Urban Review: Spatial Mismatch, Cash Bail and Harvey's Deadly Legacy

INSIGHTS :  Aug. 30, 2018

This week, more research on the impact of living far away from jobs, an effective end to cash bail in California and why Harris County's count of Harvey-related deaths could be too low.

Neon bail bond sign

This week, more research on the impact of living far away from jobs, an effective end to cash bail in California and why Harris County's count of Harvey-related deaths could be too low.

Title Page

The Role of Urban Planners in Flood Preparation. Planetizen.


Lost in the Storm. New York Times.

The number of acutely ill people who lost their lives because of delayed rescues has not been tallied. Preliminary data from the state health department’s Center for Health Statistics indicate that 2,498 people died in Harris County in August 2017, nearly 200 more people than died in July of that year. Over the period of 2008-16, deaths in July compared with August typically varied only slightly. August 2017 appears to be an outlier.

The Harris County medical examiner lists only 36 deaths as storm-related, all of which were caused directly by drowning, falls in floodwaters and electrocutions. “We consider only deaths that are a direct consequence of environmental factors,” says Tricia Rudisill Bentley, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.

Executive Summary

Employers evaluate a number of factors when sorting through applications. A new study suggests that commute time is among those factors. The analysis, which used fake applications for jobs in Washington, D.C. requiring only a high school diploma, found that applicants whose information included home addresses far from the job received 14 percent fewer callbacks.

David Phillips, study author and research associate professor in economics at the University of Notre Dame, explained in the piece that the findings are important for how policymakers think about housing and opportunity. "Since poor minority applicants tend to live farther from jobs," wrote Phillips, "policies with a spatial focus will matter for employment disparities."

Though the study focuses on Washington, D.C., Phillips makes the case that the findings likely translate to other cities and metropolitan areas. "Washington shares this disconnect between where disadvantaged people live and where low- wage jobs locate with many other US cities," wrote Phillips. The metropolitan area ranked 33 out of the 94 most populous metropolitan areas when it came to the spatial mismatch between black residents and job locations, for example.

One thing that may be different from many cities, however, is the city's relatively robust public transit, meaning in areas lacking such systems, low-wage workers far from jobs may be even more penalized.

While programs like the Moving to Opportunity voucher project sought to help voucher holders access neighborhoods with less poverty, Phillips suggests it did not tend to put people closer to jobs, which may explain why adult participants did not see improved labor market outcomes.

"If neighborhood effects operate through a spatial mechanism, then housing vouchers that facilitate moves to less poor but equally distant neighborhoods will not affect labor market outcomes," he wrote. "Instead, housing interventions moving residents close to jobs or better public transit would matter."


It was a big week for criminal justice reform advocates in California. Kind of. A new law there has more or less ended cash bail, long criticized for burdening poor people, keeping them in jail and pressuring them into bad plea deals. But some high-profile advocates backed away from the measure.

“We believe it is too weighted in the direction of detention and gives too much power to judges,” Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy told the Marshall Project. “There are some positives, but we are concerned that we are creating a whole new system, and that the foundation has cracks in it.”

Last-minute amendments were blamed for giving too much discretion to judges and relying on risk assessment tools, without requiring "the gathering and analysis of data on how the new law will play out in courtrooms throughout the state," according to the Marshall Project.


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