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Racism Has Youths of Color Seriously Stressed Out

This article was written by Shari Sharpe, editorial intern. It was originally published on TakePart in November 2016.

Thanks to the ongoing effects of systemic racism, research shows black people living in the United States aren’t as healthy as their peers in Canada. Now a new study reveals some of the race-related stressors—such as police violence and gentrification—that are impediments to health and wellness for young people of color in America.

Released last week by the Center for Promise, a research institute housed at the Boston University School of Education, the study, Barriers to Wellness: Voices and Views From Young People in Five Cities, shares the perspectives and experiences of youths of color in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, and St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Many young people of color in the study cite feeling over-policed, undervalued, and unsafe in their own communities as barriers to wellness,” Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise, said in a statement. “These feelings often stem from pervasive stress and trauma associated with a lack of access to

high-quality nutritious foods and medical care and concerns of racial discrimination that can lead to risky behaviors and a distrust of institutions. The result is entire generations growing up in constant fear, which affects their lives and can limit their potential in so many ways.”

Left: Population, African American, Age 5-17 (2008-2012) Right: Population, African American, Age 5-17 (2011-2015)

Addressing the well-being of children and youths of color is critical: They’re the fastest-growing demographic in the United States and the majority of the youth population in roughly half of the 100 largest cities in the nation. To gain a better understanding of the barriers this demographic faces, the center decided the health and wellness assessment should be designed and implemented by young people. Youths ages 13 and up created questionnaires and interviewed their peers. The study is, according to the center, the first multicity, youth-led community health assessment to be conducted in the U.S.

Sixty percent of respondents from Chicago said they believe that youths are antagonized by police. To avoid police interactions or surveillance, the Chicago respondents said they are more likely to stay indoors—at friends’ houses or at their own homes—than go out in public. “Kids can’t freely walk or play in the community without being worried about getting beat up or shot and killed,” one person told a youth researcher. This, in turn, makes youths of color less willing to leave their communities—which are frequently food deserts—to find healthier food options.

The Philadelphia team of youth researchers used a “photovoice” method to study stereotyping—which the study defines as “a form of visual ethnography employed by community action and health promotion researchers to catalyze community change.”

They found that young people naturally begin to feel unwelcome or unsafe given the amount of stereotyping and racism they are subject to or witness. Negative stereotypes of clothing, hair, gender, or race become internalized, leading to impacts on the mental well-being and self-esteem of youths of color.

Another outcome of the stress: engaging in risky behavior as a coping mechanism. The respondents commonly listed drug use as a form of stress relief, and nearly 73 percent of the Chicago and Philadelphia respondents said they engaged in unsafe sexual health practices.

“It boils down to the environment, in my opinion. If we don’t see more positivity around us, we’re likely to behave negatively and, in an already impoverished state of mind, we act based off of survival,” said a St. Paul survey respondent. “We’re afraid to talk about our problems because we either feel like no one’s listening, cares, or we don’t want to seem inferior,” said the survey respondent.

Given that racial bias begins in preschool and that it’s tougher for people of color to find a therapist, improving the health of youths of color won’t be easy. “Youth-serving organizations, educators, and local political officials should be equipped with the appropriate training to create safe spaces for racial healing, particularly for youth of color who have experienced traumatic events with community violence and police brutality,” recommends the center.

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Otherwise, young people will keep “growing up in constant fear, which affects their lives and can limit their potential in so many ways,” Zaff said.

Young Adults Seeking Public Housing….Good Luck.

This post was originally written by and was featured on Youth Radio on March 21, 2016.

It’s normal for millennials to still live at home these days. But what if you’re a millennial who doesn’t have a home to go back to?

“I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. I didn’t mind sleeping on the couch,” said 23-year-old Alkeisha Porter.

Growing up, she says she didn’t like her mom’s husband and her dad had a drug problem. So at 16, she moved out and became homeless.

“I was basically just house-hopping from friends to family members. Hey, it was comfortable to me. It wasn’t cold. I wasn’t sleeping outside,” she said.

Young people – including eighteen to 24-year-olds — make up one of the fastest growing homeless populations in the country. In many big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco where housing is at a premium, finding affordable housing is especially hard.

In San Francisco, one-bedroom apartments rents average $3490 (more than 3400) a month. There are about 1600 homeless young adults in the city on any given night, and public housing is out of reach for many of them.

Housing Cost Burden Map

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Porter found an apartment for herself and her baby in a building located on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, run by a non-profit called Mercy. It provides subsidized affordable housing for low-income residents, including 25 apartments reserved for 18 to 24-year-olds.

