Publications

  • The Utilization of Rental Housing Assistance By Immigrants in the United States and New York City

    The large influx of immigrants to the United States and New York City from poorer countries has sparked considerable debate as to whether immigrants are becoming a “public charge” to American society. Most arguments have centered around immigrants’ use of cash assistance programs. This article compares immigrants’ receipt of rental housing assistance with that of native-born Americans.

    Bivariate analyses reveal that immigrants, as a group, are no more likely than native-born households to use any form of rental housing assistance. Indeed, in most instances immigrants are less likely than native-born households to receive assistance, with two exceptions: immigrants who have been in the United States since 1970 and immigrants from the former Soviet Union in New York City. Multivariate analyses reveal similar results, except that immigrants who have been in the United States since 1970 are no more likely than other immigrants to receive housing assistance when we control for other factors.

  • Transferable Development Rights Programs: ‘Post’ Zoning?

    Transferable Development Rights (TDR) programs allow property owners to sell unused development capacity at their property and transfer it to another site, where it is typically used to increase the permitted size of a development. In recent years, New York City has enacted programs that use TDRs in increasingly sophisticated ways. These uses share three common attributes: an increased focus on directing the location and density at sites that receive development rights; the use of TDRs as an integral component of more comprehensive rezoning initiatives; and the creation of regulatory incentives that strengthen the market for TDRs. In this essay, we conclude that TDRs in New York can no longer be understood just as a creative mechanism to soften the effect of rigid zoning restrictions, but should also be recognized as a tool land use decision makers increasingly use in place of, or in tandem with, upzonings, bonuses, and other devices for increasing density.

  • Transforming Foreclosed Properties into Community Assets

    Last May, the Furman Center, with support from the Ford Foundation, convened leading housing researchers, policymakers, lenders, and nonprofit housing organizations to discuss how best to leverage public and private resources to reuse foreclosed properties in a manner that helps stabilize neighborhoods. The Furman Center has produced a White Paper, Transforming Foreclosed Properties into Community Assets, that documents that roundtable conversation, summarizes much of the discussion’s substance, and includes links to resources—ranging from existing research papers on related topics to listings of REO properties—that we hope will be useful to practitioners, researchers and policymakers involved in neighborhood stabilization projects.

  • Underused Lots in New York City

    Despite a robust real estate market for most of this decade, researchers and policymakers have observed that many areas of New York City have remained built out well below their zoning capacity. This study aims to contribute to our understanding of urban redevelopment by compiling and analyzing a large database of underdeveloped lots in the City. We identify about 200,000 such lots as of 2003 that were built out at less than 50% of their zoning capacity, representing about a quarter of all residentially zoned lots. Of these, about 8% were redeveloped during the subsequent four years. Our preliminary analysis reveals that underdeveloped lots are primarily made up of low density 1-4 family houses and are disproportionately located in poor and minority neighborhoods. We plan to use this analysis as the foundation for further analysis to assess whether market failures and regulatory and other barriers impede desirable development in mature cities.

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

    This report 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. 

  • Urban Land-Use Regulation: Are Homeowners Overtaking the Growth Machine?

    The leading theory about urban land-use regulation argues that city zoning officials are full partners in the business and real estate elite’s “growth machine.” Suburban land-use officials, in contrast, are thought to cater to the interests of the majority of their electorate— “homevoters.” A unique database regarding over 200,000 lots that the New York City Planning Commission considered for rezoning between 2002 and 2009 allows us to test various hypotheses suggested by these competing theories of land-use regulation. This analysis reveals that homevoters are more powerful in urban politics than scholars, policymakers, and judges have assumed.

  • Utility Allowances in Federally Subsidized Multifamily Housing

    This paper provides an analysis of the statutes, regulations, and guidance that govern the treatment of utility costs in the four largest federal subsidized housing programs—Public Housing, Project-Based Section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits—and the incentives these rules create for the consumption of utilities. It finds that many of these programs are structured such that tenants and owners are either indifferent about utility costs or are rewarded for overconsumption. This paper makes several recommendation for how these programs can be restructured to incentivize lower utility consumption, which can reduce the environmental footprint of subsidized housing, improve the financial viability of existing subsidized properties, and free resources that can be repurposed for other HUD goals.

  • Valuing Urban Land: Comparing the use of Teardown and Vacant Land Sales

    This study explores the use of “teardown” sales to estimate the value of urban land. When a buyer purchases a property intending to tear down the existing structure and rebuild, the value of land can potentially be estimated as the purchase price plus demolition costs. There has been little exploration of teardown sales in cities around the country, or any explicit comparisons between the estimates of land values derived from teardown sales and those derived through vacant land sales. This paper undertakes just such an explicit comparison, analyzing approximately 3800 teardown sales and 4900 vacant land sales occurring in New York City between 2003 and 2009. The two approaches yield surprisingly similar estimates of the value of both parcel attributes and locational amenities. However, vacant parcels are disproportionately located in very distressed neighborhoods and tend to be valued less highly than teardown parcels, even in the same neighborhood. Teardown parcels appear to be more representative of the city as a whole and may be a more useful approach to developing estimates of land prices, at least in the central cities of large urban areas where sample sizes are large enough.

  • Welcome Neighbors? New Evidence on the Possibility of Stable Racial Integration

    The conventional wisdom on racial integration in the United States is that there are three kinds of neighborhoods: the all-white neighborhood, the all-black neighborhood, and the exceedingly rare, highly unstable, racially mixed neighborhood. The only real disagreement is about why so few neighborhoods are successfully integrated. Some attribute it to white discrimination pure and simple: whites, that is, have consciously and determinedly excluded blacks from their communities. Others contend that it is a matter of minority choice. Like Norwegians in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge and Italians in Manhattan's Little Italy, African Americans, they explain, prefer to live among their own kind. Finally, others maintain that segregation is driven mainly by income differences across racial groups. But almost all agree that when African Americans do manage to gain a foothold in a previously all-white community, the whites move away in droves—a phenomenon well known as "white flight." Integration is no more than, in the words of Saul Alinsky, the "time between when the first black moves in and last white moves out."

  • Welcome to the Neighborhood: What can Regional Science Contribute to the Study of Neighborhoods?

    In this paper the authors argue that neighborhoods are highly relevant for the types of issues at the heart of regional science. First, residential and economic activity takes place in particular locations, and particular neighborhoods. Many attributes of those neighborhood environments matter for this activity, from the physical amenities, to the quality of the public and private services received. Second, those neighborhoods vary in their placement in the larger region and this broader arrangement of neighborhoods is particularly important for location choices, commuting behavior and travel patterns. Third, sorting across these neighborhoods by race and income may well matter for educational and labor market outcomes, important components of a region's overall economic activity. For each of these areas we suggest a series of unanswered questions that would benefit from more attention. Focused on neighborhood characteristics themselves, there are important gaps in our understanding of how neighborhoods change - the causes and the consequences. In terms of the overall pattern of neighborhoods and resulting commuting patterns, this connects directly to current concerns about environmental sustainability and there is much need for research relevant to policy makers. And in terms of segregation and sorting across neighborhoods, work is needed on better spatial measures. In addition, housing market causes and consequences for local economic activity are under researched. The authors expand on each of these, finishing with some suggestions on how newly available data, with improved spatial identifiers, may enable regional scientists to answer some of these research questions.