Monthly Archive: May 2017

Toronto Releases Planning Guidelines Focused on Kids

The Simcoe Wavedeck in Toronto (Credit: City of Toronto)

As is the case in many cities, Toronto’s lower-density neighborhoods were planned with families in mind; developers considered access to schools, childcare facilities and parks. Now, however, the city’s high-rise demographics are changing. The once-single studio dwellers of yesteryear are having children. And, as a new report from the city of Toronto points out, they don’t necessarily want to store their strollers in their bathtubs.

The report, “Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities,” is pretty much exactly what its name would suggest. Toronto is literally growing up, and those tall buildings need to better accommodate families.

From the report:

Between 2006 and 2016, over 143,000 new dwelling units were constructed in the City of Toronto, 80 [percent] of which were in buildings greater than 5 [stories]. Increasingly, families with children are calling these buildings home. In 2011, 10,000 more families with children and youth lived in high-rise buildings than in 1996. While the overall number of households with children and youth will grow as the population increases, the long-term demand for family suitable housing will exceed the anticipated supply if current trends continue.

The document points out that the city doesn’t need to start from scratch. Like many urban centers pre-suburbia, Toronto has a history of housing families in taller, denser pockets, particularly at the turn of the 20th century, when “the growing urban population began to out-pace the provision of child-supportive infrastructure.”

Children sought informal play spaces: streets, laneways, stoops and staircases. At the time, in the vein of improving public health, these spaces were considered hostile to a child’s physical well-being. Recognizing the need for child-specific play space, the City embarked on building playgrounds that allowed for safe and sanctioned play. The Playground Movement, as it came to be known, represented a radical shift in the organization of urban space, marking the first time children were considered legitimate users of urban space, worthy of special consideration.

(Credit: City of Toronto)

The city is drawing on that legacy, aiming to retrofit planning on three scales — the neighborhood, the building and the unit itself.

The unit is, perhaps, the most intuitive. Spaces should ideally be designed to be slightly larger, with more storage and laundry on site.

On the building level, planners envision more collective indoor and outdoor amenity spaces, with lots of extra storage for bikes and trailers (and those strollers currently sitting in bathtubs). Larger units would ideally sit toward the bottom of tall buildings, with smaller units on top. Lobbies would ideally be gathering places with rooftop gardens and play spaces on site.

(Credit: City of Toronto)

As Stefan Novakovic explains for Urban Toronto, the city’s shift toward child-oriented planning aims to keep the underlying form of its tall buildings. The “embrace of more family-oriented housing and ‘whimsical’ design does not entail a move away from the ‘podium and point tower’ typologies that characterizes so many of Toronto’s new high-rises,” he writes. “Designed badly, bulky podium structures can hamper pedestrian permeability, also providing too little opportunity for fine-grained retail. However, through greater use of C-shaped and L-shaped podia, the City hopes to create more intimate green spaces to benefit families, preserving a sense of human scale, while putting eyes on the street.”

The neighborhood-level guidelines, however, have the most potential for changing the cityscape — and they’re pretty ambitious. They also underscore a concept that I’ve covered for Next City: that designing well for toddlers means designing well for everyone.

(Credit: City of Toronto)

They emphasize active transportation, and aim for bike and pedestrian routes to be made safer. “Walking or cycling are most accessible to children and help to reduce vehicle trips, provide physical and mental health benefits and they are often the most convenient, sustainable and affordable mode of transportation for a family,” the report states.

In 2015, I interviewed urban planner Eric Feldman, who had similar thoughts.

“If you design for ages 2 and 92 you’re probably going to do it right,” he told me, adding that “toddlers have a way of revealing things” about your streets.

“Design for a toddler and you’ll probably erect a landscaped buffer between the sidewalk and street for the moment they decide to bolt,” I wrote then. “Design for a toddler and you’ll plant trees along walkways because sunscreen application is (apparently) a tantrum-worthy fate.”

To read Toronto’s full report, click here.

