WASHINGTON, May 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) applauds the new book released today by the Brookings Institution. Confronting Suburban Poverty in America details how family poverty has spread beyond traditional urban boundaries and calls for public policies to address these new realities.
The book, which was researched and written by Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and Alan Berube, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, notes that more poor people now live in suburbs than in central cities. The book cites the need for better regional systems for delivering services to low income families now living in the suburbs.
"There is both good news and bad news in this trend," said Philip Tegeler, president of PRRAC. "One piece of good news is that more poor families are living outside of the most concentrated poverty neighborhoods, in areas with better schools and lower crime rates."
But Tegeler warned there is also challenging news. "The nation is still allowing some higher opportunity suburban towns to exclude low income families, which will inexorably lead to re-concentration and re-segregation in older suburban towns," he said. "A small but increasing number of suburban communities have poverty rates exceeding 20 percent."
Tegeler said the Brookings data reinforces the importance of regional housing strategies to open up new opportunities for low income families and avoid re-segregation. Each suburban community, he said, needs to do its fair share – especially the wealthiest communities.
"One possible silver lining is that poverty is becoming much more visible in more of our communities," Tegeler said. "It is becoming harder for middle class families and voters to look the other way with poverty safely confined to far away city neighborhoods. This new visibility could have the effect of finally moving a real national conversation about reducing poverty."
Moreover, Tegeler said that while the Brookings research underscores the rise in suburban poverty, policymakers also need to address increasing poverty in urban areas. "The families living in these city neighborhoods continue to need help to move out of poverty," he said.
The authors of the book, Tegeler said, repeat the longstanding recommendation that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development work to consolidate fragmented local Section 8 administrators into regional housing agencies. He said this kind of regional consolidation, coupled with an active mobility strategy and improved voucher rent structures, will also help to stabilize more distressed suburban communities.
PRRAC also supports the Brookings emphasis on creating a more regional approach in some of our other key housing programs – the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the HOME program, and the Community Development Block Grant program.
Tegeler said that HUD's "Sustainable Communities Initiative" is trying to do this on a small scale now, but Brookings recommends taking this a step further and creating a new competitive grant program they call the "Metropolitan Opportunity Challenge" using 5 percent of existing federal funds to create incentives for state and local governments and nonprofits to collaborate and take on regional poverty challenges in creative new ways.
Calling the Brookings idea for a "Metro Opportunity Challenge" fund "promising," Tegeler said it only affects – at its most ambitious – 5 percent of federal "place based antipoverty funding." Tegeler urged that more attention be paid to the remaining 95 percent of place based funding, which in the past has unfortunately resulted in housing segregation and poverty concentration.
Tegeler said he was disappointed that the Brookings book fails to offer more recommendations that specifically address race and racial segregation.
The Brookings research notes that white families still make up the majority of the suburban poor, but an increasing number of low income families of color are also moving into suburban areas. In 2008, the National Commission on Fair Housing highlighted diverse older suburbs as presenting an important opportunity for stable, long-term racial integration – but the dynamics of "white flight" are still here today. Tegeler said the trend will continue as long as racial discrimination and steering exists in real estate markets and exclusionary zoning keeps lower cost housing out of some communities.
"Strong fair housing enforcement needs to be included in any strategy going forward – and HUD needs to issue a strong 'Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing' rule that will set clear expectations for suburban communities with growing poor populations," Tegeler said.
Furthermore, Tegeler said the U.S. Department of Education also has an important role to play in insisting that diverse suburbs maintain internal school integration, and work collaboratively with regional school districts to avoid re-segregation.
As the Brookings book emphasizes, Tegeler said the nation is at a crucial moment of opportunity now in the evolving story of suburban poverty.
"We need to move quickly to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past," Tegeler said. "We need to plan intentionally to shape more equitable regions and ensure that low income families have a secure home in all of our communities – and long term hope for moving out of poverty."
The Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) is a civil rights policy organization convened by major civil rights, civil liberties, and anti-poverty groups in 1989-90. PRRAC's primary mission is to help connect advocates with social scientists working on race and poverty issues, and to promote a research-based advocacy strategy on structural inequality issues. PRRAC sponsors social science research, provides technical assistance, and convenes advocates and researchers around particular race and poverty issues. You can also follow PRRAC on twitter at https://twitter.com/PRRAC_DC, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Poverty-and-Race-Research-Action-Council/480723658639202 and at www.prrac.org.
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SOURCE Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC)