This Space For Rent

Mike McCarthy, Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

When collecting data for our new Rental Housing indicator page, I was surprised to be learn that in Fall River and New Bedford, the majority of households are renter-occupied. A renter myself, I had always figured we were in the minority. The population of these cities, by my own assessment, is mostly made up of working class families striving to achieve the American Dream. Home-ownership as long been considered a cornerstone of the American Dream, and – although this type of talk is rare since the housing bust – we’ve long been told that homes help you build equity, they are long-term investments, and owning one will always be a good idea; this has been the overwhelming consensus among Americans since the Nuclear Family introduced us to the pleasures of suburban home ownership in the 1950s, homesteading for the modern age.

In the wake of a housing crisis, which according a survey conducted by the MacArthur Foundation the American public is not ready to declare over, there has been a growing chorus calling for a reexamination of the value Americans place on owning a home. One of the more interesting studies on the topic was published this year by economists David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald, entitled Does High Home-Ownership Impair the Labor Market? In the paper, the authors propose that we not only reevaluate our views on home-ownership, but also we begin to consider the increasing need for a mobile labor market in America. Although their research focuses exclusively on the United States, when complying data for the paper the authors came across similar studies being conducted across the industrialized world. By comparing notes with colleagues, they were able to determine “that there is a strong positive correlation across the wealthy countries between their home-ownership rates and the latest unemployment rates.” In Spain, where the unemployment rate is over 20% (one of the highest in the Western world), 80% of the population are home-owners. While Switzerland has only a 3% unemployment rate and a 30% home-ownership rate.

Blanchflower and Oswald are careful not to suggest that home-owners are disproportionately unemployed, but rather they imply that areas with high levels of home-ownership are less flexible to ever changing job market and the less stable conditions under which Americans are currently finding employment; more employers are demanding more mobility from their workers, and factories and jobs, when not moving overseas, are moving to areas of the country that are more favorable to product, so it would behoove employees to choose housing that does not limit their ability to go where the jobs are. In Oswald and Blanchflower’s America, your mortgage may be a leash too short to allow you to reach the next dog bone.

The conclusions Oswald and Blanchflower draw are consistent with those found by the MacArthur Foundation’s survey. According to the responses from focus groups conducted in 10 major cities across the country, as well as thousands of phone interviews:

 Americans recognize that we are a changing society that is more mobile than ever before. Three in four (75%) believe that moving to a new city or state for a job is more likely now than it was in the past, and 66% believe that people are less likely to raise a family in the same community in which they grew up. Consistent with growing concerns about the risks associated with home-ownership and the increasing mobility of the public, 72% of Americans believe that renting a home after age 30 is more likely today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

This gave me hope for New Bedford and Fall River, because low home-ownership rates do not  mean that our area has lost touch with the American Dream, it means that we are on track with the new emerging American ideal. Our resident-renters are not tied to the SouthCoast by their homes; they can leave the area in search of better prospects. On the inverse, our area is better prepared to absorb an influx of new residents as more jobs come to the area (perhaps in the form of an off-shore wind staging facility or a rail connection that makes the SouthCoast a feasible residence for young professionals working in the Hub?). Moreover, as more studies are conducted and demographics begin to shift further away from home-ownership, government agencies will need to respond by adjusting housing policy to reflect the alterations in the American housing landscape. This will be necessary since, as the MacArthur survey reported, “while roughly 35 percent of Americans rent and the other 65 percent own, the federal government spends approximately three times as much to support home-ownership as it does to support renting.”

The High Value of Urban Trees

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative

Last summer, for this blog, I wrote a post titled “Death of an Urban Tree,” in which I documented the loss of a spindly, municipal Norway maple formerly located beside my house in New Bedford. Although the little tree was too damaged and decayed to salvage, and had to be cut down, I took comfort in the fact that another large, healthy maple still stood proudly on my corner. However, last winter’s winds added a grim coda to the story, as one-third of the big tree came crashing down during the February 2013 nor’easter (also known as Winter Storm Nemo), completely blocking the intersection in both directions.

It comes as no surprise to me, therefore, that researcher David Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service says that the number of trees in 17 out of 20 U.S. cities that he surveyed is declining. Tree populations in two of the three remaining cities Nowak studied showed no change. Only Syracuse, N.Y. increased its tree population, and I suspect that Syracuse showed an increase only because David Nowak, tireless advocate for urban trees, happens to live there.

