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Poor Neighborhoods Make the Best Investments (strongtowns.org)
430 points by cubecul on Jan 11, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 169 comments

Detroit is implementing a program along these lines. They are selling properties in so called 'bad neighborhoods' and mandating that they be rehabbed and renovated within 6 months to code.

The average cost of rehabbing a home bought for $1000~$2000 say is $50,000. Have a look at the website:


The 'Rehabbed and Ready' (http://auctions.buildingdetroit.org/RehabbedAndReady) homes demonstrate the transformation from a $1000 to a $50000 property.

To my eyes this approach closely matches the 10% target described in the article, and seems to be a smart way to build a tax base.

These conditions are crazy. Requiring in investment of ten thousands of dollars in a home in a high risk neighbourhood within six months after purchase is borderline preying on the gullible.

A street in Detroit can go in a downward spiral within months. All it takes is one bad apple (home) that gets boarded up or goes down in flames near your investment and your purchase becomes a super high risk gamble, most probably with a very unhappy ending.

Add the high property taxes, completely out of touch with the current values of the properties in such neighbourhoods. And don't forget the back taxes from previous owners that you're often required to pay.

You lure people with a limited income, attracted by the low auction prices, force them to invest a significant sum to renovate a property to code within a limited time frame, saddle them with a mortgage and then you slap them with high taxes.

I'm not saying investing in such properties in Detroit is a bad move, you can make a lot of money with it, but it's not for the inexperienced or someone without a buffer to overcome setbacks!

There almost certainly already are boarded up or burnt out homes in the area before you buy. That's why they are giving these away. It probably only makes sense if you can handle the renovations mostly yourself.

You can make a decent profit on these, but not in a home flipping sense. You have to become a landlord. You are in it for the cash flow from renting it out.

My father in law does this in Baltimore. He'd make a lot of money if he wasn't so bad at rehabbing the places. He spends too much, makes them too nice, and can't rent them out for any more than the going market rate. Best house in the ghetto isn't worth shit. If he just did the bare minimum he'd be doing pretty well. And if the area ever gentrifies, he'll make a fortune.

One trick is to get Section 8 housing vouchers. That makes sure you are always getting at least some of the rent.

The downside is that you are basically a slum lord. He has to go and knock on doors for rent.

It's definitely not passive income--like renting a condo to working professionals can be.

I knew a real estate investor who was really successful who's motto was the best investments are those in the worst areas that most people wouldn't touch. Large trailer parks with high vacancy rates, run down neighborhoods, etc.

We don't live in Detroit but bought 3 properties for 40k each with about 18-20% yields. The renters aren't the best (they're paying 800 in rent because they can't afford an 8k downpayment), but they're great investments.

Agree. However, I wasn't talking about 40k homes here, but about $1,000 homes in risky neighborhoods, with the obligation to renovate to code, potentially costing ten thousands of dollars in the process.

There's a reason why the value op the property, including home and land, cratered to $500 or a few thousand dollars. It's the state of the neighborhood that dictates the value and it can change rapidly, faster than in regular neighborhoods.

It's not an investment I would recommended for inexperienced investors or people with limited savings who put all eggs in one basket. And sadly, the low prices attract quite a few of them.

You're explaining exactly why the properties may be a good value. Most people reflexively assume they're a dangerous investment and never take a close look.

When I suggest real estate investing of any kind, I usually hear a wall of objections about risks, and a lack of interest in how to counter those risks. It's part of the reason I like it.

(Not that I'd invest in Detroit, I don't have a rationale for it. Some people do)

There's a big difference between a poor neighborhood and a bad neighborhood (bad for whatever reason: crime, drugs, blight, population decline).

Here's a good example how a lot of the $1,000 homes, and the surrounding neighborhoods, really look like: https://youtu.be/IuJFLJ0JApA . In the description there's a link to a follow-up video 3 years later. It's not a pretty picture. But then again, who buys properties on auctions without inspecting them first?

I tried to skip through the videos to get to the point because they're long and the guy rambles a lot, but somehow I missed it.

It seemed there were some distressed properties and that some work was done on them... which tells me nothing. Were the houses rehabilitated, is work still in progress or were they ultimately re-abandoned? Can any conclusions whatsoever be drawn from this?

I just read the book Evicted by Matthew Desmond which goes into great detail about how much money there is to be made from this approach.

It's definitely sympathetic to the plight of the very low income tenants but not unjustly so; anyway I found it fascinating and worth recommending here:


The conditions are onerous, I think this is to discourage speculation or out-of-town investors who are not invested in a neighborhood in a 'rake leaves, clear snow, mow lawn and lend a cup-of-sugar' kind of way - buying one of these properties and leaving it unoccupied for any length of time would not be a good idea. The conditions (kinda-sorta-owner-occupiers-only) correlate to what the city thinks these neighborhoods need.

Regarding the notion of 'high risk' neighborhoods. See above point - risk is proportional to occupancy. Occupied structure, reduced risk. Rental unit with fallow periods - high risk.

The elephant in the room here is also Race. Race does not correlate to risk or a 'High risk neighborhood' - this notion is perhaps the most insidious and hardest for Capital to overcome - if it ever will be - in which case these supposed 'High Risk Neighborhoods' or 'Bad Apples' will always be labelled as such and avoided. (Incidentally I see this paradigm shift - to be the core argument of the article - albeit approached obliquely)

Regarding neighboring houses - A street in Detroit, if it can go in a downward spiral, typically already has, the city is currently in the process of demolishing blighted structures, and a property owner has a reasonable expectation that if a nearby house has-gone or goes 'galley-west' the city will take it down and offer the lot to neighboring property owners or list it for-sale on the website linked in the original comment.

The taxes correlate to the assessed value of a property, these are slightly unpredictable. However, the city is reassessing property values this year, working under the supposition that realistic valuations that people can actually pay are a better approach. Basically - I agree, lack of confidence in tax-rates is a bad thing, and it's a good thing the city is working to deal with this.

Or maybe.. these investors know exactly what they are getting themselves into?

Like all the house flippers you saw on TV previous to the last housing crash? Buying investment property with no experience because real estate "can't lose"?

The average investor rarely" knows what they are doing".

Not every street is on this program though, right? So you're free to buy regular property on other streets with no strings attached.

The program is basically just a mechanism for a bunch of buyers to signal intent.

In Baltimore, they were selling properties for $1 a pop. Many people found out how that could be a losing investment.

