Cities

Unlocking the Right to Build: Designing a More Flexible System for Transferring Development Rights

Unlocking the Right to Build: Designing a More Flexible System for Transferring Development Rights
Furman Center Policy Brief; March 2014

Vicki Been, John Infranca, Josiah Madar, Jessica Yager
03/19/2014

A new report by the NYU Furman Center details the untapped potential for NYC’s transferable air rights program, a critical tool for high-density housing development in New York City. Using case study examples, the report outlines limitations to the city’s current TDR policies and suggests a policy approach that could unlock millions of square feet of unused air rights to help produce more affordable housing.

The Foreclosure Crisis and Community Development: Exploring the Foreclosed Stock in Hard-Hit Neighborhoods

The Foreclosure Crisis and Community Development: Exploring the Foreclosed Stock in Hard-Hit Neighborhoods
Housing Studies, forthcoming

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Josiah Madar, and Max Weselcouch
03/06/2014

As the foreclosure crisis continues, many communities are faced with a glut of properties that have completed the foreclosure process and are now owned by banks or other mortgage lenders. These properties, referred to as “real estate owned (REO),” often sit vacant for extended periods and, recent studies suggest, depress neighboring property values. They also impose significant costs on local governments, which must try to address the risk of crime, fire, and blight that vacant buildings pose. In addition, many worry that REO properties sold to unscrupulous short-term investors hasten neighborhood decline.

In this article we shed new light on the “REO problem” by studying the stock of REO properties at the neighborhood level in three urban areas: Fulton County, Georgia (which includes Atlanta), Miami-Dade County, Florida, and New York City. Using a combination of longitudinal administrative data sets on foreclosure filings, auction sales, and property transactions provided by local government sources, we identify every property transfer into REO ownership in recent years and all subsequent transfers of these properties. To explore the ongoing neighborhood and community development challenges, we divide census tracts into four groups based on their concentrations of REO properties as of the end of 2011. We then compare these neighborhood types across several dimensions. Because we use a uniform methodology for all three areas, we are also able to compare neighborhood groups across jurisdictions with the metrics we calculate.

We find several neighborhoods in Fulton County and Miami-Dade County with extremely high concentrations of REO properties as of the end of 2011, including some tracts with more than 100 REO properties. In New York City, however, REO concentrations are generally much lower, and no census tract had more than 12 REO properties. In all three jurisdictions, the neighborhoods with relatively high concentrations of REO properties are generally not the most distressed areas of their regions in terms of poverty and unemployment, but are still high-poverty and potentially vulnerable. Moreover, they are disproportionately black, highlighting the uneven impact the foreclosure crisis may be having on communities. Importantly, we find that that the number of REO properties in the hardest-hit neighborhoods of each area was declining as of the end of 2012 (or 2011, our latest year of data in Miami-Dade County), generally in line with the countywide or citywide trend in REO inventories, and that investors did not account for an appreciably higher proportion of purchasers of REO properties in the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Furthermore, few of the properties that were purchased by investors appear to have been “flipped” within a short period. On the other hand, we also find that those REO properties that remained in these cities as of the end of 2012 or 2011 (including those in hard-hit neighborhoods) had been in REO for a longer duration than was typical one year earlier, so the composition of the REO stock may shifting towards more problematic properties. Additionally, in Fulton County’s hardest-hit tracts REO properties made up about 40 percent of all sales in 2012, so were likely still exerting significant downward pressure on housing prices. Finally while the National Stabilization Program (NSP) may be improving neighborhoods in other ways, we find that only a negligible share of the REO sales in the hardest-hit tracts of Fulton and Miami-Dade Counties in 2010 and 2011 were to non-profit entities and developers using NSP funds.

