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The key to good schools? Housing policy
An urban strategist makes the case for 'inclusionary' zoning and a vigorous Madison annexation strategy

Jason Shepard's story this week, "How Can We Help Poor Students Achieve More?," points out the strong correlation between schools with high levels of low-income students and substandard academic performance. As Shepard reports, that same point was made about the Madison schools by urban researcher David Rusk in 2001.

Rusk was a headliner at the "Nolen In The New Century" conference sponsored by Isthmus and several community and media groups. His speech was subsequently adopted for publication in Isthmus and became the first salvo in the campaign for inclusionary zoning. It's reprinted below.(Readers are welcome to form their own conclusions on whether or not IZ has played out in Madison as Rusk outlined here.)

Rusk is the former mayor of Albuquerque. His Cities Without Suburbs, in the words of the Congressional Quarterly, "has virtually become the Bible of the regionalism movement." Rusk's study of census data linked failing cities to their political separation from the suburbs and, conversely, successful cities to their ability to annex or be part of a regional government. His more recent book, Inside Game/Outside Game, argues that regional land-use and tax-revenue policies are more critical to turning around failing neighborhoods than anti-poverty programs.

As part of his visit to Madison, Rusk was commissioned to study the link between poverty and school performance. For the details of that study, published in 2002, go HERE [pdf].

Rusk's website also highlights his work:

--Marc Eisen

From the Nov. 23, 2001, edition of Isthmus

The key to good schools? Housing policy

An urban strategist makes the case for 'inclusionary' zoning and a vigorous Madison annexation strategy

By David Rusk

Why should you be concerned about concentrated poverty in Madison and Dane County rather than just poverty in general? High poverty neighborhoods breed crime. Property values typically fall in high poverty neighborhoods. However, the greatest impact is on the education of children.

Over the last 35 years, educational research has consistently shown that the greatest factors affecting student outcomes are the income and educational level of a child's parents followed closely by the same factors for the parents of a child's classmates. "The educational resources provided by a child's fellow students," sociologist James Coleman wrote, "are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board."

That is demonstrably the case in the Madison Metropolitan School District. I analyzed data available from the computerized School Performance Reports for the city's 28 elementary schools. One fact -' the percentage of each school's low-income pupils that qualify for subsidized lunches -' accounts for 73% of the variation in fourth-grade reading scores.

In other words, I don't need to know about the principal's or the teachers' experience or pupil-teacher ratios or how old the building is or how much money is being spent per pupil. Just tell me who the kids are (as measured by percentage of low-income pupils) and I will tell you what percentage of fourth-graders achieved proficient and advanced levels on state reading tests (plus or minus five percentage points) with 95% accuracy!

I have no doubt that similar findings would apply to math, science, social studies, and, above all, language skills. And I believe that the relationship would be even stronger after factoring in 50 other suburban elementary schools.

Educational researchers also consistently find that poor children learn best in middle-class schools. And middle-class children do well no matter how many lower-income classmates they have until a school begins to approach having a majority of low-income children. Thus, where a poor child lives largely shapes what kind of an educational opportunity the child will have. The issue is not how much money is spent on the child. The issue is who are the child's classmates.

Housing policy is school policy.

And, in metropolitan communities like Dane County's, housing and school policies become intricately linked to urban sprawl. Suburban-style development has not only consumed land at a greater rate than the original, more compact city of Madison did. Suburbanization has also promoted the economic segregation that hinders academic achievement.

Sprawl and the city
Urban sprawl is like pornography -- hard to define but you know it when you see it. One yardstick for sprawl is the growth of urbanized areas '- a central city and its contiguous suburbs -' as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Between 1950 and 1990, the Madison area's urbanized population grew 122%, while the amount of urbanized land grew 299%. In other words, local development patterns consumed land at about 2 times the rate of population growth. That was less than the national average (3 to 1) and far less than the Milwaukee area's ratio (8 to 1), where very low-density suburban development was compounded by the hollowing out of the core city.

