Slum Housing And Urban Poverty Economics Essay

Slum lodging is both a map of and a subscriber to urban poorness. Marked by the concentration of hapless people, overcrowding, high offense, and high rates of unwellness, slums have been a relentless job in urban America for coevalss. The deepness of the job has non altered significantly over clip, and attempts such as high-rise public lodging undertakings designed to turn to slum conditions have in fact exacerbated the job of concentrated poorness. In Los Angeles, countries marked by slum conditions are comprised preponderantly of minority populations, and progressively draw to a great extent from the immigrant Latino population.

Attempts to supervise lodging conditions to guarantee conformity with appropriate habitableness codifications in Los Angeles have been mostly ineffective due to the big figure of rental units in the metropolis and the limited figure of inspectors. Slum landlords frequently view commendations, when they come, as a nominal cost of making concern in the metropolis. A figure of policies have been promoted over the old ages to turn to the job of slum lodging, including rental aid and greater regulative inadvertence, though limited financess and political will hold stymied attempts to do deep inroads into the job.

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Of all the indexs that orbit poorness, possibly none has more orbiters than the category of shelter defined as slum, or substandard, lodging. Areas marked by slum lodging experience higher rates of offense and unwellness ; they are most frequently defined by overcrowding and by pockets of concentrated poorness.

In Los Angeles, the metropolis ‘s Housing Department has implemented a plan to inspect each of the about 800,000 rental units in the metropolis, but it has been, for grounds that will be addressed in greater deepness in this paper, mostly ineffective. The consequence, harmonizing to a study issued earlier this twelvemonth, is “ a cardinal crisis of wellness and human rights in Los Angeles, peculiarly in Downtown and South Los Angeles. ” ( Healthy Neighborhoods 2010, 1 )

This paper is based on a reappraisal of academic and activist literature turn toing the issue of slum lodging both nationally and locally, authorities informations, and interviews with representatives of renters, authorities, and enforcement bureaus.

This paper opens with an appraisal of the definitions of slum lodging, looking at both the legal and conversational apprehensions of what establishes a topographic point as a slum from the local, province, and national positions. Following the analysis of what defines slum lodging is an appraisal of conditions that contribute to and are generated by slums, including concentrated poorness, in-migration, race, and wellness attention. A treatment of proposals, both new and old, intended to cover with the job concludes the paper.

Slum Housing

“ The general form of the development of slums is about ever the same. They begin with the overcrowding of bing edifices and the add-on of renters built by conscienceless speculators to a considerable tallness on small land, without mention to visible radiation, air, sanitation, and other criterions of nice life and safety. The topographic point of a individual household in a moderately comfy house is taken by a figure of households, and in the tenements people are packed in similar poulets in a henhouse. Wave after moving ridge of fledglings inhabits these rookeries. Equally shortly as one coevals achieves adequate prosperity to acquire out, it moves on and another with lower criterions and income takes its topographic point. ” – Robert Moses, The Atlantic Monthly, 1945

The Conditions – What Makes a Slum?

For Moses, the features of slums homes included the neglect by landlords for “ light, air, sanitation, and other criterions of nice life and safety. ”

The California Health and Safety Code, which governs habitation jurisprudence in the City of Los Angeles, goes into far greater item. The province does non specifically specify “ slum ” lodging. Rather, the authorities uses a list of more than 30 conditions that can be used to specify “ substandard ” lodging and to mention landlord. Broadly defined as conditions that endanger “ the life, limb, wellness, belongings, safety, or public assistance of the populace or the residents, ” subdivision 17920.3 of the Code lists includes unequal sanitation ( mentioning 15 specific illustrations ) ; structural jeopardies ( 9 illustrations ) ; “ any nuisance ; ” wiring, plumbing and mechanical systems that are non up to code ; faulty conditions protection ( 4 illustrations ) ; fire jeopardies ( including “ flora, debris, dead organic affair, dust, refuse, offal, gnawer harbourages ” ) ; unequal care, issues, or fire suppression systems ( California 2000s ) .

There are popular definitions of slums as good, and while those in many ways encompass the legal definitions outlined in the province codification, there are broader social significances every bit good. Richman quoted one militant as specifying a slum as a topographic point “ where no middle-class individual could pass the dark. ” ( Richman, 10 ) . The societal context of lodging is of import, because it encompasses more than the physical infinite we inhabit. Matters of safety, the development of webs, interpersonal dealingss, and wellness are all tied into the societal context of lodging ( Rauh, Landrigan, and Claudio 2008 ) .