Dublin Looks to Speed Up Buses

Central Dublin (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)

Seventeen major bus routes in Dublin, Ireland, could soon have continuous corridors with segregated bike lanes — part of a 1 billion euro cash injection for Dublin Bus.

According to Irish Times, those routes are only part of a proposed overhaul that would also include a reorganization of “existing routes; the implementation of a cashless payment system; simplification of the fare structure, to allow movement between different transport services without financial penalty; as well as the segregation of buses from general traffic on the busiest routes to and around the city.”

Currently, most major bus routes only have dedicated lanes along about a third of their lengths, according to the paper, which adds that this “means that for most of the journey, buses are competing for space with general traffic and are being hit by the increasing levels of congestion.”

Last year, the Irish capital saw the launch of a new cross-city passenger rail service. As Josh Cohen wrote for Next City in 2015, congestion is a major issue and is poised to become an even greater problem as the population grows. That year, the Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority proposed a vehicle restriction in the city center — which has faced opposition.

Nonetheless, the bus redesign is being touted as part of the city’s changing transportation structure.

According to the Irish Times: “The redesign has been sought to reflect the major transport changes in the city including the introduction later this year of the Luas Cross city line, the opening of the Phoenix Park Tunnel, as well as recent and upcoming changes to the road network.”

Shop Houzz: May Bestsellers (201 photos)

Your home is in good hands with this collection of can’t-miss items. Create that outdoor haven you’ve always envisioned or update that room that’s stuck in the past. One look at these bestsellers and you’ll understand their popularity.

Digital Tool Aims to ID Urban Planning’s Winners, Losers

SimCity 4 (Credit: flickr user sntc06)

I’ll be the first to admit it. Sometimes when I’m walking the streets of any city, and I take a seat on a park bench to do some quality people watching, and definitely when I’m looking out an airplane window at the cities passing below, the music that still plays in my head is a super-tacky yet somehow brilliantly catchy mid-1990s MIDI composition: the original soundtrack of SimCity 2000.

I thought the soundtrack and the game, released in 1993, could never be topped. Until SimCity 3000. Then SimCity 4. The soundtracks got more memorable, while the game got even more addictive. The game principles hardly bear repeating, but just to be clear: SimCity simulated the residents, workers, children, businesses, factories, farms, government and tourists of a digital municipality, with you as an all-powerful mayor. The game taught me about zoning, infrastructure and planning, and also about the limits of simulated omnipotence. Not every decision led to a thriving, healthy metropolis.

Now, the new Doppelgänger tool from Sidewalk Labs promises to provide real-world planners a simulation based not on some 1990-era coder’s best approximation of people, but instead one based on the terabytes upon terabytes of real-world data available in today’s digital world.

“Doppelgänger enables planners to create a set of virtual households that accurately reflects real neighborhoods, cities, regions, or states, along any dimension relevant to the problem at hand,” writes David Ory, modeling lead at Sidewalk Labs, a Google-connected company launched in 2015. “Doppelgänger can create households that have accurate numbers of children, seniors, teachers, persons with disabilities, electric-vehicle owners, swing-shift workers, and so on.”

Ory is formerly of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. In his vision, Doppelgänger will be of huge help to transportation planners, helping them identify the winners and losers of decisions like building a new light-rail line or retrofitting an old subway line in need of major renovations.

Equity and transportation were among the issues highlighted by Google when the company announced the Sidewalk Labs venture two years ago. In November 2016, it announced that it would create four themed labs focusing on affordable housing construction, health challenges for low-income residents, fiscal policy and efficiency, and transportation.

Doppelgänger comes out of the transportation-themed lab. It starts with the capacity “to consume all of the data sets created by the Census Bureau (as well as other sources) to create a complete and internally consistent virtual representation of a given community,” according to Ory. Using the math of statistical modeling and the power of modern-day microprocessors, it projects into the future as well.

“Before we can understand how transportation services, policies, or infrastructure impact a community, we must understand who lives in the community today, tomorrow, and 20 years from now,” Ory writes.

