April project update

There’s one fewer project to provide an update on this month: just last week, research assistant Mike McCarthy delivered a report on the needs of Bristol County Veterans to our client, the Veteran’s Transition House of New Bedford. You can read about Mike’s experience leading that project here, and read his full report on our website.

Here’s the status of our major projects this semester:

1) LifeWork project

Katya recently presented baseline data for two cohorts of women now enrolled in the Women’s Fund of Southeastern MA’s LifeWork Project. These women are working toward degrees at Bristol Community College, getting support from mentors and the LifeWork coordinator, and participating in financial literacy programs, all with the aim of helping them earn a family-sustaining wage upon completion. In addition to organizing all participant data in Salesforce and using its tools to run reports, the UI has surveyed the network of partner organizations about their role in this collaborative effort. We have also surveyed participants to learn about their experiences and needs following a focus group with women in the program.

Currently, the LifeWork coordinator is conducting follow-up assessments to track changes in participants’ lives since the start of the program. We will use that data and data provided by BCC to determine the degree to which one year (or, in the case of the second cohort, one semester) in the program has impacted their outcomes. This reporting will be done in May/June, and will conclude our role in designing and piloting the first year evaluation.

2) Taunton HOPE VI

As Bob has written, our team has just begun the second year of evaluating the process and outcomes of this project on individuals, families, the neighborhood, and the city. Right now, this entails conducting 25 interviews with the same heads of household we interviewed last year to determine the ways in which their lives and those of their household members have changed. Upon the completion of interviews, we’ll begin a series of focus groups with HOPE VI residents as well as community service providers to help inform the degree to which the Taunton Housing Authority can positively impact the lives of its current and former residents.

3) United Way Hunger Commission study

In addition to interviewing folks in Taunton, Bob has coordinated an effort to interview approximately 20 organizations affiliated with the United Way Hunger Commission as part of our effort to help that project track inputs/outputs and learn about the needs of its partners. Interviewing will conclude this month and a report on our findings will be furnished to the United Way in May.

4) Health data hub

Our project to develop a website that aggregates and presents health data for SouthCoast stakeholders has completed. We are now working with project partners to launch the site externally, after which point we’ll begin conducting quarterly updates to the site’s content for the following year.

5) New Bedford Regeneration Committee

As Mayor Mitchell noted in his State of the City address, the Urban Initiative has been engaged to work with MassINC to support the work of the recently formed Regeneration Committee. This committee is comprised of city business leaders who are working to identify short-term economic development priorities for New Bedford. Our role is to record and distill meeting proceedings, integrate data and existing research in the process, and develop a report detailing the findings of this work.

6) Center for Education Innovation at Friends Academy

This project to design and pilot an evaluation for CEI’s programming in New Bedford Public Schools has recently begun with a pre-participation survey of currently engaged teachers. Next, we’ll work with the school department to obtain classroom-level data on student outcomes that we will analyze in conjunction with survey results. All the while, we will be working with CEI staff to develop a long-term evaluation strategy that will help CEI ensure that its programming is improving outcomes for teachers and students alike.

 

Reflections on Research: Bristol County Veterans Needs Assessment

By Michael P. McCarthy, Senior English Undergraduate, Research Assistant, UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

 

Working at the Urban Initiative has kept my curiosity satisfied. Since I began here last summer, I’ve been able to participate in a variety of projects with different levels of intensity. Whether I was helping edit a report for the Taunton Housing Authority or updating information on a SCUIP page, there was always a new way immerse myself in a foreign subject. I’ve always enjoyed going down the rabbit a hole a little ways if it means I can come back having learned something new about our work or my perception of the world.

When fall began, the Veteran’s Transition House of New Bedford contracted us to assess the needs of local Veterans. Colleen asked me if I’d like to helm the project. I will admit that I was slightly nervous; working for years as a cook, I had gotten used to instant results and taking on a project from the start seemed daunting. But I’m glad I accepted it.

With help from my colleagues here at UI, Katya, Bob, and Colleen, and David Borges from the Center for Policy Analysis, I began to formulate a plan. The Veterans Transition House had defined their service area as the entirety of Bristol County, but when I poked around the VA for information on the cities and towns of the county, I could not find any detailed information – the VA has public data on the county and the Congressional district, which was not updated to reflected Massachusetts’ redistricting. What I did find was a national survey of Veterans and homeless Veterans needs assessment. Keeping in mind one our favorite idioms, “no need to reinvent the wheel,” I adapted the survey to assess the needs of Bristol County Veterans. To me this had two major benefits: first, I didn’t have to design a survey from scratch, and I would have national figures to compare with the local Veteran population.

