How the Chicago region can confront suburban poverty - Metropolitan Planning Council

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How the Chicago region can confront suburban poverty


Suburban areas now have a larger, faster growing poor population than in urban or rural areas. However, most poverty alleviation programs and funding are still aimed at tackling poverty from an urban perspective.

The geography of poverty is changing across the country. Suburban areas now have a larger, faster growing poor population than in urban or rural areas. However, policies and perceptions regarding poverty have not kept up with current trends. Most poverty alleviation programs and funding are still aimed at tackling poverty from an urban perspective. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has been working with suburbs in South and West Cook County for over a decade to advance jointly adopted housing and redevelopment strategies. The Confronting Suburban Poverty—A Convening conference brought together some of the region’s suburban poverty experts to talk about regional progress and next steps.

According to Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at Brookings Institution and co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty, the suburban poor population in the United States grew by 65 percent between 2000 and 2012, and Cook County’s suburban poor population grew by 93 percent during the same time period. Cook County’s suburban poor population numbered a staggering 703,472 in 2012. Kneebone explained that the growing suburban poor population is due to a few confounding factors. Population growth increased dramatically in the suburbs during the last decade because many low-income urban residents were attracted by lower housing prices in the suburbs as an alternative to increasing urban prices. This population shift coupled with the effects of the economic recession have resulted in a steep increase in poverty, with two thirds of the nation’s unemployed population and 70 percent of home foreclosures in the suburbs. She commended Chicago for being a leader in the national conversation about suburban poverty and challenged conference attendees to continue to innovate and set examples of successful collaboration for the rest of the nation.

“Collaboration” was a common theme echoed by all of the panelists. In order for the region to effectively tackle the problem of suburban poverty, municipalities must work together to create a robust, resilient and competitive economic environment to attract employers and well-paying jobs. Jeannette Tamayo, regional director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (US EDA), said that the Chicagoland region is an economic powerhouse, but the fragmentation of local government is inhibiting the delivery of government services and economic performance. She emphasized that strong proposals for federal funding are those with collaborative components that leverage strong partnerships in the region. Kneebone referred to these partners—nonprofit organizations, academia, philanthropic organizations, government, community leaders and private industry—as “quarterbacks”. Rick Guzman, assistant chief of staff for the City of Aurora, encouraged municipalities, many of whom are short-staffed with tight budgets, to consider working interjurisdictionally to achieve greater administrative capacity and attract private investment.

Moving forward, regional “quarterbacks” should focus on creating comprehensive strategic plans that incorporate employment, human services, healthcare and housing solutions to address the roots of the current suburban poverty problem. MPC is committed to promoting sound regional growth and interjurisdictional collaboration. MPC’s work with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to create Homes for a Changing Region is one example of our coordinated planning efforts to alleviate suburban poverty in the region. MPC has also identified a lack of quality, accessible and affordable housing opportunities in the suburbs and is working with partners to create improved housing options for low-income families through the Regional Housing Initiative. Partnerships in the region won’t reverse current trends overnight, but with collaborative efforts Chicagoland can confront suburban poverty. With our partners, MPC looks forward to our continued work with communities to address the shared challenges resulting from high rates of suburban poverty by advancing effective housing and community development strategies.

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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