Do Housing Choice Voucher Holders Live Near Good Schools

Do Housing Choice Voucher Holders Live Near Good Schools
Journal of Housing Economics 23(1), 2014: 28-40. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhe.2013.11.005

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Keren Horn
03/06/2014

The Housing Choice Voucher program was created, in part, to help low income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools. Rather than concentrating low income households in designated developments, vouchers allow families to choose their housing units and neighborhoods. In this project we explore whether low income households use the flexibility provided by vouchers to reach neighborhoods with high performing schools. Unlike previous experimental work, which has focused on a small sample of voucher holders constrained to live in low-poverty neighborhoods, we look at the voucher population as a whole and explore the broad range of neighborhoods in which they live. Relying on internal data from HUD on the location of assisted households, we link each voucher holder in the country to the closest elementary school within their school district. We compare the characteristics of the schools that voucher holders are likely to attend to the characteristics of those accessible to other households receiving place based housing subsidies, other similar unsubsidized households and fair market rent units within the same state and metropolitan area. These comparisons provide us with a portrait of the schools that children might have attended absent HUD assistance. In comparison to other poor households in the same metropolitan areas, we find that the schools near voucher holders have lower performing students than the schools near other poor households without a housing subsidy. We probe this surprising finding by exploring whether differences between the demographic characteristics of voucher holders and other poor households explain the differences in the characteristics of nearby schools, and whether school characteristics vary with length of time in the voucher program. We also examine variation across metropolitan areas in the relative quality of schools near to voucher holders and whether this variation is explained by economic, socio-demographic or policy differences across cities.

High Stakes in the Classroom, High Stakes on the Street: The Effects of Community Violence on Students’ Standardized Test Performance

High Stakes in the Classroom, High Stakes on the Street: The Effects of Community Violence on Students’ Standardized Test Performance
Sociological Science, forthcoming

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Amy Ellen Schwartz, Patrick Sharkey, and Johanna Lacoe
03/06/2014

This paper examines the effect of exposure to violent crime on students’ standardized test performance among a sample of students in New York City public schools. To identify the effect of exposure to community violence on children’s test scores, we compare students exposed to an incident of violent crime on their own blockface in the week prior to the exam to students exposed in the week after the exam. The results show that such exposure to violent crime reduces performance on English Language Arts assessments, and no effect on Math scores. The effect of exposure to violent crime is most pronounced among African Americans, and reduces the passing rates of black students by approximately 3 percentage points.

Network attributes of critical infrastructure, vulnerability, and consequence assessment

Network attributes of critical infrastructure, vulnerability, and consequence assessment
G. Deodatis; B. R. Ellingwood; D. M. Frangopol, eds. Safety, Reliability, Risk and Life-Cycle Performance of Structures and Infrastructures, Taylor & Francis Group

R. Zimmerman
02/10/2014

Safety, Reliability, Risk and Life-Cycle Performance of Structures and Infrastructures contains the plenary lectures and papers presented at the 11th International Conference on STRUCTURAL SAFETY AND RELIABILITY (ICOSSAR2013, New York, NY, USA, 16-20 June 2013), and covers major aspects of safety, reliability, risk and life-cycle performance of structures and infrastructures, with special focus on advanced technologies, analytical and computational methods of risk analysis, probability-based design and regulations, smart systems and materials, life-cycle cost analysis, damage assessment, social aspects, urban planning, and industrial applications. Emerging concepts as well as state-of-the-art and novel applications of reliability principles in all types of structural systems and mechanical components are included. Civil, marine, mechanical, transportation, nuclear and aerospace applications are discussed.
The unique knowledge, ideas and insights make this set of a book of abstracts and searchable, full paper USBdevice must-have literature for researchers and practitioners involved with safety, reliability, risk and life-cycle performance of structures and infrastructures.

Dispelling An Urban Legend: Frequent Emergency Department Users Have Substantial Burden Of Disease

Dispelling An Urban Legend: Frequent Emergency Department Users Have Substantial Burden Of Disease
Health Affairs, 32, no.12 (2013):2099-2108

Billings, John and Maria C. Raven
12/01/2013

Urban legend has often characterized frequent emergency department (ED) patients as mentally ill substance users who are a costly drain on the health care system and who contribute to ED overcrowding because of unnecessary visits for conditions that could be treated more efficiently elsewhere. This study of Medicaid ED users in New York City shows that behavioral health conditions are responsible for a small share of ED visits by frequent users, and that ED use accounts for a small portion of these patients’ total Medicaid costs. Frequent ED users have a substantial burden of disease, and they have high rates of primary and specialty care use. They also have linkages to outpatient care that are comparable to those of other ED patients. It is possible to use predictive modeling to identify who will become a repeat ED user and thus to help target interventions. However, policy makers should view reducing frequent ED use as only one element of more-comprehensive intervention strategies for frequent health system users.

