The Impacts of Individual Development Accounts, Assets, and Debt on Future Orientation and Psychological Depression

Journal of Policy PracticeIn an article published in the Journal of Policy Practice, William Rohe, Clinton Key, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Mark Schreiner and Michael Sherraden analyze data from a randomized controlled experiment involving 1,103 applicants to an Individual development accounts (IDA) program.

IDAs have been adopted in communities across the United States as a way of helping lower-income individuals accrue financial assets. These programs match the savings of program participants if they invest them in the purchase of a home, the creation or expansion of a business, or additional education.

Beyond the financial benefits of holding assets, scholars have argued that they should also result in psychological benefits such as enhanced future orientations and decreased depression. This study tests this argument. The findings show that assignment to the IDA program was not associated with either future orientation or depression 10 years later. The value of assets held at that time, however, was found to be negatively associated with depression. In addition, self-reported financial stress was found to be negatively associated with future orientation and positively associated with depression.

William M. Rohe is director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor in the department of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. Clinton Key is a researcher with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Michal Grinstein-Weiss is a professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Mark Schreiner is a senior scholar in the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis and also director of Microfinance Risk Management. Michael Sherraden is the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.

Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation

Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program EvaluationReleased on September 8, 2017 by the Office of Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation was co-authored by the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies Director William M. Rohe and Researchers Kirstin Frescoln and Michael D. Webb.

The original Jobs Plus demonstration was launched in 1998. Of the six sites that were part of the demonstration, only three fully implemented the model. When fully implemented, the model increased tenants’ earned income by 16%. The Jobs Plus model was replicated in 2011 in San Antonio and the Bronx through the Social Innovation Fund (SIF).

HUD is now in the process of scaling up the Jobs Plus model. In April 2015, HUD announced the first cohort of Jobs Plus grant awards to nine sites. Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation is an interim report evaluating the start-up of the nine grantees in the first cohort. These sites have implemented the model more quickly and fully than the original demonstration and the SIF replication sites. Within the first 18 months, all nine sites had begun structuring their programs, building partnerships and implementing the core components of the Jobs Plus model.

Jobs Plus

First-Time Homebuying: Attitudes and Behaviors of Low-Income Renters Through the Financial Crisis

Housing StudiesIn this article published in Housing Studies, Mark Lindblad, Hye-Sung Han, Siyun Yu and William M. Rohe use psychological theory to investigate how attitudes toward homebuying relate to first-time home purchases over the past decade.

Homeownership rates in the US have dropped to 20-year lows, but whether views toward homebuying shifted due to the financial crisis is not known because studies have not compared attitudes for the same respondents pre- and post-crisis. The authors address this gap with 2004–2014 panel data from low-income renters. They found that a negative shift in homebuying attitudes is associated with a decline in first-time home purchases. Older renters aged more than 35 years at baseline report the greatest declines in homebuying intentions. Younger renters aged 18–34 also report diminished homebuying intentions, yet express highest overall levels of homebuying intentions pre- and post-crisis. Blacks report greater homebuying intentions although their odds of home purchase are 29 percent lower than whites. Homebuying norms and favorability are associated with homebuying intentions but not with actual purchases, while perceived control over homebuying influences both outcomes.

Mark Lindblad is a research fellow at the UNC Center for Community Capital. Hye-Sung Han is an assistant professor in urban affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (and a Ph.D. graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill). Siyun Yu was awarded her Ph.D. in statistics and operations research at UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2017. William M. Rohe is director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor in the department of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Bike&Place: A New Modeling Tool to Help Planners Help Cyclists

Washington Street, Houston, Mississippi: Streetscape rendering after implementing downtown, trail-oriented growth. Image Courtesy Brian Morton.

You’d like to bike downtown for your job, to go shopping or to attend an event. Those first few blocks near home seem safe enough, but you get a bit worried when traffic gets heavier. It turns out, you’re not alone in how traffic stress affects your willingness to bicycle. CURS researcher Brian J. Morton has developed a tool that will help town planners design more cyclist-friendly networks around signature places in their community.

In a recent study for the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center (STRIDE), Morton used an open-source software package to create an easy-to-use travel demand model for use by planners working in towns and small cities. Morton’s goal was to build a product that predicts demand for bicycle travel by “interested but concerned” cyclists. Called Bike&Place, Morton’s tool helps planners increase bicycle accessibility.

Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland, Oregon, created a typology of four kinds of cyclists: strong and fearless; enthused and confident; interested but concerned; and “no way no how.” In a national survey, participants were categorized into those four types in the following percentages: 7 percent; 5 percent; 51 percent; and 37 percent. The 51 percent of “interested but concerned” noted that they “like riding a bicycle…and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride….Very few of these people regularly ride bicycles… [and they] will not venture out onto the arterials to the major commercial and employment destinations they frequent.…They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

Three small towns in Mississippi were used to develop and test Bike&Place. In Houston, Mississippi (population 3,623), Bike&Place estimates that less than 2 percent of the town’s residential neighborhoods have bicycle access to Courthouse Square, one of the town’s focal points. With an improved network, bicycle access to Courthouse Square could increase to 83 percent.

Morton hopes Bike&Place will make it easier for planners to map traffic stress problem areas and find solutions to make biking less stressful for the large numbers of interested but concerned cyclists and increase the likelihood that they will bike to important community locations. The project report, “Bike&Place: A New Tool for Designing Active, Place-Making Transportation Networks – An Exploratory Study,” provides detailed instructions on how to adapt Bike&Place to other places. For more information on using this tool, contact Morton here.

Editor’s Note: On June 28, 2017, Morton gave a Bike&Place presentation at the 2017 National Regional Transportation Conference in Denver, CO, sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations

Chinese Cities and the Use of Urban Planning to Help Control Air Quality

Rapid growth and greatly expanded motor vehicle ownership and usage have contributed to serious air pollution across China. In 2014 alone, Beijing endured more than twenty days with almost ten times the national ambient air quality limit, causing public health issues. Can better urban form reduce air pollution?

Photo by Bill Rohe

In collaboration with four UNC Program on Chinese Cities (PCC) visiting scholars, Director of the PCC and CURS Faculty Fellow Yan Song recently published a paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research evaluating this question.

Based on evidence gathered from 157 Chinese cities, this study analyzed the effects of aspects of urban form metrics on concentrations of ambient pollutants. Greater population density, more centralized development and better street accessibility were found to have a significant correlation with lower concentrations of air pollutants, while a higher level of urban sprawl may have a negative impact on air quality.

“The influence of urban form on pollution,” said Song, “is comparable to the effects of other factors like weather conditions.” Cities with urban sprawl are more likely to contain higher levels of air pollution, which should draw wide attention from local governments and planners in China. “These findings indicate that urban form could play a modest, but important, role in improving air quality for Chinese cities,” noted Song.

Click here to read the full here.

Post-Disaster Recovery Plans after China’s Wenchuan Earthquake

At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, the Wènchuān dà dìzhèn (literally “Great Wenchuan earthquake”) registered 8.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. As the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time, the Wenchuan (also known as Sichuan) earthquake took more than 69,000 lives and left about 4.8 million people homeless. On November 6, 2008, China announced that it would spend about $146.5 billion over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake as part of the Chinese economic stimulus program.

Wenchuan

Natural disasters such as this have long been considered one of the major challenges confronting humankind. In recent years, both the incidence and frequency of natural disasters have increased. It is also evident that losses due to natural catastrophic events have increased dramatically over decades.

In this context, post-disaster recovery practices have become more common and research on disaster recovery within the academic community is also increasing. Many of these studies suggest that urgency and uncertainty in the aftermath of disasters lead to short-term decision-making that does not address, or may even amplify, pre-disaster social, economic and environmental weaknesses, which are the main challenges to long-term sustainability. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate sustainability into the disaster recovery process.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) Faculty Fellow and Director of the Program on Chinese Cities Yan Song, Chaosu Li, a UNC Department of City and Regional Planning doctoral candidate, and their colleagues examined 16 local recovery plans developed in response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Through a CURS-supported, National Science Foundation-funded grant, planning documents from the affected areas were analyzed and evaluated, and in-depth interviews with government officials, planners and researchers were conducted. Song and her colleagues found that the local recovery plans do not appear to have sufficiently incorporated concepts of sustainability.

The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

The report’s findings reveal five challenges for incorporating sustainability into disaster recovery plans. These include: limited inclusion of environmental and equity goals; limitations to local planning capacity; insufficient enforcement tools; inadequate stakeholder engagement; and weak interagency coordination.

“The Chinese central government has emphasized ‘eco-reconstruction’ as the overarching goal for disaster recovery after the Wenchuan earthquake,” explained Song. “Nevertheless, disaster recovery goals at the local level were still economics-oriented.”

Song and her colleagues suggest the following four steps to improve the local disaster recovery planning process:

First, efforts must be made to include sustainability within a plan’s visions and goals. Environmental goals and achievements should be evaluated in the promotion of government officials. Policy frameworks should be formalized, with visions translated into goals encompassing different dimensions of sustainability that can be measured and tracked. For instance, to achieve the vision of providing a sustainable future for its citizens, one goal could be “mitigating secondary flood hazards,” with an objective to “reduce peak runoff volume.” These policy frameworks must be shared with other government agencies to support the implementation of policy action items by other agencies.

