Connecticut Policy Institute Urban Policy Project Overview

Connecticut Policy Institute Urban Policy Project Overview

Connecticut’s Struggling Urban Areas

Four of Connecticut’s five cities – Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury – are among the most disadvantaged areas in the United States.  Each has a poverty rate above 20%, a child poverty rate above 35%, and an unemployment rate above 12%.  As of November 2013, New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport constituted three of the country’s six most dangerous cities with population under 200,000, according to FBI data. A walk through the struggling neighborhoods in each of Connecticut’s cities reveals housing stocks characterized by vacancies, structural deficiencies, and lagging upkeep.  And educational achievement for low-income and minority Connecticut students, who are concentrated in the state’s urban areas, lags low-income and minority student achievement in the country as a whole.

Connecticut’s cities developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as manufacturing centers, and the their current crises began in the 1970s and 80s with the exodus of manufacturing companies from the northeast United States. This exodus not only reduced the number of manufacturing jobs available; it eroded the tax base that supported urban infrastructure, education, policing, and social services, while adding to the cost of many of those services. Employers and middle class residents remaining in cities were faced with higher tax rates and less value from government in return for those taxes. Unsurprisingly, many left for the suburbs. Falling income levels and rising poverty lead housing stocks to deteriorate and crime rates to rise, in turn leading to further poverty and middle class flight.  This same deteriorating economic cycle led to the recent bankruptcy of Detroit. 

Other cities throughout the United States experienced similar declines in the 1970s and 80s.  But several have done a much better job than Connecticut’s cities at righting their ship over the last twenty years. For instance, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania was once the poster-child of post-industrial urban decline, but since 1990 the city has grown more than 125,000 jobs.  During the same period, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury lost a combined 60,000 jobs. And, even as crime rates in CT cities have remained stubbornly high, nationally U.S. violent crime has fallen since 1990 by 32% overall and by 64% in large cities. 

The CPI’s Fresh Approach To Urban Policy in Connecticut

Connecticut has spent billions of dollars on urban revitalization with little to show for it.  The CPI’s urban policy project offers concrete and actionable recommendations for how Connecticut government can change its approach to urban policy so that the residents of Connecticut’s cities experience greater security, economic opportunity, and overall quality of life. The recommendations are organized around four dimensions of urban policy: jobs, crime, housing, and education.

For some of our recommendations, the CPI’s new approach to urban policy involves better understanding government intervention’s interaction with market forces. For instance, we recommended state government stop subsidizing new housing construction in cities with high vacancy rates, as adding housing supply to a deteriorating neighborhood with stagnant demand makes things worse rather than better by driving down housing prices. This leads private investment to flee, reducing community resources available for neighborhood upkeep and concentrating disadvantaged residents in deteriorating neighborhoods. We recommend housing interventions in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods include less subsidized construction and more financial assistance to homebuyers, grants to homeowners for upkeep projects, improvements to public sidewalks and landscaping, and other programs that build community wealth and attract private investment.

For other recommendations, the CPI’s new approach simply involves bringing new resources and tools to bear on old problems. For instance, our urban crime recommendations include ways state government can help urban police departments solve and prevent crime by providing previously unknown technology such as mobile forensics testing (facial recognition, fingerprinting, and DNA) and passive millimeter wave (MMW) imaging technology for concealed weapon detection.

Learn More

As part of the launch of the urban policy project, the CPI is releasing new policy papers on urban jobs, crime, and housing policy.  We have already released several papers and op-eds on urban education policy. We recommend reading each paper for a full understanding of our recommendations and the research and analysis behind these recommendations.  But here is an overview of the recommendations in each area of urban policy:

Urban Jobs Policy

  1. Make Urban Tax Breaks Available To More Employers And Award Them Proportionally To The Number Of Jobs Created.
  2. Exempt Select Urban Areas From Municipal Regulations, Replacing Them With A Model Municipal Code Enforced By The State.
  3. Develop Customized Workforce Training Programs for Any Employer Willing To Locate in a Connecticut City.
  4. Expand Either Tweed or Sikorsky Airport to provide more convenient air service into the New Haven/Bridgeport area.
  5. Make Connecticut’s Urban Areas More Livable and Attractive Through Improvements To Parks, Waterfronts, and Other Public Space.
  6. Create Regional Small Business Incubators For Each of Connecticut’s Major Urban Areas.

Urban Crime Policy

  1. Support The More Rigorous Adoption and Measurement of Community Policing.
  2. Refashion the State’s Crime Lab Into A Cutting-Edge Analytics and Technological Support Center, Including As an Early Adopter of Remote Gun Detection Technology. 
  3. Reduce Recidivism by Adopting a Program of “Swift, Certain, and Short” Punishment That Swiftly Jails, For a Few Days at a Time but no Longer, Any Probation or Parole Violator. 
  4. Support the Professionalization of Policing and Sharing of Best Practices Through a “Policing Command College”.

Urban Housing Policy

  1. Require Plans of Conservation and Development to Include Assessments of Housing Market Conditions and Affordable Housing Needs.
  2. Reposition State Affordable Housing Policies That Concentrate Low-Income Families in Distressed Neighborhoods.
  3. Add Market-Based Strategic Planning to Downtown Redevelopment Programs And Expand These Programs to Low-Income Neighborhoods.
  4. Remove Regulatory Barriers to Private Investment in Low-Income Neighborhoods.

Urban Education Policy

  1. Enhance Transparency And Accessibility of Information About School Performance, Student Outcomes, And Families’ School Choice Options. 
  2. Create a Framework for Obtaining the Highest Quality Teaching Possible.
  3. Make Greater and More Effective Use of Public School Choice By Adopting Student-Based Funding, Expanding Open Enrollment Programs, Easing Restrictions on Charter Schools, and Incentivizing Pedagogical Innovation.
  4. Require a Reading Exam for Third Graders and a Regents-Style Exam to Graduate from High School.
  5. Better Integrate Connecticut’s Community Colleges and Vocational-Technical High Schools With State Employers’ Needs.