After Colleen and I piloted the survey during New Bedford’s Veterans’ Day parade, we felt that we were ready to administer it to the greater Veteran population. The roll out was on Thanksgiving. I spent the morning at the transition house packing the surveys in with the 160 or so meals brought local Veterans and their families. Everyone got turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and their own pie – randomized between berry and apple. I learned two important lessons from this day. First, incentives are important; the survey included a raffle entry form and nearly all were returned with a completed form. Also, many people in New Bedford and the area are concerned with improving the lives of our Veterans. So many volunteers showed up to help that most job stations were double staffed. I had two assistants just for handing envelopes to drivers. I went to my family dinner that night wanting to produce a report that would validate all the work being done by the volunteers and staff at the transition house, something that would make their mission easier to complete.

While I waited for the surveys to come back, I began pouring over Census and VA information on Bristol County Veterans. I learned about the VA’s VetPop population model, which predicted a decline in the local population. Comparing these to recent Census figures showed just how accurate the projections are. I hope that we are able to avoid another large spike in combat Veterans and reach the 2040 projection, meaning our Veteran population would have declined by nearly 60 percent.

Another interesting take away from my compilation of secondary data was the Veteran unemployment rates. Before the recession, Bristol County Veterans had a lower unemployment rate than the general population. By 2010, the rate among Veterans had risen nearly four points and was one and half points higher than general unemployment. Searching for an explanation, I happened across the Congressional Joint Economic Committee’s annual report on Veteran employment. I learned that not only are Veterans in Massachusetts disproportionately unemployed at a rate 9.9 percent, but Veterans of the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have unemployment rates more than double their fellow Veterans – 23 percent. For people working to end homelessness among Veterans, like the transition house, this number speaks to the uncertainty facing those returning home from war.

By early March, surveys had begun trickling in from Veteran Service Offices in the cities and towns across the county. Recruiting VSOs to help administer the surveys showed me the importance of engaging with stakeholders in the community. Massachusetts mandates that each municipality have a service officer, or for small towns share one with nearby communities, in order to help Veterans apply for services and receive financial aid for housing, clothing, and food. These VSOs deal directly with the Veteran subpopulation I was hoping to reach with the needs assessment. On average, most of the VSOs I spoke with dealt with around 35 active cases, ranging from Veterans’ widows to homeless young Veterans. To some extend this portion of the research was frustrating, both due to lack of engagement from some partners and low return rate from those able to assist. I reminded myself that all the surveys were voluntary and analyzed the responses. As it turns out, the Veterans surveyed have needs similar their national cohort, and they are most lacking in dental care, perhaps the most complex aspect of the VA medical benefits application process. However, their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter were mostly met.

While I lacked the targeted number of surveys, the database started by the research can be used to further explore the needs of local Veterans. I hope that the Veteran’s Transition House will be able to continue administering the needs assessment and building the database, as it will prove useful as they realign their mission to the changing needs of Veterans. Hopefully, it will also be of use to future researchers and community partners. Now, I’m looking forward to my next project, whatever it may be, so that I can immerse myself in a new world and conduct research to inform people working to strengthen our community and region.

UI Evaluates Public Housing in Taunton, MA

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Assistant

HOPE VI is a public housing program administered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Under HOPE VI, severely distressed public housing is demolished and redeveloped into new, mixed-use housing that typically is less densely populated. Attempts are also made to better integrate these new developments into adjacent neighborhoods.

A significant challenge for residents occurs as demolition displaces them into other locations or neighborhoods for, at minimum, the amount of time necessary to demolish the antiquated housing in which they lived, and to construct new housing facilities.

When the HOPE VI process was begun at Fairfax Gardens, a public housing site in Taunton, MA that had become notorious for criminal and drug activity, the Urban Initiative was chosen as the independent evaluator of the redevelopment effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

June 4, 2012: Dilapidated, barracks-style housing at Fairfax Gardens, a few days before demolition.

June 4, 2012: Dilapidated, barracks-style housing at Fairfax Gardens, a few days before demolition.

As part of our evaluation, the Urban Initiative was required by HUD to interview a random selection of twenty-five heads of household who formerly resided at Fairfax Gardens, which was overseen by the Taunton Housing Authority (THA). I interviewed most of these heads of household in 2013 to learn about their displacement and relocation issues, which may include concerns about family relationships, integration of relocated residents into new neighborhoods, employment and income issues, material hardships, health issues, and children’s education.

One year later, I am in the midst of a follow-up round of interviews with the same respondents. My colleague, graduate research assistant Katya Starostina, will this year conduct the interviews of Spanish-speaking heads of household.

March 27, 2013: Following demolition and site grading, the first new structures appear on site.