Nowak estimates the U.S. annually loses four million urban trees. “Trees provide multiple environmental and health benefits,” says Nowak, who provides substantial evidence to back up his additional claim that cities derive important economic benefits from increasing the number of urban trees, each of which provides significant environmental services.

Nowak has created i-Tree, a free web-based tool that helps urban planners assess and improve their urban forests, thus gaining benefits for their communities. Using i-Tree, Pittsburgh, PA decided to treat its trees like any other asset. The city measured the value of its trees in cold, hard cash, and estimated that the trees provide benefits of $2.4 million per year by filtering air and water, sequestering carbon, providing habitat and shade, reducing the urban heat-island effect, increasing property values, and buffering storms. Pittsburgh agreed with Nowak that the city would receive $3 in benefits for every dollar invested in street trees, and promptly developed a master plan to preserve and expand its urban forest during the next two decades.

Closer to home, the Fall River Herald-News reports that Fall River is carrying out an ambitious urban tree farm initiative. The Fall River Street Tree Planting Program is a directed effort to grow trees on a formerly abandoned parcel of city property for distribution to the neighborhoods. Currently 240 trees are being raised. The goal is to have 315 trees and utilize a three-year cycle that annually moves 105 trees out for replanting throughout the city. Students from YouthBuild Fall River have worked tirelessly on the nursery grounds, with seed money for the project provided by a Cities of Service grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Urban forestry is likely to play an increasing role in years to come, given that 80% of the population lives in urban areas. “We tend to focus on cars and roads and development,” says David Nowak, “but in the background is always nature, that also affects people’s lives… Once you have the information, you have to get it in front of the policymakers – the people who have the power to make decisions and affect change. That is the biggest challenge.”

UI Intern Adam Vieira

Hey there World Wide Web,

 

My name is Adam Vieira, and I am a returning intern for the Urban Initiative program here at UMASS Dartmouth. My first go-around with the Urban Iniative last Summer provided me with the opportunity to get involved in the South Coast Urban Indicators Project (SCUIP), a sweeping research-based report on Fall River and New Bedford that examined urban success factors, including safety, education, and cultural engagement, amongst many others. As an introduction to the world of researched public policy, SCUIP was salient as it not only presented where our Southcoast cities currently stand in regards to urban indicators, but also where they could potentially stand in the future.  In the same vein as the Urban Indicators Project, I, along with my fellow interns, will be spending this Summer examining issues that are representative of our Southcoast cities. However, we will be dedicating our research time to a topic of a decidedly different nature. This Summer, rather than examining civic vitality or health indicators, we will be researching college accessibility for Gateway City youth in the Southcoast region. This is a project that resonates quite strongly with me, seeing as I am about to embark on my Senior year at New Bedford High School. Like many rising-Seniors across the nation, the financial and academic challenges of college have already integrated themselves into my daily life, and they will most certainly color my Autumnal schedule. Interested in law, economics, and politics, I will be applying to colleges as a Public Policy major in the Fall—a decision that was greatly influenced by the Urban Initative. In the meantime, in conjunction with the Urban Initative, I look forward to providing thought-provoking insight on the post-secondary education accessibility discussion in our community.

 

Happy Reading!

Job opportunity with The Trustees of Reservations (New Bedford)

Superintendent, Alan C. Haskell Park – The Trustees of Reservations

TTOR recently acquired the site of the now-defunct Haskell nursery in New Bedford’s North End, and they’re looking to hire a superintendent who can plan for and manage its development into a park. Prospective candidates should have a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject area and experience recruiting and managing staff and volunteers. Full job description here.

UI Summer Intern Caitlin Hills

What school do you attend and what grade are you in?

I am a graduate of NBHS.

How are you hoping to benefit from the internship this summer?

Research experience; being a part of something that is helping others to achieve college access

What are your plans for the fall?

I will be attending Columbia University.

Are you planning on attending college?  Do you have a major area of study in mind already?

I am planning on going pre-med with a concentration in neuroscience and behavior.

What first got you interested in pursuing a post-high school education?

I want to make a comfortable living; research and study abroad opportunities offered at college

What major hurdles have you had to overcome in order to make sure you are going to have access to a higher education?

Application process; affording an Ivy League education; college selectiveness

Meet Maria Victoria Ponte, UI Summer Intern

1. What school do you attend and what grade are you in?

I attend Global Learning Charter Public School, I am an incoming junior. I have been a student at GLCPS since I was in the 5th grade.