A slum belongings can be in its ain context, assorted in among better-maintained belongingss, or as portion of a vicinity of similar belongingss. Where slums exist in a broader context of “ disinvestment ” – manifest by deteriorated lodging stock and small investing in care or investing -the vicinity could be considered one of concentrated poorness ( Richman ) .

In Los Angeles, supervising residential units and guaranting conformity with lodging and wellness and safety codifications is falls to the metropolis ‘s Housing Department, which is charged with inspecting each of the about 800,000 rental units in the metropolis on a regular footing. Through its Systematic Code Enforcement Program ( SCEP ) , every rental belongings with two or more units is to be inspected on a four-year rhythm. Property proprietors are notified 30 yearss prior to the review and once more five-to-seven yearss before the review. If the system works, it means approximately 200,000 units would be inspected each twelvemonth.

While most inspectors are “ reasonably good cats, ” one job with the system, said B. H, manager of Legal Services at InnerCity Law Center, a Los Angeles non-profit offering legal and protagonism assistance to the working hapless and homeless, is that “ if they do n’t see it, they do n’t mention it. ” As an illustration, she said that in a edifice with mold the progress notice allows a landlord to paint over the status prior to the review.[ 1 ]What ‘s more, the review rhythm is “ a complete fiction, ” harmonizing to T.H, the Supervising Assistant City Attorney who heads the group prosecuting slum lodging instances. She estimated that limited review staff and limited entree to edifices ( reviews happen during concern hours, and if renters are n’t home the units are by and large non opened to inspectors ) , Housing Department inspectors really see about 10 per centum of the units they are supposed to reexamine each twelvemonth. Using those estimations, approximately 20,000 units ( 2.5 per centum of the City ‘s entire ) are inspected each twelvemonth. From that pool, Hess said, her unit is referred about 1,000 instances for prosecution stand foring codification misdemeanors that were unresolved through the administrative procedure.[ 2 ]

There was understanding among both the interviewees and the literature that effectual review plans pressure to landlords to keep their edifices suitably – and conversely that deficiency of effectual review systems contribute to the job. Rauh, et Al, found that “ Inadequate metropolis codification enforcement and fix of metropolis belongingss can take to the systematic impairment of the lodging stock and, accordingly, of full vicinities. Neighborhood impairment affects the societal and physical conditions of single units and therefore the wellbeing of households. ” ( Rauh, Landrigan, and Claudio 2008, 277 )

Indeed, the Los Angeles Housing Department ‘s Code Enforcement Division acknowledges every bit much in its Mission Statement: “ The being of such deficient edifices and brooding units threatens the physical, societal and economic stableness of sound residential edifices and countries, and of their supporting vicinity installations and establishments ; necessitates disproportionate outgos of public financess for remedial action ; impairs the efficient and economical exercising of governmental powers and maps ; and destroys the agreeableness of residential countries and vicinities and of the community as a whole. ”[ 3 ]

Feeding this cascade of societal ailments is a set of landlords that see an chance to maximise net income with comparatively small concern for the legal effects. Rather than allowing their edifices deteriorate through disregard, many Lashkar-e-Taiba belongingss fall into disrepair in order to drive renters out, leting them to so rehabilitate the edifices and rent them at higher rates.[ 4 ]If inspectors come and the proprietors are cited – and if the jobs are non remedied – it can take months before misdemeanors to be referred to prosecuting officers. These misdemeanors are misdemeanours, capped at maximal mulcts of $ 1,000 per misdemeanor and up to six months in gaol. When strong beliefs are achieved in slum lodging instances the consequences about constantly are mulcts – non jail clip ( “ Judges do n’t see slumlords as felons, ” Handler said ) – which are mostly seen as portion of the cost of making concern. Indeed, prosecuting officers of slum lodging instances in Los Angeles see their primary map non as punitory but one designed to guarantee conformity with bing codifications.[ 5 ]

This contributes to a round environment in which the inducements for other landlords to keep their belongingss decline ( Massey and Denton 1993, Halpern 1995 ) .

The Conditions – Concentrated Poverty

Slum conditions are found in spatially concentrated countries of poorness. In Los Angeles, the bulk of piece of lands with concentrated poorness are found around Downtown and in South Los Angeles, and be given to be defined by expresswaies, preponderantly found along either side of the north/south Harbor ( 110 ) Freeway and along the east/west Hollywood ( 101 ) and Santa Monica ( 10 ) expresswaies ( Matsunaga 2008 ) . It is that geographics into which Westlake is nestled ( Figure 1 ) .

