Category Archives: Urban Issues

Report: Basic Income in Cities

Report: Juliana Bidadanure, Sean Kline, Camille Moore, Brooks Rainwater, and Catherine Thomas, Basic Income in Cities, Nat’l League of Cities (2018) (https://www.nlc.org/sites/default/files/2018-11/BasicIncomeInCities_Report_For%20Release%20.pdf). Short excerpt follows:

Cities are uniquely positioned to lead the country forward through innovation and ferocious experimentation. As we near the 2020s, it is apparent that the nation will need a social welfare system built for this new century and its specific challenges. One proposal governments are increasingly exploring is a policy now widely known as “universal basic income,” or UBI.

Op-Ed: Detroit. New Orleans. D.C. Predatory Cities Are on the Rise.

Op-Ed: Bernadette Atuahene, Detroit. New Orleans. D.C. Predatory Cities Are on the Rise., N.Y. Times (June 11, 2020).

News Coverage: Beverly Hills, Buckhead, SoHo: The New Sites of Urban Unrest

News Coverage: Emily Badger, Beverly Hills, Buckhead, SoHo: The New Sites of Urban Unrest, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2020).

New Article: Hiding Homelessness: The Transcarceration of Homelessness

New Article: Sara Rankin, Hiding Homelessness: The Transcarceration of Homelessness, forthcoming Cal. L. Rev. Abstract below:

Cities throughout the country respond to homelessness with laws that persecute people for surviving in public space, even when unsheltered people lack a reasonable alternative. This widespread practice—the criminalization of homelessness—processes vulnerable people through the criminal justice system with damaging results. But recently, from the epicenter of the homelessness crisis along the West Coast, the Ninth Circuit extended the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to cities prosecuting unsheltered people for sleeping or camping in public space in Martin v. Boise. Boise, supported by amici from scores of other Western cities and counties, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, which the Court denied without comment. A landmark ruling, Martin might push cities to stop criminalizing homelessness and instead address its underlying causes. But rather than decarcerating homelessness or facilitating solutions, Martin instead may be forging new paths to hide unsheltered people: a sort of transcarceration movement from openly punitive campaigns that incarcerate unsheltered people to alluring campaigns that confine unsheltered people through alternative means, such as involuntary commitment into psychiatric facilities and segregated zones or compulsory camps. These developments do not alleviate homelessness; they repackage its criminalization. Indeed, post-Martin efforts reframe displacement, forced confinement, and control over unsheltered people not as criminalization, but as compassion. While these efforts might technically comply with Martin, they threaten to undermine the very fundamental constitutional rights it sought to protect and do nothing to improve homelessness. Instead, cities should move to decarcerate homelessness by pursuing more humane and effective alternatives that not only comply with Martin but also promise to stem the crisis.

New Article: Differentiating Exclusionary Tendencies

New Article: John Infranca, Differentiating Exclusionary Tendencies, forthcoming Florida Law Review, SSRN Mar. 2020. Abstract below:

Despite an academic consensus that easing land use regulations to increase the supply of housing can help lower housing prices, local opposition to new development remains prevalent. Onerous zoning regulations and resistance to new housing persist not only in wealthy suburbs, but also in lower-income urban neighborhoods. In addition to making housing more expensive, such policies increase residential segregation, exacerbate urban sprawl, and have detrimental environmental effects. If increasing supply tends to reduce costs, what explains this opposition, particularly during a period of rising housing costs?

One factor is concern about the localized costs of greater density and its effect on neighborhood character and livability. There is a perception that new development may, by changing the character and desirability of its immediate neighborhood, play some role in increasing housing prices and exacerbating gentrification and displacement in lower-income communities. Empirical evidence suggests this is not the case, but efforts to exclude new development and demands for greater local control over land use persist in lower-income urban neighborhoods. These tendencies mirror responses in wealthier communities.

This Article compares these exclusionary tendencies and asks whether there is a normative basis for differentiating them. It concludes that there is a modest case for distinct treatment, based on a combination of factors including the historical treatment of lower-income urban communities, the more fragile relationship between property and personhood in such neighborhoods, the structure of local government law, and the principle of subsidiarity. However, any preferential treatment must avoid undermining broader efforts towards reducing regulatory and procedural obstacles to denser development and increased housing supply. It should primarily address concerns about neighborhood character and the claims of long-term residents to a distinct stake in the neighborhood that entitles them to some degree of deference and perhaps some share of the increased property values generated by a zoning change. Rather than provide additional process or opportunities for public participation, legal responses should carefully circumscribe local authority in the realm of planning and grant individual residents a property entitlement they can freely transfer. This entitlement, granted to both owners and tenants, would allow residents to derive some benefit from new development while strengthening the voice of a more representative share of the local population.

