By Pam Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess.org for Latitude News— My office in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. is a 40-minute commute from the place I now call home, Danville, Ill. – the former mining town that just six years ago got a lot of (unwanted) attention for having the lowest property values in the country.
But it’s the housing situation in affluent, high tech and “green” Champaign-Urbana that’s more interesting.
Here’s why: more families are now considered to be in poverty in Champaign county than ten years ago. That’s one in four households according to the 2010 Census. Over the same time, the number of low-income students in public school districts grew about 60 percent. In August, I received a fellowship from the Marguerite Casey Foundation to report on poverty in the aftermath of America’s Great Recession. Champaign-Urbana seemed like a good place to start.
Something in common with Germany
Champaign-Urbana and Goettingen, Germany are nearly 1,800 miles apart as the crow flies.
But they have a lot in common. Both are university towns with about 120,000 residents and a high renter-to-owner ratio. Renters across the U.S. make up nearly 35 percent of the population, while in the 27 countries of the European Union they make up just over 46 percent. In contrast, more than half the residents in Champaign-Urbana rent. And in Germany, as a whole, that proportion goes up to over 60 percent.
So when I wanted to look at how low-income families fare in the housing market across the ocean, Goettingen, Germany seemed to be a good comparison.