The baronial flat edifices of Westlake, the Los Angeles vicinity environing MacArthur Park, were built in the 1920s as places for the white professional category, with winter visitants and retires mixed in among them. The vicinity was so still at the outskirts of the cardinal concern territory Downtown, and the semisynthetic lake at its centre was a popular diversion topographic point ( Pitt and Pitt 1997, 541 ; 311 ) . But the country has been in diminution since the terminal of World War II, and its older, once-grand stock of older flat edifices are now dumbly populated.

Figure 1: ZIP Code 90057, Westlake

( lighter country at centre )

Westlake, harmonizing to 2000 Census figures, is 70 per centum Latino ( Appendix 1 ) , with more than 67 per centum of its population of about 44,000 foreign born.[ 6 ]Poverty and lodging quality are two cardinal constituents in specifying slum conditions. Density is the 3rd. The slum lodging job in Los Angeles tends to be centered in countries like Westlake: older subdivisions of the metropolis where with a big cohort of undocumented occupants.[ 7 ]

Density is a merchandise, among other things, of the high cost of life in Los Angeles. Harmonizing to the most recent Census information, 34 per centum of the households in Westlake – and 55 per centum of female-headed families – fell below the federal poorness line. More than three-fourthss of Westlake ‘s population earned less than $ 35,000 in 1999 ( the media income in Los Angeles that twelvemonth was $ 36,678 ) . It is in this context that about 84 per centum of tenants pay between $ 300 and $ 749 per month for their flats ( and more than 95 per centum of the tenants pay less than $ 1,000 ) . Rent expenditures in the community accounted for 35 per centum or more of the gross income for more than a 3rd of the population.[ 8 ]

When lodging takes this big a bite out of such a little income, bad things are certain to follow. The high cost of lodging prompts overcrowding, as households and friends are brought in to assist defray costs. At the same clip, limited resources and the demand for shelter agencies resources are allocated off from other necessities. A 2008 study by the Joint Center for Housing Surveies at Harvard University found that compared to those populating in low-cost lodging, cost-burdened tenants spend a 3rd less on nutrient, more than 40 per centum less on wellness attention, and about two tierces less on vesture. Intensifying the adversity, these tenants spend three-fourth lupus erythematosus on transit, badly restricting their entree to employment ( Harvard 2008 ) .

While overcrowding is non the exclusive determiner of slum conditions, those conditions constantly occur in overcrowded state of affairss. Overcrowding, defined as the tenancy of more than one individual per room, is considered a “ chief index ” of unequal lodging ( Myers and Lee 1996 ) . Harmonizing to the latest Census, 54.3 per centum of the population in the Westlake subdivision of Los Angeles was populating in lodging where the ratio was greater than one individual per room, with 45.9 per centum in lodging where the ratio was 1.51 or more individuals per room. That denseness was found in a market dominated by little flats: about half of the lodging in the country is in single-room units, and about 92 per centum have three or fewer suites.[ 9 ]

These indexs of concentrated poorness, so, represent the Petri dish in which slum lodging conditions can boom. Residents of vicinities where poorness is concentrated experience diminished physical environments every bit good as other hurts. A 2008 study on concentrated poorness prepared by the Economic Roundtable for the City of Los Angeles found rental units in these vicinities were more than 70 per centum more likely to be overcrowded and that the quality of life as measured by seven indices ( lodging insecurity, stationariness, instruction shortage, school public presentation, 16 to 19 twelvemonth olds at hazard, maternal wellness results, and public safety ) were all diminished ( Matsunaga 2008 ) .

Intensifying the job, landlords take signals from each other. When one allows a edifice to fall into slum conditions others feel less inclined to keep their belongingss at a higher criterion, feeding conditions that concentrate of poorness and worsen its effects ( Kingsley and Pettit 2003 ) .

The Conditions – Race

In most big metropoliss overcrowded, deficient lodging is besides marked by racial segregation. It is no different in Los Angeles. While the countrywide lodging tendencies through the 1970s and 1980s were headed toward worsening denseness in urban countries, in Los Angeles the tide started to head in the other way in the 1990s. An inflow of Latin American in-migration coupled with the diminution of the fabrication sector helped hike the figure of low-wage occupants and contribute to “ additions in economic polarisation and spacial stratification. ” ( Matsunaga 2008, Agnew 2010 )

Latin american and black families are among those most likely spend a greater proportion of their earning on lodging. The Joint Center found that “ more than 30 per centum of black tenants and 27 per centum of Latino tenants were badly housing-cost burdened in 2006, compared with 21 per centum of white tenants. ” ( Harvard 2008, 15 )

The rate of overcrowding in Los Angeles among Latinos was found to be “ markedly higher ” than that for Asians and non-Hispanic Whites ( Myers and Lee 1996, Richman ) , a fact attributed in portion to differential rates of income growing and, it has been suggested, a greater willingness in the immigrant community to accept higher residential densenesss than the native-born ( Myers and Lee 1996 ) . As a consequence of these factors, Latinos make up the bulk population in two-thirds of the metropolis ‘s slum vicinities ( Richman ) .