While it worked in some parts of the city, other parts of the city had entire blocks bulldozed. Kind of like what happened in SF when they blew up buildings to stop the fire.

From a cursory view I couldn't find information on buildingdetroit.org about incentives to create neighborhoods from these rehabbed properties that would solve this infrastructure debt issue.

Looks like the argument the article is trying to make relates to zoning, traffic design, and density - which I don't think is changeable by people taking advantage of this house flipping program.

Well and the actual cost isn't $1000-$2000. From the website: "The Detroit Land Bank will issue a Quit Claim Deed at closing, which transfers its interest in the property. The purchaser will be responsible for any delinquent taxes, water bills, or liens on the property."

That could be quite a large amount depending on the back-taxes and liens that could have been placed on the property.

Similarly Stoke-on-Trent was selling houses for £1 with an obligation not to rent or sell for 5 years: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2986152/Quids-Couple...

It's a shame that a lot of those nicely new and rehabbed homes will be likely be destroyed by their new tenants.

That's quite an interesting take! The differences in older and newer city planning regarding street widths, densities, mixing of zoning, etc. are quite drastic.

However, I believe it will be at least 20 years before my local municipality will be able to learn from any of these lessons. The planning meetings for any type of development are dominated by those with the time to go to them mid-day: retired people that set up the initial zoning and are dead set against any potential change. The same person who is super concerned about negative impact on property values will in the next sentence rail against those wanting to do development for their "greed."

I really gotta move out of California...

I really gotta move out of California...

It's not a California thing. As part of my job, I spend a lot of time presenting at public meetings and in my spare time I do a fair amount of advocacy (for various causes) which also results in a lot of time in public meetings. I've been in public meetings in small rural villages and large cities across 30 states. And I've observed the same thing - the folks that attend those meetings tend to be dominated by those affluent enough to take the time to go.

The starkest example of that are public meetings in poor cities where projects will affect large minority areas and yet 95% of the attendees will be affluent folks from the outer suburbs. It's not that the affected folks don't care, it just that when the meeting is held at 2pm or 5pm or even 6pm on a weeknight, they have jobs to go to and they can't make time to attend. The most diverse, well-attended public meetings I've been to have always been held on Saturday afternoons.

We need to follow the example of Ancient Greece, where citizens got paid time off work to attend the Ecclesia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia_(ancient_Athens)

> It had the final say on legislation and the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office. In the 5th century BC its members numbered about 43,000 people. It would have been difficult, however, for non-wealthy people outside of the urban center of Athens to attend until payments for attendance were introduced in the late 5th century. It originally met once every month, but later it met three or four times per month.

Today, "ecclesiastical" is associated with a centrally managed church, but the term is rooted in a democratic assembly, with payment for attendance enabling representation of more segments of the citizenry.

This is like the opposite of a Federal Holiday. Everybody has the day off except for the government.

I think it rotated. When it was your turn, you attended the Ecclesia and got a token to prove you participated. This was given to your employer, who would then be compensated for your day's wages.

It doesn't even need to be an all-or-nothing thing. You could have a state law saying something like "All employees are allowed to attend one public policy meeting during working hours each month." Its not a huge expense for business owners, as I assume these meetings don't run more than an hour or two, and while it doesn't allow people to attend every single planning meeting, they can get to the ones which are most likely to affect them.

Or alternatively, just run all the meetings on Saturdays and Sundays. Government is a public service, after all, and could do a bit better at operating to meet the needs of the people.

Such a state law would be unconstitutional, for violating rights to assembly/speech and for forced service. The government can't take your time (freedom) or force people to attend meetings without due process.

How is "allowed to attend" forced service? And how does this differ from requirements for sick leave?

And jury duty is ... ?

That system worked because of a tremendous number of slaves, though.

Well, since that time, we've moved away from slavery to labor saving machines.

Since we're at a point where many people are under-employed, and we expect many more to become so, we can probably re-institute something like this.

After all, the United States was a crazy experiment to revive 2,000-year-old Greek idea called 'Democracy'. While we did have slaves at the beginning, we have managed to enfranchise all adults politically. Maybe the Ecclesia could work, too.

> After all, the United States was a crazy experiment to revive 2,000-year-old Greek idea called 'Democracy'.

Not really. Representative democracy as the substantive form of government was an established tradition in Britain and it's North American colonies long before the US (a prime motivation for the revolution was perceived increasing deviation from that norm by the central government in respect to the administration of the colonies in the period leading up to the revolution.)

Insofar as the US (under the Constitution, at least) was an experiment in government, it wasn't in revive a dormant concept of "democracy", but in vigorously and fairly explicitly adopting the novel tripartite separation of powers model of Montesquieu.

> we have managed to enfranchise all adults politically.

No, we haven't. We have in principle (though less so in practice) eliminated certain bases of disenfranchisement, but it is not the case that the US has, at any point, enfranchised the entire adult population, even on theory, much less in fact.

The Church hierarchy was an example of a representative democracy as well. The primates would come together at ecumenical councils to decide on matters of faith and pastoral care. All bishops received one and only one vote, and the ecumenical patriarch, who often was tasked with organizing and presiding over the council, was simply referred to the "first among equals", and also only had one vote.

> The Church hierarchy was an example of a representative democracy as well.

Which church heirarchy? The secular heirarchy of the Catholic Church (which you seem to be referring to) certainly isn't an example (while there were certainly councils in which voting occurred, the members of those councils were not, for the most part, elected by the people below them, but appointed by those above.)

The monastic heirarchy perhaps had greater similarity to representative democracy, though I'd still say it was at best loosely similar to representative democracy rather than an example of it.

He's talking about the Anglican church, not the Catholic church. Unlike the Pope the Archbishop of Canterbury is primer inter pares.

Sorry I am late responding, I am talking about neither of the two, but rather, the Orthodox Church.

Oh. Well the Anglican church seemed more plausible in the context of early America.

In the context of America, you are certainly correct. Anglican is a good example!

> Insofar as the US (under the Constitution, at least) was an experiment in government, it wasn't in revive a dormant concept of "democracy", but in vigorously and fairly explicitly adopting the novel tripartite separation of powers model of Montesquieu.

But that model is basically based on the English government with Parliament and a king in place of Congress and a president, isn't it? There was definitely a lot of neoclassical thinking among the Founding Fathers, although I'd say more inspired by the Roman Republic than by Greek democracy (to which the American system bears very little resemblance).

Anyway, curiously, a lot of early discourse uses "democrat" or "democracy" as a pejorative akin to "anarchist" or something.