New Article: Predatory Cities

New Article: Bernadette Atuahene, Predatory Cities, 108 Calif. L. Rev. 107 (2020). Abstract below:

Between 2011 and 2015, the Wayne County Treasurer completed the property tax foreclosure process for one in four properties in Detroit, Michigan. No other American city has experienced this elevated rate of property tax foreclosures since the Great Depression. Studies reveal that the City of Detroit systematically and illegally inflated the assessed value of most of its residential properties, which led to inflated property tax bills unaffordable to many homeowners. Extraordinary tax foreclosure rates and extensive dispossession resulted. Consequently, Detroit has become a “predatory city”—a new and important sociolegal concept that this Article develops.

Predatory cities are urban areas where public officials systematically take property from residents and transfer it to public coffers, intentionally or unintentionally violating domestic laws or basic human rights. Detroit is not alone. Ferguson, Missouri, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. are among the other US cities where state actors have used illegal methods to augment public coffers. Although this practice affects many urban areas, US legal scholarship has almost completely overlooked the phenomenon of predatory cities. This Article is the first attempt to understand the intersecting economic, social, and political factors that have caused these struggling cities to become predatory. Through an ethnographic study of illegal property tax assessments in Detroit, I find that predatory systems, rather than a few predatory people, initiated and perpetuated the illicit practices. More specifically, several factors made the City and its residents extremely vulnerable, and thus susceptible, to predation. Against this backdrop of vulnerability, certain legal and governance failures created structural opportunities for predation to advance at scale. Using the Detroit case, this Article identifies, defines, and examines the phenomenon of predatory cities, which scholars and policy makers must begin to better understand and address.

New Article: Fragmenting Local Governance and Fracturing America’s Suburbs: An Analysis of Municipal Incorporations and Segregative Effect Liability Under the Fair Housing Act

New Article: Jenna Raden, Fragmenting Local Governance and Fracturing America’s Suburbs: An Analysis of Municipal Incorporations and Segregative Effect Liability Under the Fair Housing Act, 94 Tul. L. Rev. 365 (2020) [may require Westlaw password to access]. Abstract below:

This Comment explores the phenomena of clustered municipal incorporations (specifically St. George, Louisiana and the Cityhood movement outside of Atlanta, Georgia) to query whether the Fair Housing Act (FHA) could be used as a tool to prevent the establishment of cities that perpetuate segregation and disproportionately burden minority and low-income communities. As the fringes of America’s cities fragment along race and class lines, Congress’s twin goals of integration and anti-discrimination under the FHA are subverted, but can the FHA stop it? Courts have not yet addressed segregative municipal incorporations under the FHA, the primary legal tool to prevent further segregation in residential living patterns. The ways in which we are permitted to organize our communities matters. City boundaries have far-reaching and long-lasting effects for populations both included and excluded. Discriminatory municipal incorporations entrench segregation, exacerbate inequality, and create barriers to housing, education, and essential municipal services affecting daily life. This Comment offers a brief background of municipal incorporations in the United States, examines current incorporation movements in the American South, and analyzes a novel challenge to municipal incorporation under the FHA’s segregative effect theory of liability. Given that municipal incorporations have largely evaded discrimination challenges, is municipal incorporation a blank check for government-sanctioned discrimination so long as the invidious motivation is not overt? Will we let discriminatory incorporations continue to unravel the gains society has made since the FHA was enacted? This Comment concludes that state governments and federal agencies are best positioned to realize the goals of the FHA to ensure integrated and non-discriminatory community organization.

Upcoming Virtual Conference: Inequality of Wealth, Race, and Class; Equality of Opportunity

Upcoming Virtual Conference: Inequality of Wealth, Race, and Class; Equality of Opportunity, Univ. of St. Thomas J. L. & Pub. Pol’y Spring Symposium, Friday, March 27, 2020, 8am-5pm.

This symposium will be hosted entirely online. Visit https://stthomas.zoom.us/j/531167739 on March 27 to watch the following speaker panels.

Housing Panel: 9:30 -11 am
Tax Panel: 11am -12:30pm
Lunch Break: 12:30 – 1:30pm
Social Mobility: 1:30 – 3pm
Poverty: Urban and Rural: 3 – 4:30pm

New Article: The Final Regulations on Opportunity Zones

New Article: Jean Bertrand et al., The Final Regulations on Opportunity Zones, SSRN 2020.

Op-ed: The Legacy of a Landmark Case for Housing Mobility

Op-ed: Lawrence Lanahan, The Legacy of a Landmark Case for Housing Mobility, Citylab, Jan. 31, 2020.