The Martin Luther King Jr. neighborhood development initiative: The challenge of renters and homeowners in a shrinking, underdeveloped neighborhood
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Scholars know very little about the impact of housing market dynamics on the underdevelopment of Black neighborhoods in shrinking cities. I am referring to underdeveloped neighborhoods as being marginalized, supraindividual, geo-spatial communities that are physically depreciated, financially challenged, and do not have the institutional and political power that is necessary to solve the socioeconomic and physical development problems that are faced by its economic struggling residents. An urban dialect currently characterizes underdeveloped neighborhoods. At one level, they are stigmatized communities, dominated by low-wage workers, weak, ineffective institutions, weak attachment to the metropolitan opportunity structure, and depreciating housing and neighborhood conditions. At another level, the residents are unhopeful, but drive by agency, community assets, informal organizations, and the capacity to drive neighborhood transformation. Most studies on Black neighborhoods focus on residential segregation, fair housing, affordable housing and/or the role of neighborhood effects on the generation of undesirable socioeconomic outcomes among Blacks. Racial segregation and housing studies are mostly concerned with obstacles that keep Blacks stuck in place, while neighborhood effects literature examines the impact of social determinants on the production of undesirable socioeconomic outcomes. Like residential segregation and housing studies, these studies conclude that Blacks are trapped in these distressed neighborhoods. Using a metropolitan city building framework, this study explains the endless siting of Black neighborhoods on marginal, undesirable residential land, and the role of market dynamics in generating related problems for Black homeowners and renters. This study is concerned with understanding the role played by low-income housing in depressing the overall housing market by spawning conditions that place a ceiling on the value of owner-occupied housing and that worsen the visual image of neighborhoods. Often, there is a divide within the neighborhoods between owners and renters. Owners tend to invest in the neighborhood, as they will typically stay longer than renters, and have money invested in property. They often blame renters for poorly maintained rental property. This study explores the dynamics of underdeveloped neighborhoods and the complexities of intertwined problems faced by renters and owners. Using a combination of census data, parcel data, resident surveys, resident focus groups, and built environment rating indices, I examine housing market dynamics in Buffalo, New York to see if they are driving the underdevelopment of shrinking Black neighborhoods. To get to the root of these complex dynamics occurring in underdeveloped neighborhoods, I investigate a number of research questions: 1. Is there a difference in the housing maintenance and physical condition of renter and owner occupied units? 2. Is the “housing burden” of renters higher than that of the homeowners? 3. Is homeownership in underdeveloped, Black neighborhoods a source of wealth production? 4. Does housing abandonment, vacant lots, and other forms of blight depress housing values? 5. Are absentee owners of rental properties the dominant ownership group in these communities? My initial findings provide tentative answers to the five questions. The condition and lack of maintenance of these low-income rental properties depresses the overall neighborhood housing market and contributes to the negative visual image of these communities. People living outside of the neighborhood often own these rentals, along with other neighborhood properties. Thus, people who are primarily concerned about exchange values rather than use values drive Black neighborhood development. Answers to these questions, however, primarily generated additional questions regarding the large population of owners both living in neighborhoods and landlords of adjacent rental properties. A much deeper understanding of the issues driving housing market dynamics is needed to construct a policy framework that reverses the underdevelopment of these communities. Accordingly, methods for further analysis of this problem are proposed.