Academic journal article Social Justice

The Impacts of Foreclosure on Collective Efficacy and Civic Engagement: Findings from Two Central California Communities

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Impacts of Foreclosure on Collective Efficacy and Civic Engagement: Findings from Two Central California Communities

Article excerpt

The Central San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural heart of California (and the nation), is among the areas hardest hit by the latest economic downturn, and it stands on the leading edge of the foreclosure crisis. The downturns in construction caused by the recession, combined with limited employment opportunities in this region, led to skyrocketing unemployment rates. According to US Department of Labor estimates, nine of the 10 worst cities in terms of unemployment were in the San Joaquin Valley--including our three urban research sites of Fresno, Merced, and Stockton (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012).

To this point, sociologists have failed to examine how foreclosures affect collective efficacy and civic engagement. In this article, we seek to fill this gap by applying Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earl's (1997) concept of collective efficacy to the study of two communities, one urban and one rural, in California's Central San Joaquin Valley. In their pioneering research on neighborhood dynamics in Chicago, Sampson et al. (1997, 918) argue that collective efficacy is the common intent to reduce the existing problems within a neighborhood. Since neighborhood collective efficacy is dependent on social cohesion and social control, these factors are crucial indicators of how foreclosures affect neighborhoods. Social cohesion is defined as the ability of neighbors to coexist and work well together. Social control is defined as the ability of neighbors to work together to prevent and solve problems within their community. To this point, much of our knowledge about this topic comes from anecdotal stories and news reports that suggest that neighborhood foreclosures cause a strain in neighborhood efficacy. The moving in and out of families disrupts the order of the neighborhood, causing relationships to be less stable than in neighborhoods where foreclosures are not as common.

What Sampson et al. (1997) show is that increased neighborhood cohesion is associated with positive outcomes as well as fewer social dislocations. The greater the level of social cohesion within a neighborhood, and the greater overall social control, the better able a neighborhood is to ameliorate negative outcomes such as violence. For example, if a neighborhood has high cohesion, there is likely to be a greater sense of trust among its residents. In order to retain this trust, neighbors are more likely to exercise behaviors that reaffirm this belief and work together to prevent disruptions of trust (such as violence). Therefore, individuals are more likely to intervene in situations in which the common good of the neighborhood is threatened. Greater collective efficacy was positively associated in the study with higher socioeconomic status, homeownership, and older age. This reaffirms the association between residential stability on the one hand and neighborhood cohesion and social control (and therefore collective efficacy) on the other. Foreclosures interrupt this stability and negatively affect the lives of the people within the neighborhood.

Sampson, Morenoff, and Earls (1999) show that diminished social control leaves the neighborhood more vulnerable to crime, or at least causes individuals to feel less safe. Empty houses within neighborhoods seem to decrease safety because they serve as an outlet for gangs, the homeless, drug addicts, and teenagers. Furthermore, when houses are empty for extended periods of time, they may become less presentable, lowering market values and discouraging potential new neighbors from entering the area. Again, this could result in less social cohesion since the neighborhood's population is shrinking, but the likelihood of crime is growing.

Other scholars have used the concept of collective efficacy to study a variety of topics. For example, Browning and Cagney (2002) show that collective efficacy can be (along with financial stability) an indicator of the capacity of local schools to affect educational outcomes. …

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