Not that strange if you've read Plato. I read in Hannah Arendt that 'democracy' may have been a pejorative used by antidemocrats like him; actual early democrats talked about isonomy and isegoria: more or less what we call equality under the law and free speech. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isonomia

I'm not a classical scholar, but I get the impression that later times preferentially transmitted the less democratic points of view. I.F. Stone also wrote about this in The Trial of Socrates.

Well, it's perhaps "strange" in the sense that it goes against later thinking and our popular self-image.

> But that model is basically based on the English government with Parliament and a king in place of Congress and a president, isn't it?

Not really; the British system of the time was certainly an important influence on Montesquieu, but it didn't exhibit the three-way separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial that his model called for.

The King is the executive and the Parliament is the legislature. Both systems have courts.

> The King is the executive and the Parliament is the legislature. Both systems have courts.

At the time Montesquieu was writing (there has been some practical evolution towards an independent judiciary since) Parliament held not only legislative power but also (in the House of Lords -- which at the time was also the dominant House in terms of the legislative function, though that is very much not true now) the judicial power as well.

Again, the then-current British system was one of the primary reference points which informed Montesquieu's model (and he clearly saw it as far superior to the French system of the time), but it wasn't designed around the three-way separation of powers with mutual checks and balances the way the US system under the Constitution was.

While obviously informed by modern thinking, the Founders rooted the American experiment firmly in classical Greek and Roman tradition. There's a reason why US government buildings all look like classical temples.

> There's a reason why US government buildings all look like classical temples.

It's not quite that simple. The US Federal style adapted neoclassist architecture from Europe, where Greek and Roman inspired revivals started in the mid 18th century when new archeological expeditions as well as artists bringing back impressions of Italy and Greece produced an influx of images and artefacts that made Greek and Roman architecture better known.

French revolutionary architecture went to a similar extreme as the US Federal style, and I'm sure it wasn't all a one way thing, and you're sort-of right in that certainly people were looking to the Roman Republic and the Greek city states as an ideal, and that was part of the fascination with Greece and Roman culture.

And the architecture in return did get an image tied to radicalism and republicanism as a result of the extent of its use in the US and France after the revolution (the French then went on to take it to the extreme, when under Napoleon the French Empire style tried to do everything bigger, shiner and even more Roman).

But the Greek and Roman revival didn't start in the US, and often copied then-modern European architecture rather than copying the originals.

An example where we know the direct influence is the layout of Washington D.C. - Jefferson provided l'Enfant with maps and sketches of a number of European cities to use as inspiration, with Karlsruhe being one of them.

Karlsruhe had been built from scratch starting in the 18th century, following a strict planned layout with a palace at the centre, radiating artery roads out from the palace gardens, aligned with the wings of the palace, and was a major force in spreading the influence of strict geometric city plans that used the shape and regularity to draw attention to important buildings or monuments as well as to tie the city together. Washington D.C. (and many later US cities) certainly in turn influenced further city plans in Europe.

Yeah, but they also kept writing about how they were creating the new Rome.

But that basis of that fascination was also part of the reason for the rise of neoclassisism.

Greece and the Roman Republic and Empire came to be seen as purer, grander and more refined past, which drove a lot of effort into re-discovering information about them, which led to an increased interest in archeology, and eventually to things like neoclassism.

Dictators and radicals alike looked for lessons, and found them in different places for centuries. E.g. the former have often had an extreme fascination with the idea of continuity with the Roman Empire (see one of Napoleons later extreme examples of trying to be Roman[1]); the latter with the nascent democracy of the Greek city states and the Roman Republic.

You find it everywhere, not just in philosophy, architecture and art: English itself was subjected to a sustained "assault" of writers trying to bring more Latin and Greek words into common use.

A bit cheek-in-mouth: Everyone wanted to create the new Rome, ever since the fall of Rome (e.g. consider the Holy Roman Empire and the idea of "translatio imperii" which was used to justify a tenuous connection to the perceived glory of ROme [2]). They just disagreed (strongly) about what was great about Rome.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_style#/media/File:The_M...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translatio_imperii

The HRE probably had the best claim next to the Byzantines to being the true successors to Rome, but of course in the US they were a lot more interested in the Roman republic than the dominate.

Good point about the Roman republic.

As to being a true successor, recall that the Holy Roman Empire was famously neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

The "Byzantine Empire" is equally a misnomer. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium-- renaming it "New Rome"--for defensive and commercial reasons. The Roman Empire itself remained. The notion that the "Byzantine Empire" was a successor to the Roman may arise from the fact that the eastern parts of the empire had always used Greek as the language of administration and as a lingua franca. Greek was barely known in the West from the fall of the eastern empire (ca. 476) to the Renaissance, when Greek scholars came to Italy as the eastern empire was contracting.

Given the Roman Empire's survival until 1453, the fall of Constantinople, a claim of succession is best made by the Russian Empire. Their Orthodox religion and Cyrillic alphabet were clearly derived from Greek Orthodoxy and the Greek alphabet.

The HRE had a very tenuous claim. They didn't even use the name until hundreds of years in, and most of their emperors were not crowned by any popes. Their claim was basically that the HRE was a successor to East Francia, which lands had been part of the Carolingian Empire, which had been ruled by Charlemagne, who had been crowned emperor by the pope in attempt to stake out his own very tenuous claim to be the continuation of the West Roman Empire (which had basically been defunct for centuries by then).

Couple that with the invented principle of translatio imperii [1], and they glossed over the multiple long breaks in lineage, and lack of even an unbroken connection between the territories ruled.

There's the old joke about the HRE: It was neither Holy, Roman or an Empire - the emperor ruled on paper, but it had very limited practical effect other than letting a smaller and smaller set of families reflect in the glory of an Emperor title.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translatio_imperii

Yeah, I agree, but the late Roman Empire was almost mostly Germanic barbarians so you can see the continuity easily enough. You might call it tenuous but it's still a better claim than most.

As an aside, that aphorism about the Holy Roman Empire is so well-known that it has the unfortunate trait of being spouted by people who know nothing else about the topic (not that I'm accusing you of that, if it sounds that way).

> Since we're at a point where many people are under-employed, and we expect many more to become so, we can probably re-institute something like this.

Call me old-fashioned but I don't think locking people in as a permanent underclass is a good idea.

And practically speaking I'm not sure how a slave society where the slaveholders have special rights to participate in democratic society is an improvement over a system where poor people have trouble participating because of their jobs or their resources but not because they don't have the right to.