“This is my first dream to be on my own, get my own apartment, paying rent, paying bills, like a normal adult does,” said Cinthia Mendoza, one of Porters neighbors.

Domestic violence forced Mendoza out of her home and into foster care when she was 17. Now, at 21, she’s showing me around her new apartment. She listed off the appliances at her new residence.

“Behind the door there’s a refrigerator, a huge one, which I’ve never had in my life. And then a microwave, and then I have a big stove, and it’s brand new. Everything was brand new when I got here,” she said.

Mendoza is one of the lucky ones. There are far more low-income youth who need housing than there are subsidized apartments available. Technically, Mendoza and Porter could qualify for federal public housing instead of living at Mercy.

Side by Side Map Housing and Poverty

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“It’s very simple,” said Ron Ashford, a director at the federal housing authority. “[Young adults looking for public housing] just need to find their local housing authority, go to the housing authority and apply.”

But for young adults, the problem isn’t applying; it’s getting in. Their demographic is considered a lower priority.

Ashford explains, “Remember that you are competing against families who do not have a home. When I was in the New York City Housing Authority some 20 years ago, the waiting list was more than 10 years.”

In San Francisco, the waiting list for public housing is so long that it’s closed for the time being. There’s another obstacle specific to young adults: being enrolled in college classes presents extra rules that limit access to Section 8 federal housing.

“We need to be rethinking some of these rules around housing for students,” said Eric Rice,
a professor of social work at the University of Southern California.

Rice’s work includes a focus on homeless youth. He says he’s frustrated that taking a few courses can jeopardize a young person’s ability to get housing.

“Because if we have students who are homeless who are low-income, they need higher education as a long-term solution for alleviating their situation with respect to poverty. And we want to make that easier, not harder,” Rice said.

Before 2005, students didn’t have to meet such strict rules when it came to public housing. But then a scandal broke, in which well-off college athletes in schools across the country were caught living in Section 8 public housing. This controversy prompted the rules to change, affecting most full- and part-time students.

This is just one reason local solutions like Mercy Housing have popped up, to provide alternatives for 18 to 24-year-olds. The nonprofit welcomes students, but has to limit student residents to part-timers to qualify for federal tax credits. These tax credits make it possible to build this sort of public housing alternative in the first place.

The Mercy apartments on Ocean Avenue are situated right across the street from San Francisco City College. This was an intentional decision on the part of Mercy, to make it easier for the young residents to enroll if they choose to.

These student-residents don’t have to worry about being kicked out of their homes just for taking a few classes.

See more at Youth Radio.

Does Growing Up In Assisted Housing Affect Earning Potential?

Originally published on the U.S. Census Bureau Research Matters Blog on April 1, 2016 by Mark J. Kutzbach, Center for Economic Studies

In 2000, nearly 3 million children under age 18 lived in voucher-supported or public housing sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Although assisted housing programs have been in place for some time, research on the long-term effects on resident children is scarce and hampered by methodological limitations. To shed light on this topic, my colleagues and I combined Census Bureau data with administrative data to track children through assisted housing and into the labor force as adults.

The Census Bureau often combines survey and administrative datasets to produce new statistics, but these data can also help answer complex research questions. For this project, we identify families with multiple teenage children counted in the 2000 Census and link them to HUD administrative records to observe how they move into and out of assisted housing between 1997 and 2005. We then match the children to their adult earnings from 2011 to 2013 using data from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program.

To identify the impact of assisted housing on earnings, we compare adult earnings between siblings who experienced different amounts of assisted housing as teenagers. As siblings share many of the background characteristics that affect adult earnings — for example, household poverty and parental motivation — we are able to distinguish the effect of assisted housing participation from the effect of any other shared childhood experiences.

Assisted Housing and Poverty

We also look at whether public and voucher housing might have different effects on boys and girls. In public housing, a household lives in a project run by the local housing authorities, whereas in voucher-based housing, the housing authority pays a large portion of a household’s rent and utilities in private housing chosen by the household.

We first observe that children growing up in assisted housing tend to have lower adult earnings compared with other children, even those from similarly low-earning households. However, observing a difference in adult earnings between children who participated in assisted housing and those who did not is not enough to conclude that the assisted housing participation caused the difference. For example, participating households are required to earn below specified thresholds in order to be eligible. Beneficiary children are therefore likely to come from impoverished backgrounds and — even in the absence of assisted housing participation — earn less as adults.Voucher Housing and African AmericansHousing Voucher Legend

When we use only between-sibling differences, we find that assisted housing participation is associated with increases in adult earnings for girls and only modest, often statistically insignificant, decreases in earnings for boys. In other words, holding constant family characteristics, the negative effect of assisted housing disappears for most children.