What were the trends in the 1990s? Census 2000 has not yet released data for urbanized areas. Yet every five years the Census of Agriculture documents the shrinkage of farmland within metropolitan counties. That can be compared with population growth to derive a rough measure of the march of urbanization.

During the past decade, Dane County's population grew by 16%, while during a comparable 10-year period farmland shrank by 10%. Compared to the entire state's record and, in particular, the Milwaukee area's record, Madison and Dane County sprawled much less in the 1990s.

However, there's another way to look at the last decade. During that period Dane County added about 60,000 more people, but lost about 57,000 acres of farmland. That's almost one acre for each new resident -- about three times the amount of land consumed per additional resident for the previous four decades.

What happened to central cities in the Age of Sprawl? It depended overwhelmingly on whether the city was "elastic" or "inelastic." Elastic cities (think Nashville, Indianapolis, Houston, Phoenix) expanded their municipal areas through annexation. They brought many new, middle-class subdivisions, office and industrial parks, and shopping malls within their expanded city limits.

Trapped within fixed city limits, on the other hand, inelastic cities (think Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland) lost middle-class families, jobs and stores to their suburbs. Inelastic cities spiraled downward in economic and demographic decline.

Madison has been a "medium-elastic" city. Through annexation, Madison has expanded its municipal area from 15 square miles in 1950 to 69 square miles today. The city has steadily added population and tax base and has a high credit rating.

Yet what would the city of Madison be like today if it had not increased its city limits more than fourfold? Based on 1990 census data, I've calculated that "Old Madison" of 1950 would have less than half of the current population of "New Madison" (99,000 vs. 208,000).

More significantly, Old Madison would be a much poorer city. The family poverty rate would be 15% higher, and the individual poverty rate would be 33% higher. Average household income within Old Madison would be only 77% of the Dane County average compared to the actual level of 93% for New Madison.

Clearly, annexation has been vital to Madison's economic and social health.

'For people just like us'
Still, critics charge that municipal annexation promotes sprawl. If Madison would not annex land, providing water, sewer, and other services, the argument goes, new development wouldn't occur.

In a region like Madison, that's nonsense. Dane County has many suburban governments eager to support new development -- and at much lower densities than the city of Madison. There are no fewer than 24 other municipalities and 34 towns -' 58 "little boxes" plus 15 suburban school districts! That has many implications, but one of the most serious is that the more "little boxes," the higher the degree of racial and economic segregation.

My experience in other communities is that the usually unspoken mission of most "little box" town councils and "little box" school boards is to "keep our town," or "keep our schools," just the way they are "for people just like us" -' whoever "us" happens to be.

That is, for example, an absolutely accurate characterization of the four-county Milwaukee metro area, with 57 suburban municipalities and 32 towns and 52 school districts surrounding the city of Milwaukee. Using a common segregation index (100 = total apartheid), the Milwaukee region continues in a state of near-apartheid with an index value of 82 in 2000.

Somewhat to my surprise, Dane County's very small African American population for 1970 (1.1%) was highly segregated (85). Almost one-quarter of the county's black population lived in the Badger Road-Bram's Addition neighborhood. During the 1970s, however, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the city of Madison's own fair housing ordinance, one of the earliest in the United States, began having an impact: The black middle class scattered rapidly across a wide range of Madison neighborhoods.

In a decade the index dropped below 50, but hasn't improved much since, even as Dane County's black population (now 4.6 %) has steadily grown.

However, if housing market barriers based on race have been going down everywhere, barriers based on income have been going up. Jim Crow by income is replacing Jim Crow by race.

The local economic segregation index jumped from 28 to 43 over a 20-year period. (With so many temporarily poor college students, Madison's index is based on segregation of poor families.) By comparison, in 1990, the highest level of economic segregation in the U.S. was found in metropolitan Milwaukee-Waukesha (55).