New Fund May Lure More Investors to Pay-for-Success Model

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Announced today, a first-of-its-kind $10 million fund from Reinvestment Fund hopes to accelerate the pipeline of pay-for-success transactions (also known as social impact bonds) by changing the way investors get involved in financing projects designed for social good in the U.S.

Instead of bringing on investors one deal at a time, Reinvestment Fund is taking a portfolio approach and pooling money into a single fund that will only make pay-for-success investments. When Reinvestment Fund finds a deal that it likes, it won’t have to turn around and conduct a search for investors who are interested in a certain geographic area or issue.

“The PFS Fund offers an innovative organized capital source that will bring efficiency to these transactions by reducing costs and speeding deal execution,” said CEO Don Hinkle-Brown in a statement.

Even though they are relatively new (see Next City’s “Can Social-Justice Minded Investors Change How Cities Do Business?”), pay-for-success deals aren’t that much riskier than conventional public financing, in theory. They’re a shift in who holds the lion’s share of the risk. Normally, when investors buy municipal bonds, they get paid back no matter what the outcome — so that taxpayers ultimately bear most of the risk. They have to pay back investors whether or not the thing that the bond financed is delivering the social outcomes it was meant to deliver. Investors can be confident that it’s extremely rare for state or local governments to default or file for bankruptcy, although it does happen (like Puerto Rico did in May).

In a pay-for-success deal, if the new thing that investors finance doesn’t deliver the agreed-upon social outcomes in an agreed-upon timeframe, investors lose their money, and taxpayers don’t have to pay anything. The model has been used from Denver to South Carolina, on issues that include neonatal care for poor women and reducing homelessness. If everything works out, the idea is that savings elsewhere in the public sector (like fewer homeless people in city-supported shelters) ultimately result in a windfall for taxpayers as well, even after paying back investors with interest.

But everything doesn’t always work out. In the first U.S. pay-for-success deal, which targeted reduced recidivism for adolescents imprisoned on Rikers Island, the program failed to meet its social outcome goals. Goldman Sachs invested $7.2 million into the deal, and would have lost all of it if Bloomberg Philanthropies had not set aside $6 million as part of the deal to guarantee against investor losses. Goldman Sachs ended up losing the difference: $1.2 million.

As you might expect, investors aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to take on more of that kind of risk, which is partly why pay-for-success deals have been relatively few and far between. PayForSuccess.org, a project of the Nonprofit Finance Fund to document such deals across the U.S., lists one finished pay-for-success transaction (the Rikers Island deal), 12 pay-for-success deals currently financed and in progress, and another 59 currently in development.

Reinvestment Fund is ideally positioned to bring new investors into community development using the model. It is one of five S&P-rated CDFIs (community development financial institutions). With an S&P rating of AA, Reinvestment Fund has a higher rating than nine states.

The portfolio approach also helps reduce risk: If any one or more of the deals financed under the fund fails, as some are sure to, the returns from the others can hopefully cover for failures and ultimately the fund as a whole can provide the kind of financial and social return that can attract more investors into this fund or other funds like it in the future.

Reinvestment Fund is already learning from being part of two pay-for-success projects currently in progress. One in the Cleveland metro area seeks to reduce the amount of time that the children of homeless caregivers spend in out-of-home foster care. Another in Silicon Valley aims to reduce homelessness and the public cost of caring for chronically homeless individuals.

Who the investors are also matters. They need to have patience, even if they want competitive financial returns. With a pay-for-success transaction, it may take years for the investments to mature — which in these cases means the social impact has been delivered or not delivered in the specified timeframe. Reinvestment Fund’s Cleveland metro pay-for-success deal has a five-year term, with repayments timed for 2019 if everything works out.

Future pay-for-success deals may have even longer terms. For years, social scientists have known that investing in early childhood education provides the most bang for the buck. But who has the patience to invest in something now and not get paid back for well beyond a decade?

A hint may come from the largest investor in Reinvestment Fund’s new pay-for-success fund: QBE Global Insurance Group, one of the world’s 20 largest insurers, put in $7 million. Insurance companies have a lot of patience when it comes to their investments.

