By Dennis Gale
James DeFilippis, ed. Urban Policy in the Time of Obama. (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016)
This volume does a commendable job of documenting the often-fragmented bits of legislation, executive orders and regulations targeting cities that were promulgated in Washington between 2009 and 2016. Its 22 contributors offer 19 articles ranging from policies on housing, community development, neighborhood revitalization, immigration, education, unions, healthcare and poverty, as well as crosscutting concerns around race. White House political strategy, programmatic initiatives and theoretical frameworks are also covered. The book should find interest among students and faculty in urban studies, urban planning and public policy programs.
Disenchantment is the most consistent thread in Urban Policy. Irrespective of how deeply the authors plumb the depths of their topic, they frequently point out missed opportunities and misdirected policies. Hamstrung by tight-fisted Congressional Republicans (especially during his second term), Obama often relied on his executive authority to cobble together existing federal resources to launch new or reformulated initiatives. This offered only a limited policy landscape within which to address multiple urban issues. More pressing matters such as the lingering effects of the 2008 Great Recession and the war on terrorism commanded the White House’s center stage. Congressional stonewalling drove Obama to leverage private capital to help finance domestic policy innovations, raising concerns from some authors regarding creeping neoliberalism.
Although the book casts a wide net in examining various policy topics, housing draws special attention. Editor James DeFillipis points out that Obama-conceived initiatives such as Promise Neighborhoods and Strong Cities were lightly funded and fabricated from ideas retailed for many years by think tanks and other interest groups. Janet Smith describes the Obama administration’s efforts to leverage private financing for HUD’s HOPE VI housing program, concluding that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these initiatives. And Rachel G. Bratt and Dan Immergluck report that on the negative side, rental housing supplies remained inadequate to demand over Obama’s two terms in office. On the positive side however, the administration presided over a sizeable decrease in homelessness (at least insofar as the best available data reveal).
Dennis E. Gale
Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University
Lecturer, Stanford University