Madison-Dane County's sharp jump in economic segregation reflected, in part, the fact that the number of poor families in the Badger Road-Bram's Addition and Allied Drive neighborhoods doubled and tripled, respectively, during the 1980s. Though the city's efforts have made life more tolerable in poverty-affected neighborhoods over the last decade, I doubt that Census 2000 will show any measurable reduction in economic segregation when income and poverty data are released next spring.

Agenda for change
What can be done about sprawl, racial segregation and concentrated poverty and their impact on our children's futures? I have three specific recommendations.

First, Madison must continue to defend state annexation laws '- and the city must use them aggressively. Urbanizing areas should be annexed by cities and preferably, whenever possible, by central cities. Madison must not be forced down the path of "inelastic" capital cities like Hartford, Trenton and Harrisburg, which have declined so greatly in recent decades.

However, it is better to control sprawl than simply to capture one's share. Wisconsin's Smart Growth policies, adopted last year, are weak. They provide only modest state incentives to induce fiercely independent local governments to collaborate on land-use planning and zoning. No growth management of any consequence, I predict, will happen.

Thus, second, Wisconsin needs a strong, Oregon-type law that mandates local collaboration and the use of urban growth boundaries. What's the impact of strong state "rules of the game"? During the 1990s, metro Milwaukee-Waukesha gained only 2% in population but lost 18% of its farmland. With its state-mandated urban growth boundary, Metro Portland was the exact reverse, growing 18% in population while losing 2%of its farmland.

The 2040 plan adopted by Portland Metro (including a directly elected regional government) projects a 50% population increase but only 8% growth in urbanized land. Under the plan, over 40 years only 2,500 acres of current farmland would be developed -' an amount of acreage that will be developed in Dane County in five months!

Finally, many "little box" governments adopt exclusionary zoning '- banning apartments, requiring large home lots, etc. -' to exclude low- and modest-income families. About 70 cities, however, have adopted inclusionary zoning laws that require new subdivisions to include a modest proportion of affordable housing, typically 15%.

Montgomery County, Md., the U.S. pioneer for inclusionary zoning, took a crucial second step. The county's Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit law requires homebuilders to sell one-third of the affordable units (in effect, 5% of each subdivision) to the county's public housing authority. To assure that building mixed-income communities will be profitable, Montgomery County provides builders with a 22% density bonus for their land.

What if a similar inclusionary zoning law had been in effect throughout Dane County for the last 25 years? Some 86,000 new housing units were built in that time. Assuming that half were individual spec homes or in very small developments to which the law wouldn't have applied, inclusionary zoning would still have yielded 4,300 new affordable homes and apartments for lower-level city and county employees, store clerks, and other modest-income workers; and 2,150 new units to be purchased or rented by the Madison Community Development Authority and the Dane County Housing Authority.

Most of this housing would be scattered in new subdivisions in low-poverty neighborhoods in Madison and its suburbs.

Just 1,000 of the CDA/DCHA-acquired units would be needed to provide sufficient relocation alternatives to bring family poverty rates below 10% in all 17 higher-poverty census tracts in Madison and Dane County.

That would mean that no elementary school would have more than about 25% low-income pupils. Allis Elementary wouldn't have 35% low-income pupils, or Falk or Leopold 38%, or Thoreau 41%, or Lake View 42%, or Emerson 48%. Hawthorne Elementary wouldn't have 51%, or Glendale 53%, or Mendota 58%, or Lincoln 60%. All could be solidly middle-class schools with enormous educational benefits both for the low-income children who remained and for those who had moved to new homes and new schools.

My third -' and strongest -' recommendation therefore is implementation of inclusionary zoning, including acquiring housing in new, low-poverty subdivisions for very low-income families. It would be most desirable for the policy to apply to all 59 local governments. A place to start, however, would be the city of Madison itself, which still accounts for almost half of new housing starts in Dane County.

It may not be within our power to eliminate poverty completely, but through inclusionary zoning Madison and Dane County can eliminate concentrated poverty.

Many conferences on land use talk about the need to create livable communities. So often that concern is focused on environmental issues.

The greater challenge regarding livable communities is: Are we going to live '- and learn -' together?

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