U.S. insurance companies take in $2 trillion a year in premiums, and they can forecast pretty accurately what they’ll need to pay out in claims every year for decades into the future. So every year, after paying claims, salaries and operating costs, they invest the rest, earning handsome returns. As of 2015, the most recent year of available data, insurers held around $5.8 trillion in investments, including $3.9 trillion in bonds. QBE alone holds $25 billion in investments, two-thirds of which are in corporate or municipal bonds.

What insurance companies generally look for are relatively large investments with high ratings and diversification across different geographies and sectors — something that CDFIs are starting to provide. Last month, Reinvestment Fund and LISC sold a cumulative $150 million in unsubsidized corporate bonds, the first sales of their kind from CDFIs. Insurance companies invested in both bond offerings.

Reinvestment Fund’s Pay-for-Success Fund could build off that momentum.

“We believe this financing mechanism has an important role to play in directing capital to what works, while aiming to make a financial return as well as a difference to communities,” said Gary Brader, Chief Investment Officer for QBE Insurance Group, in a statement announcing the new pay-for-success fund.

S.F. Tax Break Tapped by Twitter Is Intended to Help Struggling Neighborhoods

The rooftop lounge at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. Fox Plaza, across the street, is visible at the top left. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Just a leisurely walk down Market Street from San Francisco’s gleaming Financial District is the 29-story Fox Plaza building, home to one of the city’s most important technology hubs. But whatever life-changing apps may or may not be under development within its walls, this hub’s importance comes from its primary users: the homeless or nearly homeless families from the surrounding neighborhood and elsewhere in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Its existence is thanks to a community benefits agreement the city negotiated with social media company Twitter.

Compass Family Services operates the bulk of programming for homeless families in Fox Plaza’s first-floor technology hub, known as NeighborNest. The 4,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2015, saw 3,500 visitors in its first year. They accessed 920 hours of programming (mostly but not all from Compass) and 800 hours of free childcare. Founded in 1914, Compass’ client base is 42 percent African-American, 40 percent Hispanic or Latino, 8 percent white, 5 percent Asian, 3 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 2 percent Native American.

“Before NeighborNest, each of our six programs had their own computer labs,” says Stacy Webb, communications and corporate relations manager for Compass. “We weren’t able to run a good centralized computer lab for our families. Now parents from all our programs can come in, hand their children off directly to a childcare specialist, and get to work on different classes or workshops.”

A glass wall separates the computer lab area from the main childcare area. The design was intentional, so parents in the lab can easily glance over to check on their children.

“That was a big thing we knew we needed to have,” says Webb. When families are at NeighborNest, he says, it’s often one of the few times in any given week that parents and children can be in the same place at the same time. “The vast majority of the families we are helping are couch surfing, hopping from family and friends’ couches one to another, so it’s not uncommon for a family of four to be split up every night.”

Besides basic computer classes, resume writing workshops and other programming, many families visit NeighborNest to use One Home, a one-stop online shop that contains updated listings for all affordable housing available in the Bay Area and lets families apply for tenancy to listings that match their needs and preferences.

To operate NeighborNest, including rent and electricity, internet access, computer costs, and regular maintenance, Compass Family Services pays zero. Zilch. Nothing at all. Instead, Twitter covers the costs — and, in turn, gets a hefty payroll tax exemption from the city of San Francisco.

“To Twitter’s credit, they could have just given us money, but they wanted to do something that was going to make a very big impact for families experiencing homelessness or near homelessness,” Webb says.

Caroline Barlerin is Twitter’s community liaison, and oversees corporate-community partnerships around the globe as well as locally in San Francisco. While the NeighborNest was conceived and agreed to before she came on board in 2014, Barlerin expanded on the listening processes that Twitter used to develop the NeighborNest in partnership with organizations in the neighborhood like Compass Family Services.

