Urban areas of “concentrated poverty” face many social ailments. But due to the municipal nature of development policies and school districts, poor housing and education have emerged as uniquely city-level problems. Worse, in many cases, those two maladies interact to create a vicious cycle. Rapid gentrification, combined with other factors, hikes up housing prices, and hits many city dwellers hard. Imagine: what would happen if housing prices soared so high that teachers could not afford to stay in the city? The answer is clear–they would be left with no choice but to move out to more affordable suburban areas, leaving already withering inner-city schools with even less resources.
I’ve spoken in “if”s and subjunctives so far, but this saddening synergy has been reality for many cities for quite some time. Take St. Louis, Missouri. According to Forbes, the medium rent in St. Louis has climbed up 4.2% in the last year, whereas income growth for young people has generally been stagnant. Such discrepancy between a growing financial burden posed by rising rent prices and shrinking support from decreasing income has manifested itself in an urgent threat to the city’s educational system. According to St. Louis Public Schools Real Estate Director Walker Gaffney, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, education officials from the city had to explore and vet multiple proposals to stop teachers from migrating into suburban districts over the summer. Here, it must also be made clear that these “suburban” districts are not the affluent 50s suburbia that usually comes to mind. According to CBS news, some scholars interpreted recent census data and concluded that many who move out from cities searching for more affordable housing end up stuck in a “pocket,” or the innermost circle of suburban land surrounding the city.
Fortunately, the St. Louis school board has reached an innovative and efficient solution: remodeling old, abandoned, but historic school buildings into affordable housing for teachers. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the project is led by Donna Smith and her company, Smith NMTC Associates, LLC. Smith stated in an interview with the publication that she hopes that her development project will inspire similar efforts in other cities and states that are having a difficult time holding onto teaching staff.
The brilliance of this St. Louis case makes it an inspiration on its own; however, it also illuminates the larger significance of the issue of affordable housing. Housing dictates who stays in the city. It determines the demographic fiber of an area, and has the potential to create or resolve issues in say, the educational system, and to shape the prospects of struggling teachers and students alike. Affordable housing is key to addressing many social maladies ailing low-income cities. Next Sunday, we will explore and analyze recent efforts from the federal government to target unaffordable housing.