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3 housing myths, debunked: Poverty, property values, and gentrification

Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

The ripe environment for gentrification today, Schlichtman said, was created by a history of "de-" words: demarcation, devaluation, deterioration, demolition, defunding and destabilization, among others. (Demarcation refers to the discriminatory practice of redlining, when banks refused to offer home loans in certain communities based on residents' race or ethnicity.)

"All those 'de-s' cut the path of injustice that gentrification fills, so no matter how good your heart is, if you enter into that context ... you are a gentrifier," he said. "You are a part of that critical mass that is exerting economic, perhaps social, perhaps cultural pressure on that neighborhood."

Moving away from moral arguments, he said -- and instead understanding "the various strands of 'de-s' in a particular context that makes a home so cheap" -- is an important step on the path to just housing policies.

Myth 2: There is more poverty in cities than in suburbs.

The Census Bureau released new poverty statistics for the nation last month, which revealed that high poverty rates aren't just associated with metropolitan areas. According to Scott Allard, a professor at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, poverty's geography has increasingly moved to the suburbs -- as evidenced in his book, " Places in Need: The Changing Geography of Poverty."

"The number of poor persons in suburban Chicago eclipsed the number in the City of Chicago in the last decade, and there are no signs of this trend reversing anytime soon," Allard wrote. "Seven of every 10 suburban municipalities outside Chicago saw the number of poor residents at least double from 1990 to 2014. More than 40 percent of Chicago suburbs saw their poverty population more than triple during that time. By 2014 there were nearly 17 million poor people living in the suburbs of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, compared to just under 13 million in the cities."

Allard's data show that suburbs have seen increases in single-parent households, decreases in the number of college graduates and higher unemployment rates. As a result, suburban demand for assistance programs has increased but social service providers don't have sufficient resources to meet the need.

How did we miss the shift in the suburbs?

"I think we're not aware of these trends in part because suburbs were created to be exclusive places ... and therefore no suburb really wants to think they have a poverty problem, partly because it may require them to do something about it -- but it also may affect their ability to maintain property values or to attract new homeowners," Allard said.

What's interesting, he noted, is that "poverty is as segregated in suburbs as it is in cities."

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