“When I arrived, I started meeting with 65 nonprofits in the first six weeks to begin to listen, learn and understand what the community needs were,” says Barlerin. “If we look at the complexity of the needs, what we started to uncover was the need to address the issues of the digital divide. You can’t find housing or can’t find a job without a computer. It’s hard to access government benefits without a computer.”

Despite being a resident of San Francisco for the past two decades, Barlerin says she was surprised to learn about the number of homeless or nearly homeless children in the neighborhood. “I had no idea that there was an estimated 3,000 children in the Tenderloin. You see a lot of homelessness around, but the children are really invisible,” she says. Twitter’s corporate headquarters is right across the street from NeighborNest, in a 1930s art deco building that sat vacant for 50 years before Twitter moved in. The company was lured, in part, by a payroll tax exemption targeted at helping residents of this economically distressed area.

The building sits along what the city calls the “Central Market” or Mid-Market corridor, which was included in the Central Market-Tenderloin Area Payroll Expense Tax Exclusion program. The Tenderloin District is an ethnically diverse area of San Francisco with an estimated poverty rate of 50 percent (compared with San Francisco’s 13.8 percent overall poverty rate). San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and local legislators proposed the tax exemption program in 2011, hoping to offer large tech companies like Twitter incentives to move there. They hoped such HQs would stimulate the local economy by bringing in highly paid employees who would, in theory, spend some of their six-figure salaries at local establishments.

San Francisco’s payroll expense tax is 1.5 percent, with a blanket exemption for businesses with a payroll of $250,000 or less. Companies with a payroll of $1 million or below can apply for and receive the Central Market-Tenderloin exemption automatically for moving into the designated area. The city requires companies with a payroll of more than $1 million that move into the designated area, such as Twitter, to negotiate a legally binding community benefits agreement covering each year they wish to receive the exemption, covering 100 percent of city payroll taxes otherwise levied.

Most of the community benefits agreements come up for re-negotiation annually. According to the Office of the City Administrator, re-negotiation is the city’s main means of enforcing the agreements. So far, no company has been denied a renewed exemption with a new community benefits agreement as a result of poor performance on the previous year’s agreement. Not all companies, however, have renewed their agreements since the first round in 2012.

At least 11 companies have signed community benefits agreements as part of the Central Market-Tenderloin payroll tax exemption program, including Twitter, Yammer, Zendesk, Zoosk, One Kings Lane, 21 Tech, Spotify, Fitness SF, and Market on Market. The tax exemption ordinance requires that the agreements and the city-verified reporting documentation be made public. Most but not all of the agreements and reporting documents are available so far.

The NeighborNest is a centerpiece of Twitter’s multiyear agreement covering 2015 to 2018. Another feature: providing financial grants to nonprofits serving the residents of the Central Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods — for a total of $3 million over the four years.

“It’s one-year grants but I think in multiyear terms,” Barlerin says. “We also try to give those early in the year so a nonprofit has the runway to learn and invest and grow from that.”

From 2014 to 2016, the city reports $2.9 million in cash grants from tech companies (including $1.9 million from Twitter alone) thanks to community benefits agreements. The grants have gone to dozens of nonprofits located in the designated Central Market-Tenderloin area, including Compass, the Eviction Defense Collaborative, Curry Senior Center, the Justice and Diversity Law Center, Catholic Charities, Code Tenderloin, Oasis for Girls, Play-Well Tek, the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, and more. While the city offers to connect companies to nonprofits that provide services in the designated area, the businesses have largely come to the table with existing relationships with nonprofits.

Over the same three years, the city reports $2.9 million in in-kind donations to nonprofits in the Central Market-Tenderloin area.

As part of the Central Market-Tenderloin payroll tax exclusion program, the city also established a citizens committee, a volunteer public body that meets regularly to guide and gather feedback on the community benefits agreements. In its advisory role, the committee adopted a community benefits agreement framework in 2012, which prioritized stabilizing the community as new companies move in. The framework includes support for small businesses. “Not only are small businesses the backbone of the local economy, providing jobs and important goods and services to the existing community, they also serve as important social hubs,” the framework reads.

