Publications

  • American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime?

    In recent years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has shifted resources from public housing to the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV or “voucher”) program. There were 2.2 million vouchers nationwide in 2008, compared to 1.2 million public housing units. Although the academic and policy communities have welcomed this shift, community opposition to vouchers can be fierce, due to perceptions that voucher-holders will both reduce property values and heighten crime. Despite the public concerns, however, there is virtually no research that systematically examines the link between the presence of voucher holders in a neighborhood and crime. Our paper uses longitudinal, neighborhood-level crime and voucher utilization data in 10 large U.S. cities over 12 years, and finds voucher-holders moving to a neighborhood does not, in fact, increase crime. We do see, on the other hand, that households with vouchers tend to move to communities when crime rates are rising.

  • Loan Modifications: What Works

    We use a unique dataset that combines data on loan, borrower, property, and neighborhood characteristics of modified mortgages on properties in New York City to examine the determinates of successful modifications. From November 2007 through March 2011, over 2.1 million mortgages were modified in the United States, and policymakers have heralded such modifications as a key to addressing the ongoing foreclosure crisis. This dataset includes both HAMP modifications and proprietary modifications. The analysis builds upon a prior paper in which the determinants of loan modifications were examined.

  • Determinants of the Incidence of Loan Modifications

    Loan modifications ensure that borrowers avoid foreclosure and save their credit record. These modifications are also beneficial to the neighborhoods in which these borrowers reside, preventing vacancies and high rates of turnover. This analysis looks at loan delinquency and repayment plan data from New York City borrowers to provide the strongest predictors of modifications or liquidation of property. In this paper, we answer key questions about loan modifications, including how the identity, property or neighborhood of the borrower affects the likelihood of receiving a modification. We also look at the role of residential segregation, as well as the identity of the loan’s servicer as an influence on variations in borrower access to loan modifications.

  • The Role of Neighborhood Characteristics in Mortgage Default Risk: Evidence from New York City

    We construct a database of non-prime hybrid adjustable and fixed rate mortgages from New York City that augments a rich set of loan and borrower risk characteristics with a variety of census tract level neighborhood characteristics. We find that these neighborhood characteristics are important for default behavior, even after an extensive set of controls. First, default rates increase with the rate of foreclosure notices and the number of lender-owned properties (REOs) in the tract. Second, default rates for home purchase mortgages are higher in predominantly black tracts, regardless of the borrower’s own race. We explore possible explanations for our findings.

  • The Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Racial Segregation

    This paper addresses a critical but almost unexamined aspect of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program—whether its use (and in particular, the siting of developments in high poverty/high minority neighborhoods), is associated with increased racial segregation. Using data from HUD and the census, supplemented with data on the racial composition of LIHTC tenants in three states, we examine three potential channels through which the LIHTC could affect segregation: where LIHTC units are built relative to where other low income households live, who lives in these tax credit developments, and changes in neighborhood racial composition in neighborhoods that receive tax credit projects. The evidence on each of these channels suggests that LIHTC projects do not contribute to increased segregation, even those in high poverty neighborhoods. On net, we find that increases in the use of tax credits are associated with declines in racial segregation at the metropolitan level.

  • Creating a Metric of Educational Opportunities for Assisted Households

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s strategic plan identifies the use of “housing as a platform for improving quality of life” as one of its five strategic goals. It further establishes a sub-goal to improve educational outcomes and early learning and development for children in HUD-assisted housing. This paper is intended to advise HUD about how to use readily available data to create a metric for school quality. This metric is the measure of success in providing “access to schools scores at or above the local average” for children in assisted households. The researchers recommend a ratio that compares the test scores of the elementary schools nearest subsidized households to the test scores of other schools in that same county or metropolitan area, with perhaps a comparison to the schools nearest other renters or low-income households. Using this local-comparison ratio can overcome differences in state methodologies for evaluating schools, differences in homeownership rates across metropolitan areas, and differences in income levels. This score will allow HUD to identify metropolitan areas to target for mobility efforts and to track progress over time.

  • Community Benefits Agreements: A New Local Government Tool or Another Variation on the Exactions Theme?

    Community benefits agreements (CBAs) are the latest in a long line of tools neighbors have used to protect their neighborhood from the burdens of development, and to try to secure benefits from the proposed development. This Article canvasses the benefits and drawbacks various stakeholders perceive CBAs to offer or to threaten, and reviews the legal and policy questions CBAs present. It recommends that local governments avoid the use of CBAs in land use approval processes unless the CBAs are negotiated through processes designed to ensure the transparency of the negotiations, the representativeness and accountability of the negotiators, and the legality and enforceability of the CBAs’ terms.

  • 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.

  • Can Homeownership Transform Communities? Evidence on the Impact of Subsidized, Owner-Occupied Housing Investments on the Quality of Local Schools

    While recent evidence demonstrates that subsidized investments in owneroccupied housing can lead to increases in property values (Schwartz et al. 2006), the impact of such housing on other community amenities is largely unexamined. Yet, the response of local services to public investments is crucial for policy-makers and community development practitioners who view increasing subsidized homeownership as a mechanism to improve urban neighborhoods. Drawing on evidence from New York City, we examine the impact of subsidized housing on the quality of local schools by studying exogenous variation in city investments in owner and rental units. Specifically, we explore whether – and in what ways – publicly financed investments in owner- or renter-occupied housing made in the late 1980s and 1990s by the City of New York affected the characteristics and performance of local public schools. Our results suggest that the completion of subsidized, owner-occupied housing is associated with a decrease in schools’ percentage of free lunch eligible students, an increase in schools’ percentage of white students, and controlling for these compositional changes, a positive change in pass rates on standardized reading and math exams.

  • 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.