Given the demographics of overcrowded, lower-income vicinities the function of race is bound to come up for treatment where the lodging stock is in hapless status. “ Equally far as I ‘m concerned, there is a healthy dosage of racism in these landlords, ” said Handler.[ 10 ]

The Conditions – Health Concerns

A biennial survey of slum lodging conditions in Los Angeles concluded in early 2010 found that, among other things, that the “ wellness effects of slum lodging are huge and profound, runing from the development and exasperation of asthma and allergy conditions to chronic lead toxic condition ; from chronic sinusitis to chronic tegument diseases ; from insect and gnawer bites every bit good as diarrheal unwellnesss to anxiousness and other mental wellness conditions. ” ( Healthy Neighborhoods 2010, 1 ) ( Appendix II )

While the paper included many in writing images of skin annoyances and vermin infestation, the findings were unsurprising. The catalogue of literature, like the list of complaints ascribed to slum conditions, is extended. The documented wellness effects originating from substandard lodging scope from behavioural and psychological jobs to physical complaints like asthma, malnutrition, and fleshiness ( Anderson et al 2003, Bashir 2002, Frumkin 2005, Harvard 2008, Sard and Waller 2002 ) . Again, wellness falls victim to a figure of constituents in the slum lodging equation: non merely are the deplorable conditions engendering evidences for unwellness, but its concentration in countries of deep poorness means that those who fall victim are by and large constrained from seeking medical attending ( Anderson et al 2003 ) . Poor lodging conditions, poorness, and limited vicinity resources for fresh nutrients besides contribute to higher rates of fleshiness and coffin nail smoke ( Frumkin 2005 ) .

Intensifying the job, slum lodging is by and large the lodging of last resort, and as a consequence occupants of these edifices are left with few options to get away these conditions: they are non financially able to do needful fixs, nor are they able to easy travel to a belongings where conditions are better ( Rauh, Landrigan, and Claudio 2008 ) .

The study linking wellness concerns to slum conditions in Los Angeles illustrated the deepness of the job. Forty per centum or more of study respondents reported chronic allergic reaction symptoms, skin roseolas, insect bites, and sing depression. A 3rd complained of chronic anxiousness and GI complaints ; approximately 15 per centum reported household members had experienced lead toxicity ; another 16 per centum said they had experienced falls in their edifices due to insecure conditions ( Healthy Neighborhoods 2010 ) .


Several factors contribute to slum lodging conditions, and slums in bend generate their ain sets of jobs that radiate out into the wider society. Arriving at solutions to slums will non free metropoliss of poorness or of concentrated poorness, but the literature indicates uniformly that turn toing the job will hold a good consequence on wellness attention costs, educational accomplishment, and to some grade offense rates. While there are private entities involved in the building of low-cost lodging, left it its ain the market will go on to reserve a topographic point for lower-cost poorly-maintained rental lodging – particularly in a metropolis every bit expensive as Los Angeles. It remains so an issue that falls to authorities to turn to.

The recommendations turning out of this research autumn into three wide classs: authorities intercessions at the local degree ; authorities fiscal supports at the local, province, and/or federal degrees ; and legislative alterations that help equilibrate duties for appropriate care of belongingss in countries of concentrated poorness.

Local Government


Both the literature and interviews[ 11 ]suggest that greater enforcement of lodging and wellness and safety codifications would hold a great impact on the quality of life of those populating in deficient lodging ( Rauh, Landrigan, and Claudio 2008 ) . In Los Angeles, this is a peculiarly hurting demand. With some 800,000 rental units, at the current estimated rate of review each unit could anticipate to be inspected one time every 40 old ages. At the same clip, the metropolis faces a budget shortage of about $ 400 million in the coming financial twelvemonth. In the close term it is non to be expected that engaging add-on lodging inspectors will go a municipal precedence.

An option would be to revamp the Systematic Code Enforcement Program to aim vicinities of concentrated poorness. Turning regulative attending to the countries in most demand would intend abandoning to some degree reviews of units in countries where there are fewer deficient lodging jobs. However, merely as market forces encourage bad behaviour by slum landlords in the poorest vicinities, those forces would set force per unit area on landlords in wealthier vicinities to keep their belongingss in an appropriate mode. In add-on, the Housing Department maintains a ailment hotline which with nominal selling attempt could be promoted in the countries where reviews had been delayed.


