THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
How Does a Good Neighborhood "Turn Bad"?
What triggers the decline of an area? Some people claim that once
minorities move in, the neighborhood starts to deteriorate.
There is a chain of events that will cause even the most affluent
area to become an impoverished one. But it's not about who's moving
in - it's about who leaves.
One thing leads to another…
- White Flight Begins
When nonwhite residents (particularly Black and Latino)
begin moving into a neighborhood, white homebuyers "perceive"
that the neighborhood is in decline and choose not to move there.
Residents - fearing that property values will fall - begin to
move away, even if those moving in are their socioeconomic equals.
Businesses and jobs soon follow suit.
Once the minority share in a community's schools reaches 10
to 20 percent, white flight accelerates until minority percentages
are more than 80 percent.
- Property Values Go Down
Once residents begin to leave, the consequent decline in
demand causes housing prices to fall. The nonwhite middle class
is usually not large enough to sustain market demand. (If whites
represent 80% of the housing market, then 80% of the potential
demand is absent.)
As prices decline, the community's socioeconomic level changes
as well. Poorer families begin to move into the homes vacated
by middle-class whites, especially when these homes are converted
to rental housing.
- Taxes Go Up
White residents take their wealth with them. Wealthy communities
have lower tax rates and better services. Resource-poor communities
have just the opposite. Why? Public services are largely funded
through property taxes. When a community's total wealth diminishes,
public services become underfunded.
Taxes are increased to compensate, causing middle-class residents
of all races to flee, resulting in a vicious cycle of increasing
taxes and further population loss. The poor get poorer, and
they get less for their money.
- Services Suffer
As communities get poorer, they are less able to maintain
the same level of public services. Schools, sanitation, public
transportation, police, and fire protection all begin to decline,
at the same time that demand for these services increases. For
example, higher poverty means higher crime, which means higher
costs for crime prevention.
Eventually, commercial investment falls off as well, and basic
amenities like grocery stores and banks begin to disappear,
leaving only predatory businesses like pawn shops and liquor
- Rock Bottom
The community that hits rock bottom is further susceptible
to the placement of highways, prisons, waste storage, toxic
facilities, etc. At times, community leaders will invite these
industries into their neighborhoods to create jobs and stimulate
local growth, but they risk further depopulation and the safety
and health of their residents.
Every family wants the best neighborhood they can afford. When
schools and public amenities begin to suffer, even well-intentioned
residents move away, and once-prosperous neighborhoods become
Race does play a role, but it's not the one people think. It's
not nonwhites moving in, but whites leaving and taking resources
with them, that causes communities to decline. Most people don't
realize that if whites didn't leave, this chain reaction might
not take place.
The most important factor in the health of a community is not
the race of its residents, but their ability to work across racial
lines to preserve resources, property values, and opportunities.