Award-Winning Research on Neighborhood Racial and Income Segregation: A Reflection by Dr. Ihlanfeldt


Ihlanfeldt PictureDr. Ihlanfeldt was recently named the  2018 Halbert C. Smith Honorary Fellow of the Weimer School by the Homer Hoyt Institute. The Homer Hoyt Institute is an independent, non-profit research and educational foundation established in 1967. It is a major source of funding and research in the area of real estate markets.This a lifetime achievement award which was given to him for his work in urban economics. Since 1984, 23 urban economists have received this award, making him the 24th recipient. Prior recipients have come from some of the most prestigious U. S. universities, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania.  In celebration of this achievement, we asked Dr. Ihlanfeldt to reflect on his extensive research on neighborhood racial and income segregation.

I am not alone in believing that segregation is one of society’s worst social problems. Segregation has been linked to high levels of crime within our cities, high unemployment among minorities, especially African American teenagers, and poor schools within inner cities. I have studied many of these consequences of neighborhood segregation. My most recent research focuses on school segregation. In this blog I wish to report some of my research findings.

Recent research has shown that school segregation remains high and seems to be worsening. This is unfortunate because considerable research has found that low income and minority children who are trapped in segregated schools learn better if they can move into a more integrated school environment. The most popular policy to bring this about has been school choice, which includes a variety of options, including charter and magnate schools and school voucher programs.

Unfortunately, school choice has not succeeded in reducing income and racial segregation within our public schools; in fact, some research suggests that choice has worsened segregation. Fortunately, choice is not the only policy prescription for reducing school segregation. An alternative approach is to increase the affordability of housing within higher income/white school attendance zones (SAZ).

While many social scientists have promoted this idea, there are reasons to believe that the affordability option may not work. For example, minority families may not be interested in moving to predominantly white neighborhoods. Concerns other than improving their child’s school environment, such as access to public transit, job opportunities, or social services may be the primary determinant of their location decisions. Also, the parents of minority children may be concerned that their child would be uncomfortable in a majority white school. In other words, there is no evidence on how well the affordability option might work. The reason for this is simple: anti-density zoning and Nimbyism has succeeded in keeping lower income housing from locating with the better SAZs.

This is where my research comes in. I analyzed the drastic changes that occurred in Florida’s local housing markets as a result of the housing market crash. The crash caused many home foreclosures in the better SAZs, which ended up as bank owned properties that were sold to large investment companies. These companies rented out these homes, which provided an affordable housing option to many low income/minority families within the better SAZs. According to my research, these rentals have had important effects on moving low income and minority families from bad to good schools. Hence, I have provided the first evidence in favor of adopting the housing affordability option to desegregate our public schools.

The question before us now is: How can public policy be used to increase the affordability of housing within the better SAZs? One option is inclusionary zoning, but the fear here is that if you place a tax on the developer she may simply not build or will build elsewhere. An alternative approach that Gregory Burge and I have found effective is impact fees. In essence, these fees, which are paid by landowners and housing consumers and not developers, act as a bribe to get suburban jurisdictions to accept some low income housing.

staffpicDr. Keith Ihlanfeldt is the DeVoe L. Moore Eminent Scholar in Economics. His research focuses on a wide range of urban and regional problems, including discrimination in the housing and labor markets, urban poverty, neighborhood decline, housing affordability, and economic development incentives.


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