2. How are you hoping to benefit from the internship this summer?

I am hoping to gain experience as well as skills that will help me in the future. One of my possible career choices is to be a high school English teacher and as a teacher one of my priorities would be to help my students enter and complete college. Currently I know little to nothing about college access, so I am taking this opportunity as a chance to learn what I would need when I am applying to colleges, preparing for SAT’s, and applying for financial aid. Knowledge I as a teacher would be able to give to my future students.

3. What are your plans for the fall?

I will be starting my junior year at GLCPS, along with starting dual enrollment at BCC.

4. Are you planning on attending college?  Do you have a major area of study in mind already?

It is my intention to attend college after graduating high school. I have two fields of study that interest me, psychology and teaching. Psychology is my first choice because as odd as this may sound I have a fascination with mental disease and why each mind thinks the way it thinks. I would like to do both counseling and research, my long term goal as a psychologist is to open my own practice.  Being an English teacher for high school students is my second choice because I love English, reading and writing so I want to share my passion for that with other people.

5. What first got you interested in pursuing a post-high school education?

Well, since I was 5 I can remember my dad picking me up from school and telling me “You know Maria Victoria, it’s probably about the time you start thinking about college”. So it was never really on option for me not to go to college it was always something I had to do.

6. What major hurdles have you had to overcome in order to make sure you are going to have access to a higher education?

I am a very lucky kid, because my parents have always been very loving and supportive when it came to my education goals. I do very much enjoy learning and going to school. The only difficulty I may have is the actual cost of college. I come from a working class family and my parents are divorced so financial aid is extremely important.

Emma York, UI Summer Intern

What school do you attend and what grade are you in?

     New Bedford High School Junior

How are you hoping to benefit from the internship this summer?

     I hope to form connections between daily life and data in order to better my understanding of the ways in which the world works and to create community-based solutions to injustices and inefficiencies in my community. I crave conversation that affirms that my generation will continue to work to better the world and I hope to engage in wonderful conversations with wonderful people dedicated to bettering our world at the internship this summer.

What are your plans for the fall?

     In the fall I will return to New Bedford High School, as an upperclasswoman, hopefully having acquired confidence and knowledge of the college application process here at the urban initiative and when I return to school I will delve into Junior Year. I hope to continue my involvement in the Tennis and Debate Teams, New Bedford Ballet, as well as the Student Committee for Educational Progress (SCEP) and Bioneers and Mayor’s Youth Councils. I am eager for the firsts that will accompany my Junior Year – my first taste of the college campus through dual enrollment at UMASS Dartmouth, my first chance to explore electives – centering around the social sciences (psychology, human geography, the political and environmental sciences), and my first high school banquet – complete with all the wonderful inelegance of teenagers playing adults that will make for captivating memories.

Are you planning on attending college?  Do you have a major area of study in mind already?

     I find education at the core of me and so I intend to attend an institute of higher learning for which I will have to do my fair share of research in the coming year. My must-haves in a college or university include an expansive study abroad program (I hope to lose myself in the romance of Europe as I have already lost myself in literature), an unwavering commitment to social justice, and the encouragement of ideas and opinions. Although I am presently unsure of my major, I suspect I will be drawn to the social sciences, specifically education: “the most powerful weapon with which to change the world” – Nelson Mandela.

What first got you interested in pursuing a post-high school education?

     I am fortunate enough to have parents who deeply value education, in their appreciation I was and still am captivated. Passion is contagious and the passion of my parents and teachers for education has always been evident, in my parents who have brought literature alive and in my teachers whose ingenious lessons have allowed me to escape the confines of the classroom, to connect learning to life. Living in a gateway city has given me the opportunity to redefine my education and the education of my peers through various education reforms and so I have become further invested in the world of education because I am aware of the challenges faced by public education and the possibilities which it entails.

What major hurdles have you had to overcome in order to make sure you are going to have access to a higher education?

     I have worked on a personal level to gain greater understanding of the material which I am learning each day and I have worked on a public level to reform New Bedford Public Schools and allow myself and my peers the tools and teachers necessary to have, not an adequate, but an excellent education and to further that education at an institute of higher learning. I live and learn in an urban setting without expensive technology or obedient classrooms, but I see the city as an advantage in my application to college. New Bedford Public Schools has given me an abundance of diversity: political, economic, religious, and racial, which has broadened my perspective and brought to light varying opinions. Through New Bedford Public Schools I have met numerous students with a hunger for challenge and a drive to succeed, they are the product of our city, I am the product of our city, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

     I hope to contribute to the conversations at the Urban Initiative centering on college access. Happy reading!

