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Iowa City ranked 14th in segregation

BY CARLY MATTHEW | FEBRUARY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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Of the United States’ approximately 350 metropolitan areas included in a new study, Ames and Iowa City were ranked eighth and 14th among metro areas in which the poor were most segregated from more affluent populations, a new study says.

Martin Prosperity Institute, based at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, conducted the study in order to examine how people are “sorting not just between cities and metro areas but within them as well.”

“There is definitely a growing income divide across the country, and Johnson County is no exception to that phenomena,” Johnson County Director of Social Services Lynette Jacoby said.

“Poor people live in Lakeside and on Broadway, too — the rent’s cheaper,” Iowa City resident Steven Anderson, 56, said.

Ames and Iowa City were not the only college town-based metros on the list — others ranked high in terms of poverty segregation.

Of the 10 most geographically segregated metros, four were well-known college towns. State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State, was No. 1. Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan, was fifth. Ames was eighth. And New Haven, Connecticut was 10th.

Iowa City’s poverty segregation index was slightly less significant, the 14th most segregated by poverty metro. 

The analysis also looked at other ways communities were split, such as by income, education, and occupation. With these and other factors considered, the city was the 83rd highest and Ames trailed at 146th in overall economic segregation, according to the study.

Poverty segregation, however, affects college towns especially for a number of reasons.

The study cites “the classic town-gown split” as the main reason. This means as university students, staff, and faculty make campus their hub, while the remainder of the city is left to service workers.

Jacoby said, in the case of Iowa City, for example, the university’s presence creates a supply-and-demand issue that makes affordable housing hard to find.

Limited affordable housing and low apartment vacancy rates can lead to an increased concentration of people living in poverty in certain areas of the city, Jacoby said.

“[In Iowa City,] I think there’s a huge divide between the haves and the have-nots,” Jacoby said.

The study found that the growing income gap between the rich and the poor wasn’t the main factor creating cities segregated by poverty. Instead, the wealthy were effectively able to seal off neighborhoods to the poor, segregating themselves in the more affluent parts of a city.

“It is not so much the size of the gap between the rich and poor that drives segregation as the ability of the super-wealthy to isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do,” the analysis from the study said.

Though metros including major college towns had some of the highest poverty segregation, report researcher Karen King said, they weren’t the study’s focus.

King said researchers used the U.S. census definition of metros and the American Community Survey to compile data.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said he thought students living in the Iowa City metro area might have skewed the data.

“I suspect student housing and the individual financial status of students affect the findings,” he wrote in an email. “While students tend to cluster near and on campus, Iowa City recognizes the importance of neighborhood stabilization.”

Jacoby said inclusionary zoning is critical in combating poverty segregation in a city.

Iowa City and the University of Iowa launched UniverCity Neighborhood Partnership in 2010 with the goal of better stabilizing housing and rehabilitating neighborhoods.

“We are focused on creating more balance in the areas around campus through our UniverCity program and other initiatives,” Hayek said.

Ames Mayor Ann Campbell said she doesn’t believe Ames has “the kind of extremes indicated in the study.”

“Ames, by being a university community, frankly does not produce lots of wealthy people as a community with lots of big corporations,” she said.


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