds of homeowners and found no scientifically reliable evidence of negative neighborhood spill-overs is truly extraordinary."

The researchers noted that the study should explode some myths about subsidized housing and that it should come as welcome news, not only for housing advocates but for communities working hard to ensure housing affordability at a time of strong economic growth and soaring rents in many regions. Briggs added, "A well-informed conversation is especially important in suburban communities that are, for the first time, investing in affordable housing and lowering regulatory barriers that stand in the way of wider housing opportunity for all Americans."

"This study is the first ever to test for impacts of subsidized housing on both property values and a number of important, non-financial aspects of neighborhood vitality," added Angela Aidala, study co-author and a specialist in research on community and family well-being. "Those important intangibles include homeowners' sense of community, expectations about neighborhood future, and willingness to stay and invest in the neighborhood rather than move out. Happily, reports by homeowners in the receiving neighborhoods showed no signs of neighborhood withdrawal or flight."

Researchers and real estate professionals have long agreed that threats of neighborhood decline, whether real or perceived, have a self-fulfilling quality. As Briggs noted, "On ‘main street' as on Wall Street, panic selling, wherein a few homeowners are willing to discount their homes for quick sale, can be contagious, triggering a desire among neighbors to abandon a neighborhood or street and sending prices in a downward spiral in a small area. It doesn't happen overnight, but the process is both destructive and unnecessary."

But Darden, co-author of the study and a frequent expert witness in desegregation cases, added, "While the self-fulfilling prophecies may have been somewhat common in the past, our findings suggest that the process is avoidable even in cases of extreme opposition to subsidized housing." Even with the vehement initial opposition seen in Yonkers, the evidence is that well-designed housing that blends in with the surrounding neighborhood and is well-managed eliminated or reduced potential negative impacts on receiving communities. Combined with these factors were careful preparation of the tenants for their new surroundings and active collaboration by the housing authority, local police, and faith-based and other nonprofit groups to allay community concerns. Darden also noted that tenants of the scattered-site complexes are happy to be away from the drugs and crime of their old neighborhoods.

The researchers added, however, that while no generalized effects on home prices were found, effects on panic sales by particular owners cannot be ruled out. Some local realtors insist that the controversial housing affected sales decisions by at least some neighboring homeowners, while others see few lasting effects despite the initial furor. A larger question not yet tested is whether any local realtors deliberately steered prospective homebuyers away from the neighborhoods that received the scattered-site public housing. "Steering" practices are illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but HUD-funded national audits have consistently shown that racial and ethnic minorities frequently experience some form of steering.

Background of the Desegregation Case


The landmark Yonkers suit was brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the U.S. Department of Justice against the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority, New York state, and HUD. The 660-page decision rendered by Judge Leonard Sand in 1985 was the first in American history to explicitly link deliberate discrimination in the siting of subsidized housing with the segregation of local public schools. A dual court order to desegregate public schools and expand affordable housing opportunities throughout the city followed in 1986.

How the Study was Conducted


The study included two types of data: Multiple Listing Sales (MLS) records of home sales throughout Yonkers between 1983 and 1996; and 30-minute telephone interviews conducted with 691 Yonkers residents in 1994, including 147 residents near the seven court-ordered public housing sites. The extended period of the real estate element of the study allowed researchers to run statistical models of home prices from 5 years prior to any public announcement of the seven sites to 2 years following occupancy of the last complex built.

A geographic information system (GIS) was used to record addresses and map all sales citywide so that statistical models could estimate the effect, if any, of selling one's home within one-quarter mile of the 7 new public housing complexes. The researchers tested whether such proximity to the controversial sites was associated with home prices, holding property size, age and size of the home, market-wide variation over time, and many other price predictors equal. No statistically significant association between sales price and proximity to scattered-site public housing was found. While the sophisticated computer models cannot test whether scattered-site public housing affected a given home sale, the models allow for rigorous testing of the expectation that some effect, negative or positive, on a number of home sales would be found in one or more of the 7 receiving neighborhoods.

The telephone survey allowed the research team to compare responses by homeowner neighbors of public housing to the responses of owners and renters citywide on a wide range of topics. The survey covered: attitudes toward race and public housing, political leanings, expectations about family finances, plans to move, attitudes about the neighborhood, and more. The survey indicated that while those most opposed to the development of public housing in middle-income neighborhoods were white, politically conservative homeowners living near the new housing, a large majority (87%) of the respondents, including those neighbors, agreed that "it is time for the people of Yonkers to put the housing controversy behind us and figure out ways that all racial and ethnic groups can work together."

