More Than Money: The psychological externalities of neighborhood foreclosures

Losing a home can have a strong and long-standing economic and psychological impact on older individuals and their families who experience the loss first-hand. But what about neighbors and friends who are left behind to see auction signs on homes that used to house old friends?

In their paper “The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health,” Kathleen A. Cagney, Christopher R. Browning, James Iveniuk, and Ned English find that a large number of foreclosures in one’s neighborhood can be an important risk factor for the onset of depression among older adults. More specifically, the authors find that foreclosures not only impact individuals and families who directly suffer the loss of a home, but also those who are left behind with less dense communities, neighborhood properties in disrepair, and a general sense of social withdrawal.

Survey data were collected from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative study of older adults (those aged 57 years or above), which follows study subjects over a long period of time. Data were gathered from the 2005-2006 and the 2010-2011 NSHAP surveys, perfectly bounding the economic downturn and the foreclosure crisis. In order to accurately observe the difference in depressive symptoms, the authors used data of people who had taken the NSHAP survey both times. The respondents’ home addresses were linked to the US censuses of 2000 and 2010 to determine how many housing units were available in the areas of interest, and the NSHAP data was linked to the 2009 American Community Survey to see what proportion of people living in a respondent’s neighborhood fell below the poverty line. ZIP code level data were purchased from RealtyTrac, an authoritative source of data on foreclosure, to determine the percentage of housing units in a ZIP code that had experienced foreclosure.

Studying data from New YorkLos Angeles, and Chicago, the three most populous metropolitan areas for NSHAP respondents, the authors observed a dramatic rise in reports of depressive symptoms among older adults in communities that were hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Respondents who had not reported depressive symptoms in the 2005-2006 survey reported them when surveyed in 2010-2011, suggesting that the impact of foreclosure is independent of an existing psychological disorder. Furthermore, the symptoms were found to be worse among respondents whose mobility had reduced over this period of time, making feelings of loneliness and loss more acute.

Although the authors acknowledge the limitations of their data, for instance that the NSHAP data do not allow for a seamless comparison across age groups, they argue that focusing on older adults is important as they are more likely to have lived in a particular neighborhood over a longer period of time and have stronger ties to their surroundings. This would lend credence to the hypothesis that a change in living conditions, induced by foreclosure, would have an emotional impact on these older residents. In fact, studies show that feelings of extreme loneliness can have a severe impact on older individuals, including increasing the chances of a premature death.

As the United States continues to grapple with the aftershocks of the 2010 foreclosure crisis, this study has important implications for policymakers working on policies aimed at the elderly demographic in the US population. With the last of the baby boomers entering their sixties, policymakers must divert more attention towards the emotional needs of older adults, particularly with respect to health and housing needs. A home, old friends, and neighborhood landmarks are memories that enrich individual lives. These factors can in turn impact entire communities and shape local health across the country, therefore warranting the attention of policymakers.

Article Source: Kathleen A. Cagney, Christopher R. Browning, James Iveniuk, and Ned English, “The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health,” American Journal of Public Health 104, No. 3 (March 2014): 498-505.

Feature Photo: cc/(TheTruthAbout)


Recipe for Disaster: The Link Between Urban Planning and Karachi’s Political Violence

349173356_f015a4dd65_b-940x400As Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi elects the largest number of representatives to the country’s parliament. However, for this electoral influence, Karachi has also paid a price in the form of rampant violence in the past 20 years. Armed groups fight and kill members of rival groups for political power, and in 2012 alone, 2,124 people were killed in the city’s streets.

Political commentators, researchers, and security analysts in Pakistan have attributed political violence to tensions among the various ethnic groups that populate Karachi and want to gain maximum control over the city’s resources. The fact that at least one ethnic cohort repeatedly votes for a political group engaged in violence in Karachi supports this point of view.

Yet while Karachi’s ethnic composition has shifted in recent years, killings motivated by political incentives have continued unabated, raising the question of whether there is more to the violence in Karachi than just ethnicity. In the paper “Informality and Political Violence in Karachi,” Haris Gazdar and Hussain Bux Mallah attempt to answer this question by explaining political violence in terms other than ethnic tensions. The authors suggest that while it is true that the major players in Karachi’s violence have clearly identifiable ethnic bases, studying informal urban planning and land use in the city can explain the persistence and patterns of violence in the metropolis.

Using census data, polling station returns, and qualitative case studies, Gazdar and Mallah examine the relationship between unplanned urbanization and political violence in Karachi. With this information, the researchers map Karachi’s population in terms of migrant rather than ethnic groups and study the dispersion of these groups across the city’s neighborhoods since 1947. They categorize neighborhoods as planned, unplanned, or mixed (semi-planned) based on the level of access to formal urban planning structures such as policing, water, and sewage that each neighborhood provides for its residents. The studies were conducted between 2003 and 2011 on three neighborhoods—Lyari, Jacob Lines, and Kausar Niazi Colony—that started as unplanned residential areas and were eventually regularized.

The authors then describe two cycles of migration that substantially changed Karachi’s demographics. The first migration cycle occurred in 1947 when Karachi received a massive influx of migrants as a result of the partition of the Subcontinent and Pakistan’s creation as an independent state. As Pakistan rapidly industrialized, Karachi underwent a second wave of migration in the 1960s as people from other parts of the country moved to Karachi in search of employment. The authors call members of the first migration cycle “Partition migrants” and members of the latter cycle “post-Partition migrants.”

According to Gazdar and Mallah, with time, communities that had inhabited pre-1947 Karachi began to settle in the city’s oldest urban areas (District South) while suburbs (District Central and East) and industrial areas (District West and Malir) were converted into housing for Partition and post-Partition migrants. Planned low-cost housing schemes were launched in the Central and East districts to accommodate the poorest migrants but the superior planning of these neighborhoods began to attract more affluent Partition migrants who overwhelmingly belonged to one ethnic cohort—the Muhajirs. After analyzing census data, Gazdar and Mallah find that the settlement of Partition migrants in the well-planned districts of Central and East led to great social inequality in Karachi, one factor in the current political violence in the city.

Eventually, the number of post-Partition migrants in Karachi increased, landing them in unplanned settlements that cropped up close to planned settlements. As the political landscape became more accommodating of ethnic groups that inhabited unplanned neighborhoods, the government in the 1970s decided to regularize existing unplanned settlements, including ones that were seen as limiting growth of planned neighborhoods. The government’s action resulted in a sense of insecurity among the Partition migrants who would have benefitted from greater development of planned areas. Consequently, the Partition migrants chose to empower third-party intermediary groups against what they felt was a hostile state.

According to Gazdar and Mallah, the underlying ethnic tension in Karachi eventually turned violent and politically significant when the government began to develop planned housing for its employees (from non-Muhajir backgrounds) near Jacob Lines, an unplanned neighborhood populated by poor Partition migrants. The migrants were often harassed by police and threatened with eviction on the basis of complaints from residents of planned segments. Feeling insecure, the Partition migrants turned to third-party intermediaries—sometimes members of neighborhood gangs—instead of planning authorities, who the migrants felt were partial to affluent residents.

Through their research into the history of urban planning and growth in Karachi, Gazdar and Mallah conclude that violent political conflict in Karachi can be traced back to divisions between planned and unplanned districts. The authors’ research shows that urban planners in cities as socially diverse as Karachi need to carefully consider the unintended consequences of urban policymaking that can turn a city’s diversity into a threat rather than a strength. Karachi can be seen as a prime example of how urban planning may lead to many long-term consequences, even ones that can prove deadly.

Feature Photo: cc/(megabeth)

Published in Chicago Policy Review on February 12, 2014.