Residential on-site carsharing and off-street parking: The case of the San Francisco Bay Area

Residential on-site carsharing and off-street parking: The case of the San Francisco Bay Area
Transportation Research Record, 2359, 68-75. http://dx.doi.org/10.3141/2359-09

Rivasplata C, Z Guo, R Lee, D Keyton
11/28/2013

This research explores the recent practice of connecting on-site carsharing service with off-street parking standards in multifamily developments; the San Francisco Bay Area, California, is used as a case study. If implemented well, such a policy could help boost the carsharing industry and reduce off-street parking, which is often criticized as being oversupplied as a result of excessive off-street parking standards. In 2011, the authors surveyed all carsharing sites in the Bay Area and all new residential developments (completed after 2000) with on-site carsharing spaces. The results showed that a significant number of carsharing spaces were located on residential properties, but 70% of the spaces had been retrofitted into existing buildings. For the new developments, on-site carsharing did not result in a reduction in the amount of regular off-street parking. Interviews with 15 professionals from three stakeholder groups (planners, developers, and service providers) revealed that even though all the stakeholders were in favor of on-site carsharing at residential developments, three major barriers existed: a lack of incentives, the complexity of access design, and high transaction costs.

Learning by working in big cities.

Learning by working in big cities.
Discussion Paper 9243, Centre for Economic Policy Research

De la Roca, Jorge and Diego Puga.
10/07/2013

Individual earnings are higher in bigger cities. We consider three reasons: spatial sorting of initially more productive workers, static advantages associated with workers' current location, and learning by working in big cities. Using rich administrative data for Spain, we find that workers in bigger cities do not have higher unobserved initial ability, as reflected in individual fixed-effects. Instead, they obtain an immediate static premium while working in bigger cities and also accumulate more valuable experience, which increases their earnings faster. The additional value of experience accumulated in bigger cities persists even after workers move away and is even stronger for those with higher unobserved initial ability. This combination of effects explains both the higher mean and the greater dispersion of earnings in bigger cities.

Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia
W. W. Norton & Company

Anthony M. Townsend
10/07/2013

An unflinching look at the aspiring city-builders of our smart, mobile, connected future.

We live in a world defined by urbanization and digital ubiquity, where mobile broadband connections outnumber fixed ones, machines dominate a new "internet of things," and more people live in cities than in the countryside. In Smart Cities, urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsend takes a broad historical look at the forces that have shaped the planning and design of cities and information technologies from the rise of the great industrial cities of the nineteenth century to the present. A century ago, the telegraph and the mechanical tabulator were used to tame cities of millions. Today, cellular networks and cloud computing tie together the complex choreography of mega-regions of tens of millions of people.

In response, cities worldwide are deploying technology to address both the timeless challenges of government and the mounting problems posed by human settlements of previously unimaginable size and complexity. In Chicago, GPS sensors on snow plows feed a real-time "plow tracker" map that everyone can access. In Zaragoza, Spain, a "citizen card" can get you on the free city-wide Wi-Fi network, unlock a bike share, check a book out of the library, and pay for your bus ride home. In New York, a guerrilla group of citizen-scientists installed sensors in local sewers to alert you when stormwater runoff overwhelms the system, dumping waste into local waterways.

As technology barons, entrepreneurs, mayors, and an emerging vanguard of civic hackers are trying to shape this new frontier, Smart Cities considers the motivations, aspirations, and shortcomings of them all while offering a new civics to guide our efforts as we build the future together, one click at a time.

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