Thursday, April 11, 2002

Too early to assess population impact

Whites have been leaving for decades

By Ken Alltucker,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Worries persist that the racial divide may influence Greater Cincinnati housing choices for years to come.

        No new population or race numbers have been released since the 2000 Census, which documented a continued population loss from the city and showed neighborhoods largely segregated by race.

Racial concentrations in Cincinnati
        But Cinergy's power and gas connections to Cincinnati homes and apartments have dropped 2 percent over the past year, since rioters clashed with police in the worst racial unrest in 30 years.

        The utility connections, a good indicator of population movement, included an 8 percent decline in Over-the-Rhine, the city neighborhood that suffered the most riot damage.

        “Having lost 30,000 folks during the last 10 years without any riots, I suspect (last April) will have an impact,” says Karla Irvine, director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a nonprofit group that fights housing discrimination.

        Since it peaked at nearly 504,000 in 1950, Cincinnati's population has struggled to compete with a suburban and highway building boom that triggered a dramatic migration out of the city.

        The most rapid decline came in the 1970s, following riots in 1968, when more than 67,000 residents left. Another 21,000 people left in the '80s.

        In the 1990s, the city lost 9 percent of its population, most leaving — according to Internal Revenue Service migration data — for predominantly white suburban Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

        Many housing experts caution that it is difficult to draw parallels between last year's unrest and the aftermath of the more violent and damaging riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. more than three decades ago.

        “It is a very different time now than the 1960s,” says Tom Bier, a housing researcher at Cleveland State University. “As bad as (April) was, it wasn't as bad as it was in the 1960s.”

        Mr. Bier says families are likely to make housing decisions based on amenities that are in short supply in the city, such as new buildings and top-performing school districts.

        Other experts say media coverage of the city's racial problems could play a role in where relocating workers decide to live within Greater Cincinnati.

        “Somebody moving from another part of the country, all they've read about are the newspaper accounts,” says David Varady, a University of Cincinnati geography professor. “It certainly might affect their decision. There are enough options in the suburbs to avoid the city.”

        There was a slight drop in the number of corporate employees seeking to move to Greater Cincinnati from another part of the country in 2001, according to Sibcy Cline, one of the region's dominant residential real estate firms.

        That could be the result of a number of factors, including a slowing economy and uncertainty after Sept. 11.

        Sibcy Cline's client base has since rebounded, says Judy Pogue, president of the firm's relocation services. She says 288 corporate employees sought relocation here during the first three months of this year, compared to 256 the same period a year ago.

        “I don't think people relocating are thinking, "I need to be as far away from downtown as possible,' ” she says. “I don't think people are worried about it.”

        Yet race remains a deciding factor in housing choices, whether in Cincinnati or its suburbs.

        Of nine Cincinnati-area communities that gained at least 1,000 African-Americans in the 1990s, only two — the middle-class communities of West Chester Township and Colerain Township — added whites, too.

        Far more often, whites left as blacks arrived in a well-established pattern that challenges communities to provide municipal services with a declining tax base.

        Of 19 Cincinnati-area communities where African-Americans make up at least 10 percent of the population, only tiny Woodlawn Village also added whites in the '90s.

        The city of Cincinnati had the decade's largest drop in white population, down 45,000 to 174,000. The African-American population also dropped, by nearly 4,000 to 142,000.

        Zane Miller, a retired University of Cincinnati history professor, says last April's unrest will have little or no effect on more stable neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Mount Washington, Clifton and North Avondale.

        “I doubt the latest nastiness will speed” migration to the suburbs, says Mr. Miller, author of two books on the city's neighborhoods. “People who live in the city now are committed to the city.”

        But Mr. Miller says there could be some fallout in west side neighborhoods that already have experienced rapid population shifts.

        The white populations of Westwood, College Hill and East and West Price Hill declined by more than 17,000 alone in the 1990s. In those same neighborhoods, there are 9,500 more blacks than in 1990.

        The demographic shifts have stirred strong reactions.

        In Westwood, an upstart community organization, Westwood Concern, has lobbied City Hall to support policing and building code enforcement and halt the distribution of federal rent vouchers for the poor.

        Similar community outcry in East Price Hill has included efforts to block a public housing complex proposed by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority.

        Sociologists say Cincinnati and other large cities often have two standards for segregation — one for childless adults and another for families.

        A commonly used measure of segregation — the dissimilarity index — shows that 74 percent of Cincinnati blacks would need to move from their neighborhoods to whiter neighborhoods, or vice versa, to create a balanced mix of black and white residents.

        That number jumps to 82 percent when measuring families with children to ensure a balanced mix in schools, according to figures provided by State University of New York at Albany's Lewis Mumford Center.

        Few communities are as segregated as Cincinnati by these measures. Cincinnati is the eighth-most segregated city in the nation, and Cincinnati schools the seventh-most segregated, according to Mumford.

        Most experts agree it could take years before the true costs of last April can be measured.

        “You may not see much of an impact in the short term,” says Richard Stevie, an economist with Cinergy Corp. “It is the longer term where there may be some changes.”

        Enquirer reporter John Byczkowski contributed to this report.


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