March 27, 2013: Following demolition and site grading, the first new structures appear on site.

Most of the displaced residents were placed by THA in Section 8 housing. This year, many respondents report that they remain in Section 8 apartments. However, there are exceptions: some families have moved back to brand-new units at Fairfax Gardens (now renamed “Bristol Commons”). A few former residents have even successfully transitioned from public to private housing.

While it is too soon to make our data tell the full story of Fairfax Gardens, these photos show the great progress that has been made on the construction site since 2012. It is my hope that this redevelopment effort will result in better outcomes for citizens of Taunton who are challenged by income and housing issues.

April 4, 2014: Residents are returning to well-designed public housing at the renamed "Bristol Commons."

April 4, 2014: Residents are returning to well-designed public housing at the renamed “Bristol Commons.”

Latino Population: An Untapped Resource for New Bedford?

Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On Saturday April 5th, the Lawrence History Center hosted a ‘Symposium on the History of the “New Immigration” Into Lawrence, Massachusetts and Similar Communities.’ At the symposium, many experts came together to discuss the history of immigration, the immigrant experience in Massachusetts, immigrants’ vital role in entrepreneurship and urban revitalization in Gateway Cities, among many other topics.

A number of presenters focused on the experience of Latinos in Massachusetts. While Latinos make up just 9.6 percent of state population, they are more concentrated in Gateway Cities, such as Lawrence (73.8%), Lowell (17.3%), Revere (24.4%), and New Bedford (16.7%).1 Latinos make up an even bigger percentage in the public schools. They comprise as much as 90.2 percent in Lawrence, 36.1 percent in Gateway Cities overall, and 32.8 percent in New Bedford.2 The population is also quickly growing: since 2000, the Latino population grew by 59 percent in New Bedford.

The Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy Publications shared their research at the Symposium. In their 2013 report, Latinos in Massachusetts Selected Areas: New Bedford, the following selected characteristics on Latino population paint a picture worth examining.

Educational attainment_New BedfordNew Bedford’s Latino population has a median age of 24, which is much lower than the median age for the white population (39 years old). Since half of the Hispanic population is under 25, Latino students are disproportionally represented in the New Bedford Public Schools compared to their overall population size. The chart below shows how low education attainment is among Latinos over the age of 25 in New Bedford. More than half (53%) are without a high school diploma.

Jobs_New BedfordMedian Income_New Bedford                                                                      Latinos in New Bedford have a lower labor force participation rate (62%) than Latinos statewide (70%) and a higher unemployment rate (17%) than Latinos statewide (13%). As the chart on the left shows, they are working primarily low-wage jobs, with only 13 percent working in white-color jobs.

As a result, Latinos have the lowest median income ($25,651) of all ethnic groups in New Bedford – much lower than the overall median income in New Bedford ($37,493) and statewide median income ($65,981), as the chart on the right demonstrates. The percentage of Latinos in New Bedford without a medical insurance is double (14%) the rate of uninsured statewide (7%).

chart_2

Since the Latino population is so young (around 20 percent are 18 or under), the public education system can truly make a difference to turn the trend of low education attainment and low-income among Latinos around. However, as I’ve pointed out in my blog post on graduation rates, Hispanic/Latino students and English Language Learners have the lowest rates of graduation.

One-fifth of Latinos in New Bedford (3,190 people) are foreign-born, which presents significant challenges for children in public schools and parents who have to advocate for their children.1 As Helena DaSilva from the Immigrant Assistance Center related at a recent Leadership SouthCoast presentation, there are not sufficient services in place in New Bedford Public Schools for Latino immigrants and English Language Learners (ELLs). Many schools lack basic translation services for students and parents to communicate with teachers in their native language.

This topic was addressed at the Education Vision Forum that the Urban Initiative co-hosted with MassINC on March 28. A successful model of working with ELL students from Brockton Public Schools was discussed, including their Sheltered Instruction and Two-Way Language Program. The Vision presents a number of recommended initiatives, supported by research focused on these efforts, which stand on three pillars: expanded learning time, family engagement, and fostering bi-literacy.

With such a need present, New Bedford is in a position to have a high-impact on a big part of its population by adapting research-based models practiced in other Gateway Cities and schools across the country. It is crucial for New Bedford to harness all its resources in ensuring Latino students are graduating high school college-ready and are highly-skilled for jobs and entrepreneurship in the changing economy. While the challenge is great and stakes are high, cities like Lawrence have demonstrated, in winning the Working Cities Challenge, that it takes a city-wide collaboration across all sectors to successfully meet the needs of students and families.

1Data is from 2012 ACS 5 year-estimates

2Data is from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education