With that framework in mind, the city encourages large companies that get the exemption to contract with local vendors as much as possible, for services such as cleaning and catering. The city also asks companies to collect receipts from employees when they patronize local small businesses in the neighborhood. If the business address is in the designated area, the city adds that to the local contracting numbers in its reporting of local purchasing under each agreement.

The city has received receipts from at least 54 local small businesses in the Central Market-Tenderloin area, including Equator Coffees & Tea, Foundation Cafe, Flying Falafel, Pakwan, Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen, Mom’s Soul Groove Kitchen, A Taste of Vietnam, Raj+Singh, Miss Saigon, and The Loin.

From 2014 to 2016, the city reported $5.2 million in local purchasing by companies with agreements under the Central Market-Tenderloin program. Of that total, $3.4 million came from Twitter. That substantial share may have something to do with the fact that Twitter has 1,900 employees in its headquarters. That’s a lot of receipts to turn in and a lot of mouths to feed at company events, among other local procurement contracts. The company declined to disclose a list of its local vendors.

Local economic impact reported under the Central Market-Tenderloin Payroll Expense Tax Exclusion (Credit: Next City)

All that said, Twitter’s community benefits agreement and others like it have not been without controversy in San Francisco. One sticking point: Nonprofit organizations are not exempt from the city payroll tax. One nonprofit employee, whose organization rents office space inside Twitter’s building, offered her perspective to the local public radio station: “We pay payroll taxes, along with 20 other regional centers serving California’s most vulnerable: people with intellectual disabilities. Forty-four million dollars have been cut from our budget and the average caseload is now 90 people, 30 above the legal limit. Last year, my request for a bottle of Wite-Out was denied because our operations budget was exhausted. We get free coffee, but bring our own cream and sugar.”

Meanwhile, the vice chair of the citizens advisory committee quit in 2015, telling local reporters at the time, “I left the CAC in response to the effort that was put into negating and minimizing the CAC’s input into the formation of the community benefit agreements by the folks who are supposed to be supporting and administering the process.”

Then there’s the annual cost of the program, which the city reports. The Central Market-Tenderloin payroll tax exclusion cost the city $34,689,570 in 2014 and $15,770,859 in 2015 — the most recent year available.

So in 2015, that’s $15,770,859 in foregone tax revenue in exchange for a combined $2,449,122 in local purchasing, cash grants and in-kind donations within the designated tax exemption area — though the NeighborNest, with its build-out cost of about $3 million, is not counted in those totals.

It’s hard to say, of course, how much of the foregone tax revenue might have come back to the area in the form of public services or public assistance were it collected in the first place. But it’s also hard to say how much of the activity reported under community benefits agreements might have happened even without the tax exemption.

The city may yet find out how much tech companies’ commitment to the neighborhood really depends on a tax exemption. The Central Market-Tenderloin Payroll Expense Tax Exclusion program is set to expire at the end of 2018. Webb is hopeful that even if it does go away eventually, the local impact in terms of all the above will continue.

“We’re hopeful that no matter what happens, the change has already taken effect,” says Webb. “It’s like recycling, once you know you should and you start doing it, you really can’t go back.”

It’s Time to Retire This Scapegoat for Segregation

(Photo by Henry Han) 

I’d spoken at dozens of community public meetings before, but nothing had prepared me for the eye opening and virulent experience that I would face that rainy Tuesday afternoon. As I signed the speaker’s list and squeezed into the standing room only cafeteria at Briargrove Elementary School, I began talking myself out of talking. I’d come to speak on behalf of thousands of families in desperate need of the 233 units that were being proposed in Houston’s upscale Galleria neighborhood. As the president of Houston Housing Authority made his presentation about the mixed income development, an angry crowd of more than 500 people, mostly anglos, loudly interrupted, shouting remarks that were not at all reflective of this oft-touted “post racial” era.

“How will our seniors feel safe?”

“This sounds like the plan they had for bussing years ago!”

“Those people don’t belong here”

After witnessing the verbal assault on the HHA president, I convinced myself that it would be best if my comments were submitted via email. Then my name was called.

