Professor looks at crime rates, affordable housing


With affordable housing, crime rates drop and economic independence rises.

Douglas S. Massey, the Henry G. Bryant professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, was invited to be the keynote speaker for the fourth and final conference in the 2012-2013 Sawyer Seminars on Race, Place and Space in the Americas.

The conference, held in the Alexander Library yesterday, was themed “Cities, Towns and Suburbs.” Hosted by the Center of Race and Ethnicity at Rutgers, the conference is funded by the Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar Program, which organizes the series of intellectual conferences.

Massey spoke about the historical background concerning the “Underclass Debate” of the early 1980s. The period, which witnessed speculation about the welfare of the underclass, or those living in perpetual poverty, saw a subsequent increase in crime rates in the U.S.

“Poverty was becoming more entrenched, crime rates were rising and the result was the explosion of literature on the underclass,” Massey said.

He said two different schools of thought presented their ideas on the reasons for such a state of poverty.

“From the right, we had Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead, who basically said that poverty was entrenched because the welfare system created disincentives for work,” he said.

Massey then discussed the counterpoint.

“The left was led off by William Julius Wilson, who wrote “The Truly Disadvantaged,” who argued the reason to be urban economic transformation and noted that the rates of poverty in the central city black areas were rising, eliminating jobs for black males and isolating poor African Americans in poor neighborhoods,” he said.

Massey entered the Underclass Debate in 1993, with his book, “American Apartheid,” written with his colleague Nancy Denton. But his emphasis was not the concept of economic transformation, rather on segregation, which he believed was not just a natural occurrence, but imposed in American society.

“After ‘American Apartheid,’ Will Wilson wished that he had paid more attention to segregation, but that wouldn’t have left any room for me,” he said.

Massey used a statistical data and curves to illustrate the concept of segregation faced by African Americans and the Latino population.

“If you look at New York, Newark, Chicago, Philadelphia, St.Louis, Milwaukee, Atlanta [and] Houston, levels of segregation are persisting very high,” he said.

With regards to his latest book, Massey said the need to have affordable housing could be a solution that eliminates the stigma of segregation. He and his colleagues evaluate the consequences of the Ethel Lawrence houses, an affordable housing development in Mount Laurel, N.J., and effects of the neighborhoods on new inhabitants.

“Neighborhoods do matter,” Massey said. “Making housing affordable to black and Latino population saw plummeting levels of disorder, crimes, mental stress, even school drop outs and increasing level of jobs, economic independence and education quality.”

Massey said housing projects such as Ethel Lawrence homes are a win-win situation for all.

“Tax payers are not burdened, this project was financed by low-income housing tax credits,” Massey said. “If done right, done correctly, done well, it’s good for everybody.”

The lecture was followed by a question and answer session where members of the audience expressed their concerns about housing in New Jersey.

“It was an analytic, astute and aspiring lecture,” said Ann Fabian, a professor in the Department of History.

When asked how the speech can help students and faculty at the University, Jahaira Arias, a graduate assistant at CRE said she feels the lecture series is helpful to all University members.

“It provides a place for scholars, faculty or even students in the field of interdisciplinary sciences, to come together,” said Arias, a graduate student. “[They can] have intellectual conversations, or [conduct] research.”


By Vaishali Gauba

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