I meant re-institute the ecclesia, not slavery. Sorry for not being clear.

This is exactly why national US voting is held mid-day on a Tuesday. Sure you have mail-in ballots now, but the default in-person voting time/date is surely deliberately designed to favor a particular demographic.

Technically it's on a Tuesday because back in 1845 people needed a travel day to get to the ballot box and another day to travel back, and you can't travel on the Christian Sabbath, so that only leaves Tuesday - Friday as options.


Why is it still on a Tuesday? I think your reason is spot on.

Perhaps, but isn't it just as reasonable that they didn't want to change it? Presumably changing the date would actually censor the vote, with it being nearly impossible to get word of the date change to the entire electorate.

It's one of those things that since it's always been this way, it'll take a really good reason to convince people to change it.

I have never known an employer who wouldn't make accommodations for an employee to go vote.

I'm sure there's probably a border case somewhere that has happened for the most part, this is the case.

I don't think anyone just randomly shows up at the voting booth on the (guessing here) 1st Tuesday of the month in election years. I suspect virtually everyone knows about the exact date due to various forms of publicity. Especially when you consider the many different dates for many different kinds of elections.

That said, EVERY interest group is going to favor or disfavor any particular new solution due to perceived advantages of drawbacks to their cause, preventing any progress whatsoever.

> (guessing here) 1st Tuesday of the month in election years

It's actually the first Tuesday after the first Monday (in other words, the first Tuesday after the first of November, which is All Saints' Day, and therefore unsuitable).

I don't think that's true. Originally, Tuesday was chosen because farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship, or Wednesday, which was commonly a market day. [1]

It could be kept that way for that reason, but to say it was deliberately designed for that reason I feel is disingenuous.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Election_Day_(United_States)#H...

That's pretty sickening, but can't help but consider true. Upvoted and added this comment for emphasis.

In Australia voting day is always a Saturday, from 8 am to 6 pm, also with ample opportunity to mail in beforehand. Oh and you'll be fined if you don't cast your vote... It may not be perfect, but appears way more democratic to me than the US elections.


(When I left Norway nearly two decades ago, so glad I didn't go to the US now.)

I often vote absentee (or "early" this year) in the US because of travel or just because. But if I had to vote in person I'd guess I'd miss at least as many votes on weekends because I'm off somewhere as weekdays.

I'm also unconvinced that forced voting is a positive. If you don't care enough to develop an opinion and vote, why should your random "because you have to" vote count?

In some countries you can vote blank(you don't find a good enough representation among the parties) or a non valid vote (as a protest). The problem is how they count those votes, in Spain is like if have not voted.

>but can't help but consider true

You may want to reconsider your logical approach here, because it's not true at all.

At least in the US, Saturday is a workday too for millions, if not tens of millions, of people, most of them working class or poor. [1]

[1] https://www.bls.gov/TUS/CHARTS/WORK.HTM

This why I loved vote-by-mail when I lived in Oregon. You can take your ballot to the office on election day if you want, or you can mail it in. Anything else now feels like voter suppression to me. In my current state, I vote absentee, which is allowed for "religious reasons". I don't plan to ever visit a polling place ever again, and I vote in every single election.

Midday? I agree the that midweek choice is a problem but the voting hours are quite flexing on voting day in the region I live in:

  New York: 6am-9pm
  New Jersey: 6am-8pm
  Connecticut: 6am-8pm
  Pennsylvania: 7am-8pm

You can also mail in for weeks ahead of time... but then I guess you lose the events of the last days to judge...

That's odd. As in not the choice of the day, but that it is not an off day/holiday. Here in India, all voting days are mandatory holidays. It still may not help the unregistered manual labourers, but most office workers are free.

I think that's a cynical view that doesn't reflect reality.

In my experience, people will be engaged if you engage them. Typically what happens in these scenarios is somebody gets a grant and decides to do something, and they put a public posting in the janitors closet in the women's room in the city hall basement.

My city is doing a refining effort where they publicly over faux-communicate. There's lots of meetings with brainstorming, fancy pictures, etc. Than a preliminary document dump written in jargon. Then, days before the decisions get made, there's a Friday night drop with the "decisions".

Then people find out at the last second if they are lucky. At that point all decisions are made. Partial public financing is typically lined up. The only way to effectively get any voice is to rally around some bullshit regulatory point.

> I think that's a cynical view that doesn't reflect reality.

How on earth is that the case? They recounted their experience, which took place in reality. That was their reality.

Not sure why you think it's a "cynical view that doesn't reflect reality" -- the OP indicated it was their direct experience which appears to be vastly more than an armchair commentator's....

> These places are built all at once to a finished state. Today is peak wealth; it's all downhill from here, regardless of how much public investment is made.

This. I've struggled to phrase why most developments seem so terrible, or sterile, or what-have-you, while the areas that developed over time seem so much more... Alive? Valued? This is an amazing way to phrase that difference - it's possible to invest yourself in places that are not at peak value.

My opinion is because modern development is all about squeezing every single last dollar out of that development. That involves things like the illusion of open spaces while still using every last square meter of ground without wasting anything.

The result is extremely jarring in ways that people can't easily articulate. Something in your brain is noticing the architecture is trying to hide what is basically a big empty box of steel and glass, with areas in between that kinda sorta seem like nice open space but doesn't seem to ever actually be used for that. It's just there to look at and think it's usable.

I think your onto something.

Of course such things are extremely subjective. One thing I have noticed that bothers me with new developments are trees. They are always short, because they are still young. Hence they have no character, yet. Storms haven't ripped them, they haven't been shared when they cover someone's window from sunlight. And if course they are always perfectly aligned and usually rounded with a square made of tiles. Everything measured and inch perfect.

Interestingly this bothers me with new developments, that everything is too neat and measured. At some places I appreciate it.

Those trees are also selected to have a pleasing shape while they are young, not drop anything untoward like too many flowers, spiky balls, rotting fruits, pits, etc., grow relatively quickly, etc.

In other words the trees are as sterile and monoculture as the architecture.

As someone who has a tree that drops a lot of spiky balls in my front yard, I wouldn't mind if it were something that was attractive yet easy to maintain. Trees aren't sterile simply by virtue of being chosen for the convenience of their owners.

Go to the poor neighborhoods and look closely and you often find that they built a bunch of row houses that are maybe two to four stories high. Some of them got knocked down, some of them are still there but they've been altered or decorated. When the trees get taller the monotonous aspects are less visible. Some of them are now vacant lots or rebuilt houses, stores, parking lots, etc.