"We have ever reason to think," said Briggs, "that the desire to ‘heal' and move on is even more widely shared around Yonkers today than it was in 1994 when the new public housing sites were still being opened." The survey was fielded at a single point in time-1994-following development of the seven sites. It therefore does not allow before-and-after testing of the impact of those sites, but the comparison described above indicates that receiving neighborhoods remain attractive places to live.

For additional information, contact Professor Robert Crain at Teachers College. He is on sabbatical this semester so please call External Affairs at (212) 678-3412 and we will reach him for you. Or call Xavier de Souza Briggs at (202) 708-4230 ext. 5718.

Published Sunday, Apr. 14, 2002

Study Finds No Evidence That Controversial Public Housing Had Negative Impacts On Yonkers, New York Neighborhoods

New York-A study by researchers at Columbia, Harvard, and Michigan State Universities has turned up no evidence that public housing built under a desegregation court order in Yonkers, New York had negative impacts on the receiving neighborhoods. In spite of vehement opposition a decade ago to the construction of 200 units of "scattered-site" public housing townhomes in mostly white neighborhoods of that city, the study, published this month in the Journal of the American Planning Association, showed no negative impacts on surrounding property values or on neighbors' plans to move or sense of community.

The news has major implications for the development of affordable housing and regionwide access to housing opportunity by blacks and Latinos, especially as the strong job economy pushes rents and home prices upward in many parts of the country.

Funded by The Ford Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the study used a dozen years of home sales data and a survey of homeowners to test claims that the development of public housing occupied primarily by very low-income Latinos and African-Americans would lead to the deterioration of receiving neighborhoods-including the decline of property values-where white, middle-income homeowners are the majority.

The study was led by Xavier de Souza Briggs of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Also participating were Joe T. Darden of Michigan State University and Angela Aidala of the Columbia School of Public Health. The researchers are part of the Yonkers Family & Community Project. Based at Teachers College, Columbia University, the project aims to understand the long-run impacts of housing desegregation on families and neighborhoods.

The Significance of the Study


Observers of America's changing metropolitan landscape have long asserted that expanded geographic access to housing opportunities is critical to ending the high rates of racial/ethnic segregation and poverty concentration that harm families, undermine race relations, and lead to a politics of division. Thirty years ago, the Kerner Commission Report on urban riots warned of two nations "separate and apart"-one group white and more affluent moving quickly to the suburbs and another group poor and overwhelmingly minority, restricted to decaying cities. In most metro areas, suburbs continue to attract mostly white middle-income families away from the urban core, increasing city poverty rates and weakening the tax base that cities need to invest in quality services, high performing schools, and economic development.

But efforts to promote wider access to affordable housing in suburban areas for all racial and income groups have long been undermined by fear and resistance. The fear is that subsidized housing in general, and public housing most of all, inevitably threatens property values, social fabric, and community safety. This "not-in-my-backyard" resistance, or NIMBY-ism, was especially vehement in Yonkers, New York, where a landmark 1986 federal court order called for the creation of public housing in previously "protected" white neighborhoods. Led by white-run homeowner associations and their political allies on the city council, the City of Yonkers earned national press coverage for defying the court-until escalating fines that approached $1 million per day threatened the City with bankruptcy in 1988.

A total of 200 units of low-rise, townhouse-style public housing were sited across seven sites and occupied between 1992 and 1994. Conforming to the court order, the tenants came from public housing and waiting lists for public housing in the high poverty, mostly minority neighborhoods of Southwest Yonkers. The court ruled that since the 1940s, city leaders had conspired with the local housing authority to build over 97% of all public housing in nonwhite neighborhoods in the Southwest quadrant, further concentrating poor and minority families in one small area of the city.

"As a place to debate and build subsidized housing in new areas, Yonkers was as extreme a context-politically and socially-as anyone could imagine, " said Briggs, now a Deputy Assistant Secretary at HUD in Washington. "Furthermore, the region suffered a real estate depression at the very time that this housing was, at last, sited and occupied. That would have fed into fears that public housing was to blame for weak sales prices in particular neighborhoods. The fact that we looked at over a decade of property sales and talked to hundreds of homeowners and found no scientifically reliable evidence of negative neighborhood spill-overs is truly extraordinary."

The researchers noted that the study should explode some myths about subsidized housing and that it should come as welcome news, not only for housing advocates but for communities working hard to ensure housing affordability at a time of strong economic growth and soaring rents in many regions. Briggs added, "A well-informed conversation is especially important in suburban communities that are, for the first time, investing in affordable housing and lowering regulatory barriers that stand in the way of wider housing opportunity for all Americans."

