WHAT IS Slumburbs

Slumburbs is a sometimes-derogatory slang term for the suburbs of once large and prosperous cities that have become less desirable due to an economic downturn. Slumburbs refer to the areas that have been disproportionately affected by the subprime mortgage scandal and housing crash of 2008, with many families losing their homes to foreclosure. As a result of these mass foreclosures, business in these previously hopeful communities diminishes leading to negative outcomes such as unemployment and crime.


Slumburbs as a term reflects a core view that the building of suburbs is a negative development and that suburbs themselves are inherently harmful to urban areas.  A portmanteau of the words slums and suburbs, the word is used to indicate suburban areas that have suffered economically as a result either of overzealous growth and a building boom that couldn’t be sustained by the local employment base, leaving residents underemployed and struggling to keep up financially, or to areas that were targeted in the subprime mortgage lending scheme or exploded during the housing boom of the mid-2000s. In the first case, these suburbs tend to grind along with a stagnant economy as residents struggle to keep up their houses as they are underemployed. In the second case, the financial crash of 2008 sparked a housing decline lasting almost a decade, leading many homeowners to default on mortgages that never should have been written. As a result, many houses in these suburbs have been abandoned.

The term slumburbs reflects the conflict between the ideal of the American suburb with the promise of a perfect, streamlined life with the reality of the stratification of the American economy and the disappearance of the middle class. The suburbs that were supposed to be filled with prosperous upper middle class earners are, in reality, partially filled with lower middle class and service economy workers surviving without a safety net.

Economic Realities of Slumburbs

An analysis of areas referred to as slumburbs indicates that there are distinct differences between suburban areas developed in different time periods and with different ethnic and racial demographics. In suburbs built before the civil rights movement, economic outcomes of residents are divided strongly on racial lines, with white residents maintaining wealth while African-American and latino residents struggle financially. In suburbs built after the 1968 Fair Housing Act, however, African-American and latino residents experienced lower poverty, unemployment and foreclosure rates relative to white residents.

This suggests that the effects of redlining not only on individual residents but on entire communities have lasted for over half a century and have destroyed wealth and property values. Communities built after the Fair Housing Act, called post-civil rights suburbs, are not only more homogenous economically, but are more resilient economically and culturally.