In January, the City of New Haven submitted its second application for a federal “Promise Zone” designation, one year after its original application was selected as a finalist but not advanced to be one of the six designated zones that year.
As the city awaits the results of this year’s competition, data from the 2015 DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey underscores the need for additional resources in the neighborhoods that comprise the proposed “Zone.”
“There have always been disparities in New Haven, and the DataHaven survey confirmed what we were all aware of for a while,” said Martha Okafor, New Haven government’s community services administrator. “The good news is that there are focused efforts to meaningfully address the levels of disparities in the city.”
The Promise Zone program is a federal initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support community revitalization. In this year’s application, the New Haven neighborhoods comprising the proposed Promise Zone covered eight square miles overall, primarily including West Rock, Newhallville, Dixwell, Dwight, West River, Hill, Fair Haven, and Quinnipiac Meadows (see map). Okafor said these neighborhoods were selected based on the federal program’s criteria of identifying higher levels of poverty and crime rates within a compact, contiguous urban area.
The 2015 DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey — an unprecedented state-wide survey involving in-depth interviews with 16,219 randomly-selected adults throughout all cities and towns in Connecticut — was able to evaluate conditions within these neighborhoods compared to other sections of the city and state. Individual responses gathered from the live interviews with 800 randomly-selected participants in New Haven were weighted to reflect the city’s demographic composition and used to create estimates, similar to data reported from the Census and other surveys. The survey included nearly 100 questions on different topics, but this article includes only a small selection; extensive Connecticut data can be explored on the DataHaven or Hartford Courant data websites.
Okafor noted that the large disparities identified by the Community Wellbeing Survey are overrepresented in the Promise Zone’s higher-poverty population. “[These issues] intersect closely with place and race in New Haven,” she said.
Most notably, the economic downturn has hit the city’s Promise Zone neighborhoods particularly hard, according to the survey data. In 2015, their 22% unemployment rate was over four times the rate in the city’s non-Promise Zone neighborhoods (5%). Of adults in the Promise Zone who were employed, over half felt that they did not have sufficient education or training to advance in their line of work.
Food insecurity was also a persistent problem in Promise Zone neighborhoods — one in three respondents in the targeted neighborhoods reported that they did not always have enough money to afford food to feed their families. Only 10% of respondents from non-Promise Zone city neighborhoods experienced the same, a rate just under the statewide average.
HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
The chronic diseases and other barriers that prevent residents from reaching their full health potential have a disproportionate impact on residents in Promise Zone neighborhoods. Because younger populations like those in New Haven are generally healthier, this impact is particularly alarming after adjusting for the fact that the population in city neighborhoods is on average much younger than the population in the state’s suburban and rural areas.
Two of the most common chronic diseases in New Haven are asthma and diabetes, with a citywide prevalence of 17% and 10% of adults, respectively. Promise Zone and non-Promise Zone neighborhoods seem to have a very different prevalence of these conditions, however. DataHaven estimates that 25% of adults living in the Promise Zone have asthma and 13% have diabetes; outside the Promise Zone, these statistics were significantly lower — 15% and 6%, respectively. Smoking rates are also significantly higher in the Promise Zone, where 1 out of every 3 adults smokes cigarettes, compared to just 1 out of 10 in other city neighborhoods.
In addition to reported crime, perceived safety has been shown to be closely tied to health, because it influences residents’ exercise options and mental health. A prior DataHaven analysis of data from the 2015 Community Wellbeing survey, published in the New Haven Independent, showed that New Haven residents feel safer and give a better rating of the job done by the police department than they did three years ago.
However, while 54% of adults living in non-Promise Zone neighborhoods agreed that it was safe to walk in their neighborhoods at night, only 38% of Promise Zone residents felt the same.
Additionally, 15% of adults living in the Promise Zone reported being personally attacked or threatened with violence during the past year, compared to 7% in other city neighborhoods and 4% statewide. Men, low-income, and younger residents were significantly more likely to report victimization, but women were more likely to report that the experience involved someone that they knew or worked with.
The survey reveals that the Promise Zone and the city as a whole also contains significant assets related to safety and community vitality – including walkable streets, stores, parks, places to ride bicycles, and involved neighbors – that can serve as a foundation for creating a more resilient, healthy, and equitable city for all residents. As our previous analysis in the New Haven Independent showed, New Haven performs well above the statewide average in some of these important measures.
This January’s application for Promise Zone designation is New Haven’s second attempt. They applied in January 2015 under the second round of applications, but did not succeed; however, the city was named a Finalist for its “high-quality strategies” to address the issues identified in the application, including job access, asthma, public safety, and transportation.
Promise Zone designation is granted to areas that could benefit from federal assistance to create jobs, improve educational outcomes, and reduce violent crime. If an area is designated as a Promise Zone, it receives AmeriCorps staffers, assistance in utilizing federal programs and improved access to federal grants.
The current round is the third and final opportunity for cities to apply for Promise Zone designation. New Haven is being judged within a pool of 64 urban applicants, in which it is the only applicant from Connecticut and one of five New England cities. Results will be announced within the near future.
“If Promise Zone designation is granted by HUD,” Okafor said, “the City of New Haven will have the opportunity to apply for federal grants to [support our] goals and objectives with participating organizations in the city that are committed to providing equitable opportunities for all.”
Aparna Nathan is Research Intern at DataHaven, a formal partner of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership with a 25-year history of public service to Greater New Haven and Connecticut. DataHaven’s mission is to improve quality of life by collecting, sharing and interpreting public data for effective decision making. Mark Abraham, DataHaven’s Executive Director, helped edit this article.