Second, data-sharing mechanisms should be enhanced. “We recommend that planning departments at city and provincial levels possess backups of basic data for areas that are prone to natural disasters,” said Song. “Basic ecological, geological and socioeconomic data at the local level should be shared across government agencies.”

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Third, planning techniques such as hazard exposure analyses, ecological impact analyses and ecological carrying capacity assessments should be applied during the early stages of the plan-making process to ensure sufficient sustainability considerations. “In the Chinese context, where a top-down approach often plays the primary role in guiding urban planning, the central government can lead in designing tools and policy actions for sustainability,” explained Song.

Finally, interagency collaboration is an important way to alleviate the existing fragmentation in governmental structure. In the current local government setting in China, agencies involved in, or responsible for, sustainability-related issues include the Development and Reform Commission, the Department of Environment Protection, the Department of Land Resources and Planning, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Forestry and Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. Because sustainability touches issues administered by this wide range of agencies, developing a framework for interagency coordination is critical for promoting sustainability.

“It is laudable that China has begun to recognize the importance of sustainability in post-disaster recovery planning,” said Song, “and it is especially notable that sustainability was prominently reflected in State Council policies for post-earthquake reconstruction. While this disaster provided a moment to make a statement about sustainable recovery, it also created a situation in which it was difficult to actually accomplish these goals. It may be that Chinese planning practices are able to achieve greater sustainability in situations that allow for more time and deliberation.”

Better Cities, Better Growth: Lessons for India’s Urban Opportunity

Better Cities, Better GrowthIndia is experiencing an urban transformation with its urban population reaching 420 million in 2015 (33 percent of total). This is expected to nearly double by 2050 to 800 million, with close to 400 million additional people living in towns and cities by 2050 (50 percent of total). By 2031, 75 percent of India’s national income is expected to come from cities and a majority of new jobs will be created in urban areas.

“Given the rapidity of change and long-lived nature of urban form and infrastructure, the decisions that India’s policy makers make in the next five to fifteen years will lock in its urban pathway for decades to come,” said CURS Faculty Fellow Meenu Tewari, associate professor, Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There are real choices to be made.”

Global evidence, gathered in a year-long effort by a team led by Tewari, suggests that an extensive, “sprawled” model of urban growth—with cities oriented around the private vehicle rather than people—can have significant economic, social and environmental costs which undermine prosperity. On the other hand, more compact, connected and coordinated cities can be more productive, socially-inclusive, resilient, cleaner and safer, unleashing the benefits of urban agglomeration.

Meenu Tewari

Meenu Tewari

A new synthesis report by Tewari for the India New Climate Economy Partnership focuses on how India can aim to foster a better urbanization — one that promotes more rapid economic transformation, improves the quality of life of city dwellers and curbs the potential harmful spillovers of urbanization, such as congestion, wasteful energy use and unwanted pollution.

The report draws on an innovative blend of nighttime lights (satellite) data and census, environmental and economic data to paint a picture of recent trends in India’s urbanization and the relationships that exist in Indian cities between types of urban expansion and transport connectivity, and economic performance. It looks at the potential nationwide costs of a “sprawled” model of urbanization, as well as noting some of the current policies and institutional conditions that create incentives for such a model of urbanization. Using case studies of four Indian cities—Bangalore, Indore, Pune and Surat—the report delves more deeply into how this model of urban growth might exacerbate key deficits in basic urban services. It concludes by suggesting policy recommendations to accelerate a better form of urbanization.

Chokepoints: Circulation and Regulation in India’s Siliguri Corridor

India's Chicken NeckKnown as the Chicken Neck, the Siliguri Corridor is a precarious sliver of territory connecting India’s ‘mainland’ to its Northeast. Flanked by international borders, the Corridor funnels a myriad of goods and bodies between Nepal, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and onward to Myanmar and Southeast Asia.

It is a zone of intense traffic and a critical chokepoint of South Asia. The immense volume of resources and people moving through the Corridor puts enormous strain on its infrastructure, not to mention those charged with securing and governing this unruly space. The Chicken Neck remains interwoven with smuggling, human trafficking, and clandestine activities – all of which can easily hide within its chaotic traffic. Traffic has accordingly become the operative condition of the Corridor’s (dys)function.

CURS Faculty Fellow Townsend Middleton, assistant professor of anthropology, spent the summer of 2016 working ethnographically with customs agents, anti-human traffickers, logistics experts and truck drivers in order to understand the cat-and-mouse interplays of circulation and regulation that shape life in this transit zone.

