The seven most interesting maps and charts from the Centre for Cities’ latest survey of urban Britain

Slough. All will become clear. Image: Getty.

Yesterday, while everyone was distracted by the chaos surrounding Brexit – again – the government sneaked out some remarkably crappy financial news for councils. Again.

In some ways, this was not the best timing, as the Centre for Cities had just published the latest edition of Cities Outlook, its annual report of the state of Britain’s cities, and well, the news is, hmmm. One key fact to summarise the report’s tone: in 2009-10, the last year before austerity kicked in, only four of the 62 cities it analyses, spent most of their budgets on social care; now, more than half of them do.

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So, we’re stuffed.

The report includes a whole bunch of other upsetting facts:

  • Since austerity began, Britain’s cities have seen a total funding cut of £386 per head, compared to £172 in the rest of Britain. (A quick note here: by “cities”, the report means Primary Urban areas, groups of councils representing their economic footprint.)
  • The largest cuts were in the north, where they averaged 20 per cent of their budgets. Oooh I am surprised.
  • Actually surprising, though, was that London also saw huge cuts: despite being home to just 16 per cent of the population, it swallowed 30 per cent of all council cuts.
  • Other southern English cities, by contrast, were less badly hit; they’ve also been more likely to find other sources of money, such as charging for certain services.

Taking these last three together, it’s hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion there’s some politics going on here. What London and northern cities have in common is Labour dominance; most southern cities are Tory. The motivation here is not necessarily quite as naked as that suggests – it’s likely that populations that tend to vote Labour will have other things in common, too – but nonetheless, it feels a lot like a government that’s protected its own voters while attacking everyone else.

But you’re not here for the stats are you? You’re here for the maps. So here are some of the best ones.

Towns need successful cities

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This one shows the productivity of cities (the bigger blobs) and unemployment in towns (the smaller ones). What do you notice?

For me, it’s the tendency for colours of nearby blobs to be the same: in other words, highly productive cities tend to have low unemployment towns in their hinterland.

The message here seems to be: stop suggesting that economic policy is focusing on cities at the expense of towns. They need each other.

Pretty much everyone’s seen a spending cut

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By my count, there are exactly two cities that have seen spending rises: Oxford and Luton. In every other city, spending has been cut.

Generally, the biggest cuts – those shown here in lighter colours – have hit northern cities such as Doncaster, Wakefield and Liverpool. The very worst hit of all has been Barnsley, where spending has fallen by over 40 per cent.

Cities are under more financial pressure than the rest of the country

On both social care and other services, spending on cities is tracking lower than it is in the rest of country.

Jolly good.

There’s no obvious correlation between the state of a city’s economy and the depth of its cuts

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the striking thing here is the lack of a pattern: heavy cuts fallen on both thriving and struggling cities. Hmm.

Some councils are getting commercial

This is more common in the south, though there are notable exceptions (Oxford, Blackburn) to the pattern:

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“There are questions about whether it is advisable for the public sector to be moving into property investment or charging f or a greater share of the services they provide,” the report says. Quite.

The most productive city in Britain is not where you think

You’re a CityMetric reader. You probably have some idea of the economic geography of Britain, right? There’s a north/south divide, Scotland is doing its own thing, there are pockets of productivity in the historic university towns, but basically all economic activity pointing towards London?

Well: from this year’s Cities Outlook I learned that, in 2017, Cambridge was less productive than… Basildon.

More strikingly still, the most productive city of all in Britain in 2017 was...

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..Slough.

John Betjeman must be turning in his grave.

You can read the full Cities Outlook 2019 report here.


 

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.