When they went to see Levittown for it's 50th aniversary they were unable to find a single house that had not changed in a major way.

Even the worst architecture and urban planning will be reprocessed over time.

You might be interested in the episode of 99 Percent Invisible [1] that talks about how an architect was tasked with designing a bunch of housing for very poor residents in Chile after a disaster.

He chose to build half-houses that are literally unfinished roofs on one side. Over time, people were encouraged to build the other half as they saw fit.

[1] Episode 231 - Half a House - http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/half-a-house/

There's a famous National Geographic photo of a cookie-cutter suburb an hour east of Mexico City. [0] Identical brand new tiny homes in cheerful monotone colors extend into the distance.

If you visit that neighborhood today, you can see the results of laws very different from those in American suburbs. Most of the houses have been expanded. Each one has grown in a different way. They've been repainted different colors, there are Virgin of Guadalupe icons and paintings and Aztec designs and decorations and every other kind of individualistic expression all over. Small shops have opened to provide typical neighborhood corner store services and light industry like auto repair and electronics servicing is going on during the day. Lots of the car parking has been enclosed and some has been eliminated entirely in favor of more living space. [1]

All of those changes would be illegal in the vast majority of American suburbs. When older American cities were built, the laws were more like Mexican laws and neighborhoods could grow up with residents and families and provide local services and develop character.

Plus, the Mexican neighborhood and older American neighborhoods are significantly denser than new American suburbs, without being remotely like really dense development. That makes things much more accessible by walking and creates more cooperation.

That's the difference a reasonably open and humble set of laws makes.

[0] http://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-d...

[1] Try a satellite or street view somewhere around 19º18'30'' N and 98º51'30'' W

Yes, this!!

If you want to visit "good suburbs" (single family homes and duplexes mostly, but with variety, character, mixed use, and you can get around by transit, walking, or car -- and a reasonable tradeoff of affordable housing but reasonable commute time) like this in the USA, the middle areas (not center, not outskirts) of northeastern cities developed before or around the time of the rise of the auto have some. Queens, Bronx, outer (ie, not the currently trendy part along the East river) Brooklyn for example.

So often we frame it as a choice, quiet but car-enslaved suburban living versus hectic but convenient urban living.

Wrong! You can have it all. You just need your government to not be stupid.

Oh so very cool. So very cool. This is going into the research pile; after Ghost Ship, this content seems excessively relevant.

That's not a new idea. It used to be common in America too, although usually in that case it was two floors, one finished and one unfinished for future expansion.

That is the story of my first house in a every inexpensive blue collar/working class neighborhood. Five basic single story floorplans, couple different elevations. I purchased it at approximately 20 years old (that was 15 years ago), and at that point the houses had started to need new siding, roofs, etc. So generally as new buyers purchased them, they gutted and refinished them to varying levels. The end result is that its quite possible in many cases to walk into a house with the same basic floorplan and not really realize it right away because a couple walls had been moved around, the kitchens and bathrooms have been heavily updated at differing times and reflect the styles when they were last remolded. The landscaping is wildly different, back patio/decks/pools vary in size/style, etc.

I never knew it was possible to put brick or stonework on a house built with wood siding until living in that neighboorhood. A couple of the owners apparently worked construction putting in brick siding and they bricked up their own houses in a few days. Another guy covered his house in white stonework rather than just the limited front elevation with a chair rail high stonework.

Yet Levittown was absolutely excoriated when it was being built as being the exact same kind of sterility we complain about today.

In addition, today is even worse because now we have Homeowners Associations which prevent any evolution because it might affect the price of someone's house in a downward direction.

Unless the neighborhood covenants prevent it, of course.

Also partly because older developments have had time to evolve to meet the needs of the people who live there. Sure, some things are hard to change after the fact, but if there's anything humans can do it's to iteratively change their environment to adapt to human needs. To expect some master planner to be able to instantly create something as good as a hundred years of people trying different things is unreasonable.

This blog, StrongTowns.org, consistently has some of the highest-quality, focused content that I've seen in a long time. I'd encourage donating if you also got something out of it.

Yea this site is fantastic. I just discovered the site because of two threads that made it to the front of HN today. I've already spent a couple hours reading all the other articles, I think I'll likely become a member

There is also a great interview about it on the amazing econtalk.

Thanks to you, just became a member!

In short: the poor neighborhoods have the most low-hanging fruits, and can be improved in obvious ways using small, low-risk investments.

Affluent neighborhoods are built in a way that cannot be easily improved upon.

If you live in an affluent neighborhood you've probably already improved the property as much as you reasonably can because you get a good return on the cosmetic stuff - what's really costing you money is the location of the property.

Affluent neighborhoods already picked the low hanging fruit.

That's true but not the end of the argument: it's also the case that the poorer neighborhoods tend to be denser (affluent property owners prize open space) with narrower roads and in economically favorable locations (the poorer neighborhoods tend to be older, and the most economical places to build tend to get the ones that get built up first).

There are investment groups like http://www.ohiocashflow.com that go into the rust belt and buy up homes in the poor neighborhoods, return them to being inhatible and then sell them off as turn key rental properties.

With the way automation is taking jobs I wouldn't be surprised if these kinds of low income housing investments turn out to be solid cashflow producing investments.

If the people renting these are increasingly likely to be automated out of a job why do you think this would be anything but a very risky investment?

Welfare systems will keep them in a home.

why didn't welfare systems keep them in a home last time?

They never said anything about their target audience being homeless. The target audience is low income.

One look around you would probably convince you that this is not necessarily the case.

It turns my stomach to say this, but I think the reason why these ideas aren't implemented is the people in the "poor" neighborhoods are of a lower social class than the people running the cities in question.

I very much doubt a legislator or city council could muster money from Us to spend on places where Those People live, even if it makes financial sense. I would love to be wrong about this.

To be fair, in my city (Montevideo, Uruguay), government has made a strong effort to spend on poorer areas.

The problem is, most of the money (a staggering 80%) goes to pay salaries !!! They aren't helping the poor or the rich, they're helping themselves.

That's not just a problem in your location but a lot of other places. Many municipalities and some states in the US made unsustainable promises to their employees in forms future salaries (pensions). Except instead of doing 80% today, they are doing 80% in the future.