Perplexed eyes locked in on me, an African-American woman, as I walked to the podium. I nervously shared that families in search for decent housing, near great jobs, transportation and high performing schools had a right to choose where they lived and not be relegated to other neighborhoods simply because they possessed a housing choice voucher or earned a working class wage. I reminded the angry crowd that “those people” they were villainizing help provide the lifestyle to which the meeting attendees had become accustomed. It seemed that “those people” were good enough to serve, but not to live in, that community. The incessant booing and nasty remarks that punctuated my talk surprisingly fueled a fire inside of me that I didn’t know existed. I ended my comments charging the audience to face their fears and to live the inclusive lifestyle that many of them claim to embrace. As my colleague escorted me to my car afterwards, as it was apparent I was not in a “safe zone,” it dawned on me that I’d just stared NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) in its face.

Almost 50 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, this discriminatory practice continues to play a major role in the perpetuation of segregation. The benefits of desegregation have not reached major metropolitan cities, like Houston, in the United States. Instead, many city governments too quickly acquiesce to pervasive NIMBY arguments. But such failures to confront and correct the history of racial exclusion carry a high social cost.

Sadly, NIMBY is the typical response to proposed affordable housing development in well-resourced communities. Neighborhoods that offer close proximity to high-performing schools, access to transit, employment centers and quality food choices typically lack affordable places to live — by design. The tenants of subsidized housing are overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic. Almost always, neighborhoods with organized opposition to affordable development are mostly white.

The Houston Housing Authority’s (HHA) proposal to build a mixed-income development (including some workforce and public housing) near Houston’s upscale Galleria proved the truth of this assertion. The NIMBY backlash was immediate and ferocious, as members of the community made it clear that they did not want the development in their backyard. Many said they were concerned about school overcrowding and increased traffic. Others made comments about the potential residents of the development, making comments including: “They’re going to steal the tires off of our Suburbans. They’re going to bring down our property value!”

This is well-recognized coded language that perpetuates the legacy of racial exclusion. And unfortunately, it provides government with a scapegoat to continue housing policies that lead to segregation. Local governments have historically failed to stand up to NIMBY to promote housing justice for all of its residents.

Especially in Texas, a NIMBY reaction to a housing proposal is usually enough to stop elected officials from supporting a development. After the backlash in Houston, Houston’s Democratic mayor and City Council blocked funding for the project. Although the project required no funding from the city, Texas rules require a resolution of support or no objection. The city did neither, which lead to a federal investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The investigation found Houston in violation of the Civil Rights Act by catering to racially charged NIMBYism. Most recently, Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter to HUD requesting the Title VI finding be rescinded and stated firmly that the resistance to the project’s approval was related primarily to expensive development costs. Ironically, a similarly proposed project, with similar costs, in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of 35 percent (compared to 6.1 percent in the Galleria neighborhood) was approved by the City Council and is currently under construction.

When government responds to bias from a wealthy white constituency by forsaking low-income black and brown constituents, no one is well served. The wedge between communities is driven deeper, and separateness and place-based racial discrimination grows worse.

NIMBYs often suggest that affordable housing developments should be built in communities that are historically black and brown, so that residents can be near their social networks. The reality is that most of these areas already have a high concentration of subsidized housing. Because they often lack nearby job opportunities, well-resourced schools, convenient transportation, quality infrastructure and other amenities, these areas may suffer increased crime rates, dropout rates and high poverty.

Cities across the nation will be better served when policymakers admit that while they, personally, may not have created a system of segregated housing, it is their responsibility to build diverse, thriving cities. This means making sure every community pays its fair share. We must move past our discomfort and recognize the role race played and still plays in shaping housing policy. We must call out the pretexts that allow for ongoing racial discrimination and segregation. Government officials must stop hiding behind the veil of NIMBY. For the sake of our economy, our safety, our education — and everything that makes our society fair and equitable — we must hold lawmakers accountable for their role in building the diverse communities that we claim to hold dear.