This paper analyzes the federal urban renewal and slum clearance program. This program was enacted by Title I of the Housing Act of 1949 and was one of the largest and most controversial location-based economic development policies used to rehabilitate neighborhoods in the United States. I construct a new spatial dataset documenting the locations of approximately 200 urban renewal projects across 28 U.S. cities. I use this newly constructed dataset to examine the characteristics of neighborhoods cleared for redevelopment and the effect that urban renewal projects had on neighborhoods over time. I show that conditional on experiencing urban blight, black neighborhoods were between two and three times more likely than white neighborhoods to be targeted for slum clearance. Further, the resulting redevelopment led to a persistent decline in population density, housing density, and in the share of black residents in directly treated neighborhoods. Simultaneously, median rents and median incomes increased. These results are consistent with predictions from a spatial equilibrium model of locational choice. Viewed through the lens of this model, my results imply that households in the lowest end of the income distribution were made worse off by slum clearance policies.
Racial Disparities in Debt Collection, with Domonkos Vamossy
A distinct set of disadvantages experienced by black Americans increases their likelihood of experiencing negative financial shocks, decreases their ability to mitigate the impact of such shocks, and ultimately results in debt collection cases being far more common in black neighborhoods than in non-black neighborhoods. In this paper, we create a novel dataset that links debt collection court cases with information from credit reports to document the disparity in debt collection judgments across black and non-black neighborhoods and to explore potential mechanisms that could be driving this judgment gap. We find that majority black neighborhoods experience approximately 40% more judgments than non-black neighborhoods, even after controlling for differences in median incomes, median credit scores, and default rates. The racial disparity in judgments cannot be explained by differences in debt characteristics across black and non-black neighborhoods, nor can it be explained by differences in attorney representation, the share of contested judgments, or differences in neighborhood lending institutions.
The Mortality Effects of Community Mental Health Centers, with Mallory Avery
The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 established Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) across the country with the goal of providing continuous, comprehensive, community-oriented care to people suffering from mental illness. Despite this program being considered a failure by most contemporary accounts, the World Health Organization advocates for a transition from the institutionalization of the mentally ill to a system of community-centered care. In this paper, we construct a novel dataset documenting the rollout of CMHCs from 1971 to 1981 to identify the effect of establishing a CMHC on county level mortality rates, focusing on causes of death related to mental illness. Though we find little evidence that access to a CMHC impacted mortality rates in the white population, we find large and robust effects for the nonwhite population, with CMHCs reducing suicide and homicide rates by 8% and 14%, respectively. CMHCs also reduced deaths from alcohol in the female nonwhite population by 18%. These results suggest the historical narrative surrounding the failure of this program does not represent the nonwhite experience and that community care can be effective at reducing mental health related mortality in populations with the least access to alternative treatment options.
Race, Risk, and the Emergence of Federal Redlining, with Price Fishback, Allison Shertzer, and Randall P. Walsh
During the late 1930s, the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) created a series of maps designed to summarize spatial variation in the riskiness of mortgage lending in different neighborhoods. The HOLC maps, in conjunction with contemporaneous maps produced by the Federal Housing Agency (FHA), are at the center of debates regarding the long-run impacts of government-imposed redlining, particularly because black households were concentrated in the highest risk zones on these maps. This concentration, combined with the fact that these formerly redlined neighborhoods largely remain economically distressed today, suggest racial bias in the construction of the maps has had important effects over the long run. Using newly digitized data for ten major northern cities, we assess the maps for the importance of this channel in explaining the prevalence of black residents in redlined neighborhoods. We find that racial bias in the construction of the HOLC maps can explain at most a small fraction of the observed concentration of black households in redlined zones. Instead, our results suggest that the majority of black households were redlined because decades of disadvantage and discrimination had already pushed them in to the core of economically distressed neighborhoods prior to the government’s direct involvement in mortgage markets. As a result, the HOLC maps are best viewed as providing clear evidence of how decades of unequal treatment effectively limited where black households lived in the 1930s rather than reflecting racial bias in the construction of the maps themselves. We argue that the systemized treatment of neighborhood risk vis-à-vis mortgage lending that was adopted by HOLC and the FHA may have played a central role in locking these patterns of inequality in place.
Works in Progress
The Effect of Community Mental Health Centers on Labor Market Outcomes, with Mallory Avery
The Short and Long Run Effects of Black Strikebreakers on Racial Inequalities, with Ethan Schmick