I spent the last decade living in a struggling city, and I was actively involved in city government. In my city, it was a case of limited resources more than anything else. There were something like 300 miles of roadway, but only enough money in the budget to pave three miles a year.

Many economists argue for taxing every equal sized plot of land the same (vs. taxing based on assessed value). There are a lot of benefits to doing it this way, but the main one is that it encourages efficient land use. If a 40 story high rise with 200 apartments in it is taxed the same way as a lot with 6 ranch style homes, then you're going to incentivize building up.

If you're thinking of land value taxes (Henry George style taxes, considered highly efficient), it's not taxing every property that's the same size the same exact amount. It's taxing each property based on its raw (unimproved) value. So an acre near a subway would be worth more than an acre that's further away, and would be taxed more, even if it was just an empty plot while the further away lot had a high rise on it.

I don't understand the author's argument. Is it "spiff up the 'poor' neighborhoods so the inhabitants will pay more property taxes?"

When I look at the map, it looks like most of the city is lightly in the red and it has several extremely red areas which may drive most of the losses. What is driving those? Are they stadiums or large government facilities that aren't taxable? Or maybe middle-aged neighborhoods with severe drainage problems that can't withstand a hurricane?

What’s driving the difference between the lightly red and the green areas? Some of the comments here propose that people in those neighborhoods aren't asking for improvements or the infrastructure is naturally cheaper. It could also be a city-favorable tax to liability balance since the larger portion of the green area is rented and thus doesn't get a homestead property tax exemption or growth cap.

"Putting in street trees, painting crosswalks, patching sidewalks, and making changes to zoning regulations" might put a city in better financial position if they think gentrification makes sense and is possible. But that by definition is not a social justice argument.

That's what it sounded like to me. He said they'd take a block of 50k houses to turn into 55k houses which will pay more taxes (and since the area is poor it requires less funds to service). So it's a better investment than affluent areas from a direct profitability metric.

Of course, the bump in those home's property tax revenue wouldn't drive other revenue like investing in making a downtown more upscale would: more local homeowner values (and property tax revenue), corporate business tax revenue, sales tax and tourist revenue. He brushes off simplistic arguments but his argument is simplistic as well - and he advocates for squeezing the poor! The poor would rather have lower taxes than a bump in home value.

> We see this trend everywhere we've done a model. On a per acre basis, neighborhoods that tend to be poor also tend to pay more taxes and cost less to provide services to than their more affluent counterparts. How is this possible? Some of my planner colleagues will say it is density..

Then he goes into how it's cheaper to service but really offers no argument about the density especially as it relates to the 2 photos he proposes as evidence (the 1.1M poor block vs the 618k affluent block - it's actually 803k on his other article). Clearly there are more structures and less parking on the poor block. The poor picture has this: "two liquor stores, a pawn shop, a barber shop, a bankruptcy attorney, a campaign headquarters, a retail establishment, a cafe and a vacant building." How can he shrug off density?

> Poor neighborhoods subsidize the affluent; it is a ubiquitous condition of the American development pattern.

Bold claim with no evidence. Perhaps he meant to say "poor neighborhoods are more profitable on a property tax basis than affluent neighborhoods"

For background, I read his article [1] on why density, so he argues, doesn't matter. Instead, he proposes a different metric - the ratio of private (i.e. productive, main property) investment to public (infrastructure/supporting) investment, which should be high; 20:1 or ideally much higher.

However, most arguments for dense development are EXTREMELY relevant to this ratio - the idea being that dense development is cheaper, per unit population/economic activity, to build infrastructure for. Maybe it shouldn't be viewed as an end in itself, but it is a good heuristic.

[1] http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2015/12/16/best-of-2015-d...

Perhaps his ratio makes sense but density is why that poor block example has a higher appraised land value than the single taco joint in the affluent area which is mostly parking.

So his argument doesn't stand up in that case. Sure the poor block has a higher assessment and more property taxes unless those businesses got tax rebates for operating there. But that's just one revenue metric for the block.

Another problem with the author's assertions is that Louisiana in general has some of the lowest property taxes in the country. To the degree that this limits municipal revenue is the degree that a city can't spend a lot on infrastructure.

Please don't take this comment as advocacy for a higher tax rate, simply recognition of the financial structure; you get what you pay for, or in the case of muni bonds what other people think future residents will pay for.

> Are they stadiums or large government facilities that aren't taxable?

Usually not. Low population density and far from city center is usually enough to make it very "red". See also, suburbs.

I wasn't able to orient the map to align with Google maps, but Lafayette does have a medium sized university and I didn't see an obvious blank place where it's facilities would be located on the article's map. Were you able to spatially correlate the large red blocks with actual suburban developments?

> "What is obvious here is that the poor neighborhoods are profitable while the affluent neighborhoods are not."

I didn't understand the argument either. I've lived all over the country and doubt the poor neighborhoods in Chicago (where I'm from) and Detroit (where I once lived) do their respective cities much good from an investment point of view (whatever that means). Another thing to consider is that poor people use social services, and anyone who has been to Oakland will tell you a lot of those services live downtown. As a former resident of downtown Oakland, I'd say this rule wouldn't hold up there either.

Still, we should invest in poor neighborhoods because it's the right thing to do for the environment as well as the residents of said neighborhoods.

I'd argue the government should start the process by cleaning up brownfield and greyfield (obsolete shopping centers) sites and consolidated land for ease of development. The initial costs are certain to be higher but the returns are larger (in many cases).

> I've lived all over the country and doubt the poor neighborhoods in Chicago (where I'm from) and Detroit (where I once lived) do their respective cities much good from an investment point of view (whatever that means).

Well, check the data, don't just "doubt it". It means that neighborhoods on the bad side of town tend to generate enough tax revenue to pay for their road, electric, and sewer maintenance, whereas neighborhoods on the good side of town tend not to.

The town he's using as a case study is Lafayette, Louisiana. You can just pull it up on Google Maps to see what he's talking about. From what I can see, the largest building in the town is a Wal-mart.

The argument is that improving neighborhood infrastructure will tend to improve housing values; that's noncontroversial. Increased housing values implies increased property tax; that's axiomatic. Poorer neighborhoods are denser, so a single neighborhood intervention has more impact on a larger number of properties. The poorer neighborhoods tend to be cheaper to improve. And the poorer neighborhoods have more upside: it's difficult to improve the value of properties that were recently designed and built to maximize real estate value.

Ok, so you read it as "spiff up the 'poor' neighborhoods so the inhabitants will pay more property taxes" too.

