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. In this paper, we construct a novel dataset documenting the rollout of CMHCs from 1971 to 1981 to identify the effect of implementing a CMHC on county level mortality rates, focusing on causes of death related to mental illness. We find evidence that CMHCs reduced suicide rates among whites between the ages of 15 and 24 by 4%. CMHCs were particularly effective in reducing deaths from homicide and alcohol in the nonwhite population, with nonwhites experiencing a 5% decline in homicide rates and nonwhites age 45 to 64 experiencing an 11% decline in deaths caused by alcohol. The effect on mortality for nonwhite people is focused in rural areas. These results suggest CMHCs were effective in reducing mental illness related mortality, especially in populations with the greatest need and least access to alternative forms of treatment.
Race, Risk, and the Emergence of Federal Redlining, with Price Fishback, Allison Shertzer, and Randall P. Walsh (Draft forthcoming)
Federal “redlining” maps showing the perceived riskiness of lending in particular neighborhoods were created for nearly all major cities by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at the height of the Great Depression. These maps have become a visual shorthand for government-sanctioned housing market discrimination in recent decades as formerly redlined neighborhoods continue to struggle. We provide a systematic empirical analysis of the redlining process, focusing on the role of race. In sum, we find little evidence that black neighborhoods were targeted for the highest risk rating, conditional on observable characteristics such as home values and income. Our results suggest that the federal government reinforced fundamental existing disparities between black and white neighborhoods rather than having directly caused racial inequity in housing markets.
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