Chokepoint TrucksThis fieldwork by Middleton and his partners is part of an ongoing National Science Foundation-funded, CURS-supported, collaborative research project examining chokepoints around the world. Work sites include:

  • The Panama Canal: a century-old chokepoint of Atlantic-Pacific shipping and emerging global logistics hub. (with Ashley Carse, human and organizational development, Vanderbilt University)
  • India’s Siliguri Corridor (a.k.a. the “Chicken Neck”): a vital geopolitical connector of India and South Asia to China and Southeast Asia.
  • The Bab-el-Mandeb Strait: a critical shipping lane between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. (with Jatin Dua, anthropology, University of Michigan)
  • Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Refinery: a processing facility where oil from Amazonian oilfields is piped, refined, and exported for global maritime trade. (with CURS Faculty Fellow Gabriela Valdivia, geography, UNC-Chapel Hill)
  • Russia’s Roki Tunnel: a passageway of arms, bodies, and nuclear matter through the Caucasus (with Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, geography, Indiana University)
  • The Sundarbans: a network of chokepoints straddling the India-Bangladesh border and a critical zone of climatological crisis. (with Jason Cons, public affairs, UT Austin)
Townsend Middleton

Townsend Middleton

As chokepoints, these are sites that constrict or choke the flow of information, bodies and goods due to their natural and anthropogenic qualities. They are, by definition, integral yet difficult to bypass. Importantly, what happens at these sites ripples far beyond their immediate surroundings. Indeed, as Middleton’s research is demonstrating, chokepoints are sites where forces of globalization are powerfully exposed.

“Our aim is understand the human dimensions,” explained Middleton. “We are all dependent on chokepoints. Turning ethnographic attention to these sites, we aim to develop new understandings of the global flows and frictions that define the world today.”

Extreme Housing Conditions in North Carolina

Many North Carolina communities are experiencing an affordable housing crisis, which is particularly severe for those who rent. This report examines severe housing cost burden, overcrowding and substandard housing conditions among renters in the state. It identifies areas in our state with extreme housing needs, defined as having relatively high levels of at least two of the following three indicators: severe housing cost burden, overcrowding and the lack of complete kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Interactive Map

In addition to the report, an interactive map of Extreme Housing Conditions in North Carolina can be found by clicking on the map above.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Census tracts with extreme housing conditions were found in 46 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all three geographic regions.
  • As of 2013, more than 377,000, or 28.2 percent, of the State’s rental households experienced severe cost burdens, were overcrowded or lacked critical facilities.
  • The number of severely cost-burdened households increased by 53,737 or 22.5 percent between 2008 and 2013.
  • In eight census tracts, over 60 percent of renter households were severely cost burdened, with the highest percentage being 77.4 percent in a Wake County tract.
  • The number of overcrowded households increased by 20,437, or 45.4 percent, between 2008 and 2013.
  • In six census tracts, over 30 percent of renter households were overcrowded, with the highest rate being 53 percent in a Wake County tract.

The report’s findings indicate that additional efforts are needed to improve housing conditions, reduce overcrowding, and lessen the housing cost burdens of renters in North Carolina. Without decent and affordable housing it is difficult for many families in the state to lead happy and productive lives. These housing problems also increase public health care costs and reliance on social support programs and lower productivity. The combined efforts of state and local governments are needed to reverse the negative trends in housing affordability and overcrowding and improve the quality of life and economic productivity of North Carolinians.

The executive summary can be found here and the full report can be found here.

In addition to the report, an interactive map for Extreme Housing Conditions in North Carolina can be found here.

CURS Researchers Present at Urban Affairs Association Conference

Kirstin Frescoln presenting her research at the Urban Affairs Association conference in San Diego.

Kirstin Frescoln presenting her research at the Urban Affairs Association conference in San Diego.

CURS Researchers Michael Webb and Kirstin Frescoln presented their research at the Urban Affairs Association conference in San Diego last week.

Kirstin’s paper was titled “I Was Scared Over There – Family Well-being After Relocation from a Distressed Public Housing Development.” Her presentation examined how relocation from the Charlotte Housing Authority’s Boulevard Homes development impacted residents’ health and well-being [link to final boulevard report]

Michael’s paper was titled “Counselors or Craigslist? Relationships Between Housing Search Resources and Voucher Holders’ Neighborhood Outcomes.” He used data from our survey of the Charlotte Housing Authority’s Section 8 residents to examine whether residents who relied on counseling services, websites (like SocialServe or Craigslist), friends or family, or just “driving around” moved to higher-quality neighborhoods. You can view his presentation here.

CURS Director Bill Rohe was also at the conference, and led two roundtable discussions – one on the meaning of “self-sufficiency” in housing programs, and another on issues related to leading university-based urban research centers.