I did pull it up on Google maps and visited a few random addresses on the Sherrif's property tax lookup page, etc. The orientation of the red-green graphic doesn't seem to be north-south and it isn't clear what is driving the large red areas.

It's more like, increase the value of those areas so the inhabitants will be prosperous so they can afford to pay more taxes.

Which is the pro-gentrification argument, right?

Increasing the valuation of a property doesn't magically change a resident's ability to pay taxes. Best case scenario is that the areas where low wage earners live shift around a bit. Worst case scenario is that people are pointlessly taxed out of their homes and the city gets a reputation of being unaffordable.

Alternate cynical title from the red/green map: Towns pump money from poor neighborhoods and dump it into affluent ones.

Socialized risk, privatized profit, 'trickle down' economics

I would love to these analysis made for Europe.

Here in Italy the oldest part of the city are usually the most popular and most expensive.

We don't have THAT much land over here and regulation are pretty strict on what you can build and where...

I bet most cities in Italy were not built with cars in mind, especially the city centers / downtowns.

If you look at US cities that share this trait, e.g. NYC or Boston or Chicago or even SF, the oldest parts of the city are very expensive and prestigious, and have been for several centuries.

Also, "white flight" never happened in Italy, while many US cities were affected last century.

I would say all cities (also in the north) but just few exceptions were build before cars where even an idea...

An old city could be bombed into a complete ruin and rebuilt from scratch; this happened in Russia, Poland, Germany, UK during WWII. Fortunately, Italian cities were mostly left intact.

Still they were rebuilt without cars in mind.

Isn't the article describing the classic Gentrification move?

No, because the gentrification move would be to buy up those $50,000 dollar houses, renovate them/replace with a condo block and drive out the local residents. Gentrification comes from developers, whereas what he's describing comes from the city itself.

Key quotes:

"It's wealth that is shared throughout the neighborhood." -- about as anti-gentrification as you can get.

"American cities can make low risk, high returning investments while improving the quality of life for people, particularly those who have not benefited from the current approach." -- indicates to me that the investment he's speaking of is of cities into existing areas, not developers demolishing and recreating neighborhoods.

Either way if you make the neighborhood a nice place to live more people will want to move there. The more people who want to move there the higher prices will go. The higher prices go the higher taxes and rents go. After some time the original residents can no longer afford to live there. That's gentrification.

The trick would be to apply the improvements to every poor neighborhood at the same time so you don't create winners and losers and upset the balance in the housing market, but this is basically impossible.

The argument is that its much easier to apply small investments to lots of neighborhoods than to try to transform any one of them.

Typically with gentrification it isn't a series of small improvements that change the neighborhood its bigger urban planning changes or additional big projects.

> The trick would be to apply the improvements to every poor neighborhood at the same time so you don't create winners and losers and upset the balance in the housing market, but this is basically impossible.

Even if you could do that, it wouldn't work. It would simply make all of the poor neighborhoods more attractive to gentrifiers at the same time.

I think there is a tipping point where if you help poor neighborhoods too much, they become attractive enough as places to live that the poor residents end up being displaced by increased housing costs. It's an unintended consequence.

There is only so much demand for housing, especially for higher priced housing. You can't create additional demand simply by improving the neighborhood, additional demand is only created when more people move into the area.

So if you increase the quality of all of the affordable housing, then it shouldn't make much impact on the prices of those houses. They're already paying what they can. Now if you create new job opportunities at the same time then the equation changes. If the high quality jobs greatly outgrow the housing then you end up in a situation like San Fransisco or lower Manhattan where rents skyrocket regardless of the condition of the housing.

I don't think that's how the typical gentrification process goes though. I think it usually starts with developers increasing surrounding property values which attracts more affluent residents, who demand improvements from the municipality.

The difference I see here is that the developers and new residents are the ones who reap the benefits of the increased property values from gentrification, whereas if the city makes modest improvements before it's current residents are forced out by increasing prices/taxes, then the current residents reap the increased value. Even if they move because they don't want to pay taxes on higher property values, their property is still worth more when they sell it.

the current residents reap the increased value

No, the current homeowners reap that value. Many residents are renters, particularly in low-income areas, while the owner often doesn't live anywhere near the place.

as long as the work keeps happening, there will be more quality housing than gentry. The problem today is that only the gentry get quality housing (because they pay for it out of their income/wealth), so wherever they spend money the housing gets better.

Gentrification does not always come from developers.

Consider what is happening in some of the rougher parts of downtown San Jose: people are moving in to the existing houses and either renovating them or living in them as-is. Few developers are involved in most of these areas so far -- they are simply the last remaining "affordable" areas in the city, but not for long. Home values in those neighborhoods have appreciated about $100k per house over the past several years.

This is also going to happen in Oakland, and it is probably happening already in some neighborhoods.

The bottom line is that gentrification does not have to be driven by developers. When demand far outstrips supply as it does in the Bay Area today, the wealthy end up in direct competition with the poor over the same housing, and the wealthy will simply outbid the poor.

Gentrification involves changing the culture of the neighborhood, not just construction.

The reason why poor neighborhoods are profitable is because the city doesn't spend money on them. If the city spent money on them, they'd be less profitable.

There's no reason to expect that the city spending more money on a neighborhood increases any tax returns.

These are property tax returns. Property tax returns come from property prices. Making a neighborhood nicer raises property values, and thus prices.

The article is making the observation that it's much easier and cheaper to improve bad neighborhoods than rich ones. Painting crosswalks and planting trees is cheap, but rich neighborhoods already have those things.

So it is an application of the Law of diminishing marginal returns ?

This seems tautological.

Those areas are "profitable" because they are using fewer services.

If you invest more there, they would no longer be "profitable" -- and increased investment may not increase future "profits."

I think this essay falls down in part because it's nonsensical to use these private industry terms when discussing municipal governance. I want my city to concern itself with equity and quality of life - not which citizens are most profitable.

That's not quite true. The profitability comes from increased density. Instead of one business with a huge parking lot generating 1,000,000/year in revenue, you get three businesses with sidewalk traffic and street parking only generating 400,000/year each for a net gain of 200,000. Investing in the neighborhood - eg, with streetlights so that people will feel safe coming out after dark, thus effectively increasing the businesses hours of operation - might push up revenue for those three businesses to $600,000/year each, and the increased taxes will pay for the improvements.

However, a more usual pattern is for the three existing businesses to be torn out and replaced with a single retail space that's up to code, beautiful, clean, modern, and a financial drain on the city.