"This study is the first ever to test for impacts of subsidized housing on both property values and a number of important, non-financial aspects of neighborhood vitality," added Angela Aidala, study co-author and a specialist in research on community and family well-being. "Those important intangibles include homeowners' sense of community, expectations about neighborhood future, and willingness to stay and invest in the neighborhood rather than move out. Happily, reports by homeowners in the receiving neighborhoods showed no signs of neighborhood withdrawal or flight."

Researchers and real estate professionals have long agreed that threats of neighborhood decline, whether real or perceived, have a self-fulfilling quality. As Briggs noted, "On ‘main street' as on Wall Street, panic selling, wherein a few homeowners are willing to discount their homes for quick sale, can be contagious, triggering a desire among neighbors to abandon a neighborhood or street and sending prices in a downward spiral in a small area. It doesn't happen overnight, but the process is both destructive and unnecessary."

But Darden, co-author of the study and a frequent expert witness in desegregation cases, added, "While the self-fulfilling prophecies may have been somewhat common in the past, our findings suggest that the process is avoidable even in cases of extreme opposition to subsidized housing." Even with the vehement initial opposition seen in Yonkers, the evidence is that well-designed housing that blends in with the surrounding neighborhood and is well-managed eliminated or reduced potential negative impacts on receiving communities. Combined with these factors were careful preparation of the tenants for their new surroundings and active collaboration by the housing authority, local police, and faith-based and other nonprofit groups to allay community concerns. Darden also noted that tenants of the scattered-site complexes are happy to be away from the drugs and crime of their old neighborhoods.

The researchers added, however, that while no generalized effects on home prices were found, effects on panic sales by particular owners cannot be ruled out. Some local realtors insist that the controversial housing affected sales decisions by at least some neighboring homeowners, while others see few lasting effects despite the initial furor. A larger question not yet tested is whether any local realtors deliberately steered prospective homebuyers away from the neighborhoods that received the scattered-site public housing. "Steering" practices are illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but HUD-funded national audits have consistently shown that racial and ethnic minorities frequently experience some form of steering.

Background of the Desegregation Case


The landmark Yonkers suit was brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the U.S. Department of Justice against the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority, New York state, and HUD. The 660-page decision rendered by Judge Leonard Sand in 1985 was the first in American history to explicitly link deliberate discrimination in the siting of subsidized housing with the segregation of local public schools. A dual court order to desegregate public schools and expand affordable housing opportunities throughout the city followed in 1986.

How the Study was Conducted


The study included two types of data: Multiple Listing Sales (MLS) records of home sales throughout Yonkers between 1983 and 1996; and 30-minute telephone interviews conducted with 691 Yonkers residents in 1994, including 147 residents near the seven court-ordered public housing sites. The extended period of the real estate element of the study allowed researchers to run statistical models of home prices from 5 years prior to any public announcement of the seven sites to 2 years following occupancy of the last complex built.

A geographic information system (GIS) was used to record addresses and map all sales citywide so that statistical models could estimate the effect, if any, of selling one's home within one-quarter mile of the 7 new public housing complexes. The researchers tested whether such proximity to the controversial sites was associated with home prices, holding property size, age and size of the home, market-wide variation over time, and many other price predictors equal. No statistically significant association between sales price and proximity to scattered-site public housing was found. While the sophisticated computer models cannot test whether scattered-site public housing affected a given home sale, the models allow for rigorous testing of the expectation that some effect, negative or positive, on a number of home sales would be found in one or more of the 7 receiving neighborhoods.

The telephone survey allowed the research team to compare responses by homeowner neighbors of public housing to the responses of owners and renters citywide on a wide range of topics. The survey covered: attitudes toward race and public housing, political leanings, expectations about family finances, plans to move, attitudes about the neighborhood, and more. The survey indicated that while those most opposed to the development of public housing in middle-income neighborhoods were white, politically conservative homeowners living near the new housing, a large majority (87%) of the respondents, including those neighbors, agreed that "it is time for the people of Yonkers to put the housing controversy behind us and figure out ways that all racial and ethnic groups can work together."

"We have ever reason to think," said Briggs, "that the desire to ‘heal' and move on is even more widely shared around Yonkers today than it was in 1994 when the new public housing sites were still being opened." The survey was fielded at a single point in time-1994-following development of the seven sites. It therefore does not allow before-and-after testing of the impact of those sites, but the comparison described above indicates that receiving neighborhoods remain attractive places to live.

For additional information, contact Professor Robert Crain at Teachers College. He is on sabbatical this semester so please call External Affairs at (212) 678-3412 and we will reach him for you. Or call Xavier de Souza Briggs at (202) 708-4230 ext. 5718.

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