The overall result that assisted housing raises earnings for girls more than boys might depend on the community under study. To shed additional light on this difference, we look at results separately for white, black and Hispanic households. The between-siblings effects are consistently positive only for black non-Hispanics, who represent roughly half of all HUD residents (and are mostly not distinguishable from zero effect for whites and Hispanics). The figure below shows both the between-siblings estimates and the naïve estimates, those that do not compare siblings, for black non-Hispanic households.

In the between-siblings model, girls in black non-Hispanic households earn 6.5 percent more for each year spent in voucher housing and 4.3 percent more for each year spent in public housing while a teenager. Boys in black non-Hispanic households earn 2.6 percent more for each year they spent in voucher housing and 3.8 percent more for each year spent in public housing. The difference in the effects of voucher housing for girls in black non-Hispanic households relative to boys is statistically significant.

How might housing assistance affect children? While housing assistance relieves families of a major expenditure, other studies have shown that it may also concentrate low-earning households together in large public housing buildings or low-income neighborhoods, exposing children to high-poverty settings. Thus, the net effects are not certain without an empirical analysis. When distinguishing between the effects of assisted housing programs and family characteristics, we found that more time spent in assisted housing participation for siblings led to increases in adult earnings, especially for black non-Hispanic girls.

We are doing more research to try to unravel what aspects of housing assistance might have the greatest effects and to explore other adult outcomes that may be influenced by housing. We are also trying to understand why we observe girls benefiting more than boys for any type of housing assistance.

For more information, see Childhood Housing and Adult Earnings: A Between-Siblings Analysis of Housing Vouchers and Public Housing, a joint paper written by Fredrik Andersson, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; John C. Haltiwanger, University of Maryland and U.S. Census Bureau; Mark J. Kutzbach, U.S. Census Bureau; Giordano Palloni, International Food Policy Research Institute; Henry O. Pollakowski, Harvard University; and Daniel H. Weinberg, Virginia Tech.

Mapping the Impact of Rising Rents

There is a growing shortage of affordable housing in the U.S. With more middle class families turning towards renting instead of home ownership, low-income families are being squeezed out of rentals that were once affordable. But for both middle class and low-income families, renting continues to take up a growing percentage of household income.

The Shift Towards Renting

Demand for rental housing is at its highest since the 1960’s- and home ownership at a 48-year low. While home ownership is still more affordable than renting in many U.S. markets, it is not an option for individuals or families who do not qualify for loans, have incomes that are too low, or are saddled by debt like student loans. In 2008, a quarter of rental applicants were paying off student debt, by fall 2015 that number had risen to half.

With high-income earners forgoing home ownership, increasing urban populations, baby boomers downsizing, and the housing crash fresh in the minds of would-be homeowners, vacancy rates for rentals are at an all-time low. And with that comes ever increasing rent costs.

Rent Taking Up More of Americans’ Paychecks

Affordable rent is considered less than 30 percent of a household’s income, though today, most rents surpass that. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2016 Out of Reach Report, U.S. renters need to earn an average of $20.30 per hour to afford a modest two- bedroom apartment- the average wage of a U.S. renter is $15.42.

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What about those making the federal minimum wage of $7.25? First, there is no state where a full-time worker making minimum wage could afford a fair market value, one-bedroom apartment – anywhere. Second, in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment, that worker would need to put in 90 hours per week at work or 112 hours per week for a two-bedroom apartment. For single moms or dads not only holding down full-time employment, but also part-time evening work, that is often a reality- and the only option.

 Housing Wages (By State) Needed to Afford a Modest Two-Bedroom Apartment

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But let’s take a closer look at it this way, too:

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Unaffordable rent is a critical issue millions of Americans face. These severely cost-burdened households are a critical issue for the U.S. as well. With more and more of workers income going towards rent, less and less is being spent in the market. The Out of Reach report also found that families who spend more than half their income on housing spend 50 percent less on clothing, one-third less on food, and 80 percent less on medical care compared to those with affordable rent.

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It’s interesting to note that when we look at labor force participation, it seems to be worse in many areas that have more cost-burdened households and higher rents.

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More “Low-Income” Housing is Not Always the Answer

As long as higher-income earners are willing to pay high prices, there will continue to be a shortage of affordable apartments. With federal housing funds cut in half over the last 10 years, and fewer families qualifying for rental subsidies, the shortage will remain. Though building more “low-income” housing (via tax credits to developers) often seems to be the go-to solution, that in fact has shown to be not only ineffective overall, but actually more expensive than simply increasing the purchasing power of renters.