This is certainly a factor with any investment, because they may only be able to effectively utilize a certain amount of assets. With that being said, I think that it is a reasonable expectation that investing into the area would inflate the values of the property in that area, which directly translates into increased tax revenue (profit). Obviously too much too quickly and you might run into the aforementioned limit of effective asset utilization, but that isn't what the author was suggesting.

Increasing the value of land without increasing the incomes of the people who live on that land leads to displacement and gentrification.

The goal of a city shouldn't be to increase land values -- it should be to increase the affluence of residents.

I don't think that displacement alone is a reason to avoid an action necessarily. I say this because while it may not be increasing their income, even if they were displaced they would get more money for being displaced (when selling the property). I'd also argue that the status quo of letting the area languish is hardly a better alternative for your stated goal (increasing the affluence of it's residents). It seems to be a dichotomy, but I don't think it's a decision between displace everyone or do nothing and displace nobody. Given the tools that a municipality actually has to increase the affluence of it's residents, I think making their living area nicer probably has the best shot at doing so because it might attract better opportunities than might normally frequent the area.

Last thought, what do you think these municipalities should do instead of minor QoL improvements that might modestly increase average property value (as stated in the article)?

> they would get more money for being displaced (when selling the property)

and for displaced renters?

It seems like what they're saying is that taxation per square inch is higher in poorer areas, and that areas that are doing better have less taxation. Could it be that the areas that are doing better are doing better for that reason?

A land tax instead of a property tax seems to be the way to go. This would avoid punishing people from improving their property.

Tell that to Robert Moses. His slum clearance work turned poor neighborhoods into destitute neighborhoods.

A very insightful (but needless rude) comment from a user called Memetic:

"No sh*t, it's called gentrification and has been around forever. Thanks for reinventing the wheel."

[This comment has been removed since it was off-topic]

He's not referring investment in the sense of individuals coming in, buying houses, improving them and flipping them.

> We're talking about things like putting in street trees, painting crosswalks, patching sidewalks, and making changes to zoning regulations to provide more flexibility for neighborhood businesses, accessory apartments and parking.

His argument is that small civic investments in infrastructure in poor neighborhoods have a good chance of increasing the average property value of the whole neighborhood and thus increasing the tax base. Not all 'investments' will work, but they are relatively inexpensive so you can experiment and replicate the ones that do work across the whole city.

You're right, I reread it and it's talking about the city. I guess had never seen it argued before that a city should optimize property values(and hence taxes).

That raises the question: Property taxes increasing won't by themselves increase people's incomes. Since they aren't trying to affect jobs(per-capita income) and explicitly mentioned density is not the issue(population), then the only thing left is to change the demographics(transfer wealth in).

Investment could be meant more broadly(like education or healthcare), but he explicitly disclaims that at the start("What I'm going to present here is pure dollars and cents. "). Somehow it doesn't seem right to advocate for city policy that swaps out the existing citizens for more profitable ones, though I suppose the existing citizens do come out ahead.

He's not talking about buying the homes and renovating like an investor trying to make money. He's talking about ways to make the neighborhoods more livable (and therefore more valuable) by having the cities invest in the infrastructure.

> even people without money could pool together with this kind of disparity.

i think you're underestimating just how little money "people without money" have. a widely quoted statistic [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/05/my-secre... e.g.] is that half the country couldn't raise $400 in an emergency.

I think your point is 100% spot on. HOWEVER to be clear no one really should be investing in anything they don't truly deeply understand. There is no invest X amount of money, not understand the business, get X + Y money out... unless Y is negative.

Except maybe the stock market with a 30 year horizon.

> "not someone on welfare with a hidden drug problem."


what about the person whose spouse died last year, and whose house burned down over Christmas?

^^ she's a 1st order connection, but not my tenant.

how about the aunt who's got +2 mouths to feed & house after her sister died?

^^ again, real human, facing real serious cash-flow problems.

there are so many ways to wind up in a hard way, necessitating low-cost housing.

as a student at university, I did significantly more damage to rental properties than I lost deposits to repair... intentionally. and I smoked a lot of pot.

I'm not disputing your point that most individuals in a place to afford the time and money to 'get into property' are going to want to avoid situations that represent a financial risk to them.

however, I was totally put off by the war zone characterization.

> I did significantly more damage to rental properties than I lost deposits to repair... intentionally


Fair question... I don't think I asked myself that at the time. But it definitely occurred.

How? Belligerence... naturally.

Be aware of unintended consequences of improving neighborhoods.

If poor people can't afford to live in nice neighborhoods, and we transform their surroundings into nice neighborhoods, they won't be able to afford to stay. Richer people will move in and drive up the prices.

These effects are likely to be amplified in towns with high demand for housing and low supply.

I think a lot can be learned from inverting the spin of the advice you are proposing... What you are saying is: "Leave neighborhoods unpleasant so only poor people want to live in them."

Looking at it this way gets at the heart of the problem with this way of thinking. Can I suggest a counter point?

Solve the systemic issues that prevent low-income people from seeking good housing, rather than advocating to keep them in their place.

Your interpretation changes the meaning of what I said, and it is uncharitable at best. I never advocated keeping the poor "in their place." I just pointed out that unintended consequences can occur in these kinds of situations.

How is the above not the implication though? At least if a neighborhood changes, there is a chance a % of poor locals are able to profit from it and stay.

Saying that one should be careful when trying to help people is not the same as saying that one should not help those people at all.

Poor neighborhoods are latent negative pressure. In time things will flow back to them because they have no better choice.

For development of an area, civic infrastructure has to be developed. When there are people living in an area govt will start providing necessary infrastructure and also presence of people reduce crime. Poorer people migrate to the empty areas first.

OMG, apples and oranges terrible analogy. The best monetary returns investment in the real world is typically accomplished rehabbing the worst home in the best area because of the undeniable market power of comparables... the nice, expensive homes will boost the value of a now more attractive-seeming home by carefully-chosen upgrades which deliver maximum ROI, i.e., looks (good front landscaping), wow features and/or adding area/rooms; not sinking cash into pricy, low ROI money pit/white elephant work or hoping a nicer-seeming home in a bad area will magically not be depressed by terrible comparables.

I wonder what Strong Towns would think of a land value tax.

Investment can be made by anyone but it must be in a proper way. Few of my friends have also done the same and today they are taking the benefit of those past investment.

Just wait for gentrification to hit the area. Then the $50k houses will be worth $650k+.

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