Baltimore and What We Know About Bad Neighborhoods
Even the poverty experts thought the solution for Freddie Gray’s neighborhood was for the people to leave.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in the Wall Street Journal
The brain works furiously to convince itself that ideas that bring personal comfort are great truths. Thus a noted advocate of reparations visits Baltimore after the riots to renew his call that black Americans be compensated for slavery and Jim Crow. A Baltimore professor writes in the New York Times that poverty persists in certain black neighborhoods because of the “continued profitability of racism . . . to landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods.”
A Seattle professor recites her research on discriminatory housing practices from six decades ago to explain riots that happened six days ago.
Yesterdays beget todays, beget tomorrows, so every condition in life can be traced through an ever-receding series of historical causes. The artificiality of such meditations, though, is obvious when you consider that the average male resident of Sandtown-Winchester—home of Freddie Gray whose death in police custody set off the riots—is 28 and wasn’t alive when most of this history was made.
Even in the stagnant neighborhood that Sandtown-Winchester is universally agreed to be, residential housing turnover is 16% a year; the median resident has been in place fewer than four years. Nearly 15% are arrivals from out of state or out of country, and many more (though uncounted) are undoubtedly arrivals from elsewhere in Baltimore and Maryland.
Neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester aren’t just places people find it hard to get out of. They are places where people from elsewhere end up when they can’t make a go of their lives.
They are places that people fall into when they don’t have incomes, credit and prospects and suffer from personal or behavioral problems.
There are white versions of Sandtown-Winchester. The literature on “rural ghettos” has grown impressively since the term was coined in the early 1990s.
As many riot-aftermath reports in the past week have noted, Sandtown-Winchester was the subject of enlightened urban renewal in the 1990s when Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity, and developer James Rouse poured $130 million into a community of 11,000 residents to fix homes and schools.
The neighborhood was also designated a “homeownership zone” by the feds, who spent $30 million to saddle people with arguably the last thing they needed, a mortgage that tied them down to a community without jobs and decent schools.
A study by the Abell Foundation about these disappointing results has been widely cited in the past few days, but unmentioned is the apologetic note on which it ends: “While mobility programs and community development are sometimes seen as at odds with each other . . . [m]obility programs allow poor families to leave violent neighborhoods in the short run, instead of being trapped in the low-performing schools and poor quality housing that exist while their communities await larger redevelopment investments.”
That’s right, an alternative to shoveling money in has been getting people out. Gautreaux was a public housing lawsuit in Chicago in the 1970s that randomly transplanted single mothers to suburban apartments: Half who had never worked before soon had jobs, and 52% of their kids went to college.
It’s sometimes unpopular to point out that people who behave responsibly and are willing to work generally do not end up chronically poor in America. People who live in neighborhoods where these norms are not respected or even realistically practicable, however, do experience chronic poverty. Using census data to identify those with a high proportion of teenage mothers, high-school dropouts, welfare dependents and jobless men, the Urban Institute discovered a disturbing change: Between 1970 and 1980, the number of such neighborhoods tripled to 880. Their combined population rose from 750,000 to 2.5 million.
Culprits were fingered: the loss of low-skilled manufacturing jobs, the availability of welfare. But neighborhoods themselves are clearly transmitters of poverty. The problem for residents isn’t racism: it’s where they live.
Government programs can’t save everybody in such sad places where people without money, prospects or good life habits tend to congregate. But it can help the willing to get out, by using housing vouchers, say, to transplant individuals to neighborhoods with intact families, intact schools and intact employment opportunities.
Placed-based urban renewal blames outside forces for denying resources to poor communities. It tends to ratify the persistence of concentrated victim communities whose troubles can be gratifyingly attributed to racism. This approach undoubtedly serves a lot of needs. It just doesn’t serve the needs of residents.
Some comments follow:
I'm no expert of course but I seem to have read somewhere that moving these people into better communities moves their pathologies into the better areas. Like a viral infection.
The end of the family is the end of civilization. Those people in the those neighborhoods are the result of the decades long devaluation of the family. You can't raise responsible, hard working young men in the anarchy that is a matriarchy.
Build up respect and support for the family: Married mother and father raising children together as their big life project. Teach them that concept in school and that they are capable of fidelity and sacrifice. Or, just keep teaching them about how victimized they are and how they ought to recycle. Mmmm.
Hannibal Lecture: "We begin by coveting what we see everyday."
I get concerned when the problem is defined as "where they live" without enough emphasis (although there was some) being placed on the root causes of the social behaviors. I'd want to see more evidence that breaking up "concentrated victim communities" works.
David, That is what was used as a pretense for the riot. All the following spin was focused on the lack of "investment" and inherent "racism" that caused all the problems brought to a head in the police department.
50 years of the LBJ's Great Society have paid enough in 'reparations' for slavery and Jim Crow. I'm sorry but at some point we must admit that it's not working for anyone other than the democRat's duplicitous black henchmen who run city governments like Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, etc.