Regional planning group working on strategy to avoid ‘same mistakes’ that led to racial disparities

A committee formed to help guide regional development with an eye toward improving opportunities for underserved and vulnerable populations has unveiled a draft four-year strategic plan to combat inequity decades in the making.

The draft developed through the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) aims to dismantle racism through community dialogue, changed policies and by knocking down vestiges of redlining through intentional development.

“When you understand history in the context of city and regional planning, you can find better public policy and avoid repeating the same mistakes,” said Carlton Eley, MVRPC’s regional equity manager.

Eley, hired last year by the MVRPC, called building equality and environmental justice into planning decisions “the work of right now.”

“Responsible parties can no longer say addressing equity is a distraction or beyond our purview or is not mission critical,” he said.

MVRPC is a regional planning commission that makes transportation planning, funding and policy decisions for Greene, Miami and Montgomery counties and four jurisdictions in northern Warren County. The commission also offers regional and environmental support for additional area counties.

MVRPC launched the Miami Valley Equity Initiative in 2017 following an examination of the region that studied existing inequity and its historic precedents. Redlining, housing covenants, blockbusting and steering — and where highways were constructed — all factored into were opportunity flourished or foundered.

The draft strategy was revealed two weeks ago at a meeting of the Equity Leadership Team, a group of 22 with representatives from county and city governments, nonprofits, universities, the courts as well as from the Dayton Foundation and Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County.

First-year goals include bringing in guest speakers who were pivotal to projects that brought new investment to underserved communities including the ReGenesis Project in Spartanburg, S.C. and the Jazz District in Kansas City, Mo.

Also this year, the group plans to study historical patterns of racist policies and launch an Environmental Justice Academy, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program. Further, the group aims to help MVRPC’s member communities increase their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as well as assemble a traveling interactive exhibit, Undesign the Redline, that will connect the systematic racially-motivated financing policies of the 1930s to political and social issues of today.

The Equity Leadership team has already been meeting for a year, but the next steps are designed to generate firm policies that will draw concrete projects, said Brian Martin, MVRP executive director.

“We don’t want to just sit in a meeting and talk about equity to be talking about equity,” Martin said. “We want to be about making these strategic investments that we think will have long-term impact on our region, and also where it’s needed most.”

While no single factor alone is responsible for inequity, stable housing, personal safety, a strong educational pathway, clean air and water, an effective transportation network and living wage jobs are all important ingredients for greater opportunities, according to a 2017 Miami Valley Equity Regional Profile.

Opportunity is not spread equally throughout the region, according to a map generated in 2014 using 14 indicators that included access to transportation, housing, jobs and education.

The map shows access to opportunity more limited in the older, urban communities compared to suburban communities. The suburban communities along the I-675 corridor and northern I-75 corridor possess better access to opportunities, according to the report completed by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

The study also showed that compared to other races, 64% of Blacks live in areas with lower access to opportunities. More than 30% of single-parent households live in areas with lower access to opportunities and 40% of the population in poverty lives in areas that are low to very low in access to opportunity access.

Some of the disparities can be traced back generations, others to more recent episodes, according to the equity study.

Loan maps dating back to the 1930s carved up Dayton by credit worth and risk along highly racialized lines, resulting in racial and economic segregation. The Federal Housing Authority required covenants from 1910 to 1950 that forbid sales to African Americans in all but the west side of Dayton. And in more recent decades, urban renewal, public housing and predatory lending accelerated disinvestment of primarily African American communities, according to the study.

The practices weren’t limited only to the region’s largest city, said Rap Hankins, a former Trotwood council member who sits on the Equity Leadership Team.

“When you talk about injustice, the lack of restaurants, fair housing and historical racism, look at the west side and look at Trotwood. Talk about the greater Miami Valley region,” he said. “A quarter of the inequity is exactly where I live.”

Public infrastructure investments have also historically favored a middle-class population, said Eley, who previously was a consultant for the National Planning Association and before that served 20 years with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. where he helped the agency stand up equitable development programs.

“Many experts and thought leaders have focused on ways in order to make cities attractive for populations we want to draw in, but they failed to think critically about how to service the needs of populations that never abandoned the city,” he said.

Racial inequity has cost the U.S. economy up to $16 trillion over the past 20 years, according to a 2020 Citigroup study.

The loss to the gross domestic product, currently estimated at 0.35% annually, is caused by a Black wage gap made more pronounced as fewer educational opportunities diminish lifetime earnings and the inability to get credit for housing or to purchase businesses that create revenue and jobs, according to the study.

The draft strategy will likely change as the team begins working through this and subsequent years, Eley said.

Equity team member Lawrence Burnley, University of Dayton’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, said the plan should not leave out the needs of citizens with disabilities, a concern not directly addressed in the draft strategy.

“Obviously, we are giving a lot of attention to race, and understandably so,” he said. “As we think about the framework … how are we thinking about persons with disabilities who are the most vulnerable and often most invisible in our communities?”

Work on the draft is just beginning and over the next four years the public will have an opportunity to shape its direction, according to members of the equity team.

“Nothing destroys the credibility of an initiative faster than doing all sorts of planning and not including the people you’re trying to plan for,” said U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice.

Some of the conversations over the next few years may be uncomfortable, Eley told the group last week.

“We are all on a journey together,” he said. “And there are many communities around the country currently on this same journey in terms of trying to figure out how we address equity as we make improvements to our communities. So feeling awkward is simply part of the growth process.”

Who is on the Regional Equity Leadership Team?

Ellen Belcher, community leader

Branford Brown, community leader

Ron Budzik, consultant

Lawrence Burnley, University of Dayton

Michael Carter, Sinclair Community College

Jeffrey Cooper, Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County

Erica Fields, Dayton Human Relations Council

Rap Hankins, city of Trotwood

Torey Hollingsworth, city of Dayton

Debbie Lieberman, Montgomery County commissioner

Julie Liss-Katz, Dayton Business Committee

Brian O. Martin, Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission

Tom Maultsby, United Way

Adriane Miller, National Conference for Community Justice

Jeffrey Mims, Jr., Dayton City commissioner

Steve Naas, County Corp

Mike Parks, Dayton Foundation

Elfred Anthony Pinkard, Wilberforce University president

Judge Walter Rice, U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio

Kristina Scott, Learn to Earn Dayton

Mary Tyler, community leader

Nan Whaley, Dayton mayor

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