Podcast #62 – Affordable Housing Spatial Inequality with Myron Orfield

orfield-taxbaseThe podcast this week is a conversation with Myron Orfield, the director of the institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. Orfield has also written many books on public policy and regional governance, and has spent years studying how municipal fragmentation has led to persistent inequality, particularly in the Twin Cities. Orfield made headlines a few months ago after publishing a study that called for the Metropolitan Council to build more affordable housing in the Twin Cities’ suburbs. We sat down in his office on the West Bank of the U of M campus a few weeks back to talk about his recent report, the problem with the affordable housing industrial complex, and why the Twin Cities are more segregated now than they were in the 1960s.

The link to the audio is here. Thanks for listening!

5 thoughts on “Podcast #62 – Affordable Housing Spatial Inequality with Myron Orfield

  1. Helsinki

    This is somehow unconvincing. If the reason a low income family would decide to relocate to Apple Valley (far from their work in Minneapolis) is because of the superior schools in Apple Valley, then surely the more pressing problem is the poor quality of The Minneapolis Public School system, no?

    Mr Orfield seems to be arguing that schools lacking a majority of white students will by definition fail their pupils. This strikes me as odd; my elementary school (Field, in south Minneapolis) was, in the 1990’s, approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Hmong (it is almost certainly no longer that way). It was an outstanding school.

    To argue that students ‘of color’ (whatever that means; generally it’s used as a euphemism for low income, despite the evidence that some very ‘colored’ ethnic groups such as Indian-Americans are wealthier than average whites) should be dispersed throughout the suburbs for their own good strikes an ambivalent chord. Of course barriers to integration should be torn down. But trying to achieve optimal racial quotas in public education seems like a perilous exercise that has been tried since the 1970’s and has demonstrably failed.

    1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

      I agree that there is some reason to be skeptical that public housing applicants will want to live in the suburbs in the future. Orfield did mention that suburban units have longest waiting lists which indicates demand now, but in coming decades, as fuel prices rise and commuting because more expensive, I think denser urban neighborhoods will be more attractive.

      That said, I think the argument for desegregating the metro area isn’t only about helping low income individuals, but also widening the experiences of white middle and upper class students and residents. It’s easy to be prejudiced when your experience with a particular minority is limited, but more diverse communities will hopefully be less prone to prejudice.

      Trying to encourage more heterogeneous communities might sound like social engineering, but the largely segregated reality we have now is also a result of social engineering played out over decades of subsidized freeway growth and redlining minority neighborhoods, facilitating and encouraging white flight and ensuring the redlined neighborhoods mostly non-whites were trapped in were not only plagued by capital disinvestment but also often bisected and torn apart by these same freeways propping up suburban sprawl.

      Overall, I think we need smart growth in the metro with dense walkable communities. Nonetheless, I think Orfield has a valid point that public housing applicants should be given similar choices to the population at large, with ample opportunity to live in urban and suburban neighborhoods by their preference. One potential upside of the (albeit less than ideal) SWLRT alignment is that it offers an opportunity to offer public housing in the suburbs that also has great access to public transit. Assuming we can get some more built in the corridor.

    2. Nathan Kellar-Long

      Schools that have large populations of low income students have more challenges than schools that don’t. Low income students do better in schools that have significant populations of middle or upper income children. A student population of one-third middle class seems to be enough, but at one-third, perception changes and the middle class sees the school in decline and begins to flee. 50% middle class is a stable number for a school to be maintained at. The schools in Minneapolis and Apple Valley are probably very similar in terms of teaching quality. Switch the student populations and you would have poor schools in the suburbs and great schools in Minneapolis. Even out the populations and you could have great schools everywhere.

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