Olivia Owens, UI Summer Intern

What school do you attend and what grade are you in?

     I attend New Bedford High School and I’m in 11th grade.

How are you hoping to benefit from the internship this summer?

     I am hoping to benefit from this internship this summer by getting a full understanding of how college works, the determination, and support that you need in order to achieve a well rounded future. I’m also hoping to find a solution to the common problem that the United States is having, pertaining to dropouts, and why the dropouts are particularly high in the United States.

What are your plans for the fall?

     My plan for the fall is to further my education due to the fact that I will a senior next year. I’m also planning to take the Act’s and the SAT’s again but with an opened mind and the determination to study harder in order to excel above average.

Are you planning on attending college?  Do you have a major area of study in mind already? 

     Yes, I’m planning to attend college, and the two majors that I have in mind are Criminology and Dance.

What first got you interested in pursuing a post-high school education?

     The reason why I am so eager to pursue a post- high school education is my mother and father. They have raised me to be open-minded but with a desire to be successful and, in order to fully complete that goal, to continue my education further than high school. What my mother always told me was, “ High school and College are entirely different, so due to that fact it is expected to continue the education process in order to be taught differently and to find out what you never knew, also not only will it open your mind to various topics, pertaining to culture, dance, science and etc. But it will also help you find out who you are – what are your strengths and weaknesses.”

What major hurdles have you had to overcome in order to make sure you are going to have access to a higher education?

     I had to overcome the urge of working alone, I always use to tend to work with others, or I will not work at all.  I thought entirely wrong, the only person that knows what you can do is yourself. I have always been on top of my assignments and, the majority of the time, I finish before the due date – that being said, procrastinating was never a problem. 

Gabrielle Healy, UI Summer Intern

What school do you attend and what grade are you in?

How are you hoping to benefit from the internship this summer?

What are your plans for the fall?

Are you planning on attending college?  Do you have a major area of study in mind already?

What first got you interested in pursuing a post-high school education?

What major hurdles have you had to overcome in order to make sure you are going to have access to a higher education?

        My name is Gabrielle Healy, and I’ll be a senior next year at Cape Cod’s Sturgis Charter Public School West. This summer, I hope to learn how to conduct a research and data-based investigation, with results to help the community tackle the problem of college access. It’s easy to do a lab on cells at school that a million other high schoolers have done before, but with the Urban Initiative, our data will hopefully be helpful in assessing and improving the level of college access, something that is highly relevant to my age group. As a result, I hope to help my peers, but also to empathize and learn the stories of those unlike myself and my friends. I also look forward to working in a group of other motivated teenagers to complete a project outside of school. This fall, I plan on completing my college applications, finishing my senior thesis, and participating in my school’s a capella group and on our soccer team. In college, I hope to study English, economics, and international relations, but my interests change almost daily, and I’m sure I’ll want to add to this list all summer. I’m excited to go to college because I’ll have the opportunity to study a myriad of topics in depth, and meet a diverse group of students. My mother works at UMass Dartmouth, and as a result, I have always known that I would like to attend college, but more recently, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of a ‘gap-year’, and if a program like AmeriCorps or working for a year might be a good fit for me after high school. I have been really lucky and very well prepared for the college application process, and as a result, I haven’t found any huge hurdles to accessing higher education. In my mind, the only foreseeable challenges might be the levels of financial aid availability, and making sure that I budget my time to make sure that my applications are representative of my best writing, but again, I’ve been fortunate to have parents that went to college and to have older siblings that went through the process. I’m happy to be an intern at the Urban Initiative, and I hope we have a great summer!    

Jessica Barros, UI Summer Intern

 1. What school do you attend and what grade are you in?

     My name is Jessica Barros and I graduated from New Bedford High School this past June.

2. How are you hoping to benefit from the internship this summer?

     From this internship I hope to gain a better understanding of the problems that college freshman are facing around the country.

 3. What are your plans for the fall?

     This fall I will be attending Wheaton College (MA).

4. Are you planning on attending college?  Do you have a major area of study in mind already?

     I am going into the science field; I plan on majoring in biomedical engineering.

5. What first got you interested in pursuing a post-high school education?

     I made the decision to further my education because I would like to create things that will help people around the world.

6. What major hurdles have you had to overcome in order to make sure you are going to have access to a higher education?

     The major obstacle that I had to overcome in order to earn a college degree was my family’s financial situation.