The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has for old ages been delegating missive classs to eating houses based on certain review standards. An option that emerged during the interview procedure was the suggestion that the metropolis develop a similar plan to be applied to lodging. Conceptually, the poster of missive classs outside edifices could add a modicum of force per unit area to landlords to better keep their belongingss. However, the success of such a program faces a figure of obstructions, most significantly the bing deficit of inspectors necessary to inspect and rate all rental belongingss in the metropolis. In add-on, farther research would be needed to find that such a plan would hold the coveted consequence. Research on the kineticss of slum lodging suggests that tenants of these belongingss are motivated chiefly by the demand for shelter, that peculiarly among certain groups of immigrants the comparative outlooks of lodging make slum conditions in the U.S. to some grade less burdensome than for native Born, and that in general instruction runs around the subject are of doubtful value.[ 12 ]

Fiscal Supports

The literature suggests that lodging aid to low-income households, whether in the signifier of verifiers or the building of low-cost lodging, could make options that allow households to populate in better conditions ( Los Angeles Housing Crisis Task Force 2000, 277 ) . The impacts could be felt in a figure of ways: lodging assistance could relieve some of the spacial isolation of low-wage workers by enabling them to travel closer to occupations ( Sard and Waller 2002 ) ; greater lodging pick would hold a positive impact on wellness and safety ( Anderson, et Al, 2003 ) ; inducements or assistance to developers, whether through regulative alleviation, denseness fillips, or other agencies, might let the development of low-cost lodging in bing communities ( Los Angeles Housing Crisis Task Force 2000 ) , thereby keeping cultural coherence and moving as a lever for other landlords to better conditions in their belongingss.

These suggestions are non new, and while the literature attests to the viability of these plans, there needs to be both the political will to implement such plans and the ability to finance them. It has been suggested that the countless organisations recommending for low-cost lodging were to unite their messages and force a common docket, both the will and the support could fall into topographic point ( Lang, Anacker, and Hornburg 2008 ) .


Insurance Regulation

Landlords cited and fined for neglecting to maintain their belongingss up to code see these as portion of the cost of making concern. The mulcts are nominal, and in those comparatively rare instances where a landlord is convicted or pleads to condemnable charges stemming from slum conditions and Judgess manus down larger punitory mulcts, in California insurance companies cover the costs as portion of a general liability policy.[ 13 ]A alteration in the regulative environment that specifically barred insurance coverage for costs stemming from condemnable charges would coerce landlords to bear the brunt of the fixs needed to their belongingss and would move as an inducement to maintain them better maintained.

Shared Duty

There has been an on-going tenseness among landlords, inspectors, and renters over who is responsible for the conditions in deficient edifices. Landlords frequently blame renters for making conditions that lead to vermin infestation, offense, and belongings harm ( Flaring 2009 ) , and lodging advocators will profess that there are times when that is the instance.[ 14 ]However, the literature and interviews suggest that renters are overpoweringly the victims of slum conditions, non the culprits.

A recent survey of the City of Los Angeles ‘ Rent Stabilization Ordinance recommended the acceptance of a “ Joint Code of Responsibility for landlords and Tenants ” that would clearly define the duties each had toward the other with respect to belongings care. As proposed, the Joint Code would keep renters apt for codification misdemeanors they caused ( Flaring 2009 ) . While such a codification would offer farther lucidity with respect to the rights and duties of both parties, set uping liability for codification misdemeanors would be hard under the best fortunes. In the current regulative environment, it can non be expected that the City would hold the resources to mention, look into, and adjudicate claims of liability.


The costs of slum lodging both to its occupants and to society at big have been good documented. There is small difference about the conditions and costs related to slums. There is even understanding on many of the redresss that would better at least some of the conditions. But a deficiency of resources and a low topographic point on the policy docket has kept these plans from being implemented. Lang, Anacker, and Hornburg noted that, with respect to affordable lodging plans, political action is merely possible when the issue “ affects the in-between category or, more specifically, when it is perceived as a job by the in-between category. ” ( Lang, Anacker, and Hornburg 2008, 239 ) Such is the instance for the broader job of slum lodging. It appears that for the foreseeable hereafter turn toing slum conditions will go on to fall to local authoritiess. Given limited support and work force, some reallocation of resources will be needed in the close term ( such as the reconfiguration of review precedences in Los Angeles ) to turn to the job. In the long term, it will take a reallocation of precedences.


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