Olivia Ildefonso believes New York is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. A data and analytics consultant to ERASE Racism, she says the crisis is powered by various factors that can be difficult to untangle and visualize.
ERASE Racism, a Syosset-based advocacy group focused on fair housing and education on Long Island, released its Affordable and Inclusive Housing Tool last month, which covers all of New York. It displays data with more than 30 variables related to opportunity, education, racial dissimilarity and subsidized housing.
Ildefonso, in collaboration with Laura Harding, president of ERASE Racism, developed and maintains the dashboard. They intend the AIHT to be used by advocates, developers, and the general public in combating the affordable housing crisis.
“ERASE Racism’s Affordable and Inclusive Housing Tool is an essential new device for those interested in increasing affordable and inclusive housing in New York State,” Harding says. “It provides a level of analysis that has not been previously available and that is crucial to identifying the best places for such new housing.”
ERASE Racism’s mapping tool diverges from similar programs in its approach to certain variables. When researching what others have done, Ildefonso found that maps could measure factors with such detail that it could be a hindrance to many users.
“It can be so much sometimes that it almost becomes unusable except for people who are data wonks,” she says.
Instead, ERASE Racism’s AIHT combines several factors in the categories of health, financial stability, and housing to create a Neighborhood Opportunity index. It further streamlines those factors into quartiles, which range from -100 (lowest opportunity) to +100 (highest opportunity).
“Neighborhoods with a +100 score would have high rates of all those things,” says Ildefonso. “So, the life expectancy is higher; insurance rates, employment rates, non-rent burdened rates, and so on, those would all be higher than other neighborhoods.
“These are areas where affordable housing is available to people of a modest income; it will ensure they actually have access to quality resources, quality schools,” she continues. “It’s a form of social mobility, giving them a way to not just access affordable housing, but also access resources that break trends of poverty.”
All values are compared on a regional basis, so areas within counties or regions can be compared, but not across the entire state.
Within Monroe County, census tracts with the lowest Neighborhood Opportunity indexes are located within Rochester, with particularly low scores in the central northeast and northwest “Crescent” area of the city. The town of Sweden and parts of western Brighton and north Henrietta also had low scores.
The town of Pittsford had the highest average scores, with Mendon, Rush, Webster and Perinton also having comparatively high rankings. Other areas in the county had mixed or neutral results with this variable.
Aside from the Neighborhood Opportunity index, the full mapping tool ranks other variables including the education opportunity. Ildefonso notes education is such an important factor that ERASE Racism decided it had to be a category on its own.
The tool measures education opportunity by combining the level of need for disadvantaged and English language learner students, school performance, and resources. Similar to the Neighborhood Opportunity index, school districts are then ranked from -100 to +100.
In Monroe County, the Rochester City School District was the lowest, ranked at -100. This is due in large part to its subpar Economic Advantage Score, which placed the district at the zero percentile for students who are “not economically disadvantaged” and “not English Language Learners.”
The Greece City School district, which covers the eastern part of Greece, also ranked at -100 with low ratings in the Economic Advantage Score. The Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School District had the highest ranking of +100 in the area.
Racial dissimilarity is another indicator in ERASE Racism’s AIHT, which both ranks segregation and measures gentrification in areas. This is done while also taking into account a region’s overall demographics.
Parts of Long Island, for example, have areas with over 50 percent white population, so observing another tract with 60 percent white population doesn’t necessarily indicate segregation. On the flip side, Bronx County has a very high non-white population, so seeing tracts with over 80 percent people of color similarly would not be an automatic sign of segregation in that specific area.
There is evidence of segregation in Monroe County in areas with high percentages of people of color and those with high percentages of white people. According to ERASE Racism’s AIHT, this is primarily an urban/suburban divide.
Similarly, greater rates of gentrification have been noted by the tool in areas of the county with changing demographics. Census Tract 94, which includes the Rochester center city area, was deemed to be gentrifying based on increases in all four criteria: change in percentage of white residents, change in median household income, change in median rent amount, and change in percentage of adults older than 25 with at least a college degree.)
Lastly, the AIHT has a variable for subsidized housing that not only tracks housing choice vouchers, often referred to as Section 8, but also the number and location of assisted housing units.
Most units within Monroe County are located in low opportunity ranked areas of Rochester. The city also has an average of 11 percent of all units as HCVs, with some census tracts getting as high as 50 percent of all units.
“We know one of the biggest barriers is how affordable housing is normally built, which is usually in the same low-income areas. This ends up both constraining the housing supply for everyone, and leading to more concentrated poverty and more racial segregation.” says Ildefonso. “People have worries about affordable housing lowering their property values or affecting their neighborhoods in negative ways. But actually, what we’re trying to show is that if affordable housing is placed evenly throughout the state, it won’t affect any community in any detrimental way.
“The only reason why it affects communities in negative ways is when it’s concentrated all in the same places,” she continues. “If you build one affordable housing project in a neighborhood, that whole neighborhood’s (property values) are not going to go downhill.”
The ERASE Racism team is committed to updating the data for the public and making improvements based on use cases for the future. Since the map uses data from 2010 to 2019, Ildefonso is interested in seeing how these trends develop, for example.
Zoning regulations, an important factor in creating housing, could not be integrated in ERASE Racism’s AIHT. However, Ildefonso says the focus is on beginning the conversation about fair housing. This tool can help narrow the focus of possible locations for projects to alleviate this issue.
“(The AIHT) is a starting point. This is a research tool to help empower the conversation. It’s not saying when you use these filters, this is the place you have to build in. Obviously you have to do additional research,” Ildefonso says.
“Once you reduce it to these neighborhoods or these census tracts, you have to see, what’s the infrastructure like? Is there any land available? These questions come after and in conjunction with using this tool.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].