Issue #152, Winter 2007
An Unfinished Agenda
Why it's time for fair housing and community development to reunite to fight the vestiges of segregation.
By Elizabeth Julian
In the fall 2007 issue of Shelterforce,
Greg Squires argues that the appropriate response to the U.S. Supreme
Courts recent rejection of voluntary programs designed to desegregate
public schools is a more aggressive fair-housing movement. I agree.
Earlier in the year, in a short piece in the January/February 2007 issue
of Poverty and Race about what I would propose that the 110th Congress do to effect progressive change
around the intersections of race and poverty, I urged that the Democratic-controlled
Congress address the issues and challenges presented by our countrys
segregated condition. Squires urges candidates for the presidency in
2008 to give more attention to the issues related to race, housing,
and community-development concerns.
But while both Squires and I strive for a polity
in which our elected representatives will address the nations
social and economic inequities, I do not believe that the results we
hope for can be achieved either in the context of a political campaign
or in the context of public policymaking without (1) the fair-housing
and community-development communities coming together around a common
agenda that rejects racial segregation as an organizing principle for community and (2) grass-roots advocacy
that demands that agenda be reflected in housing and community-development
policy at the local, state, and national levels. While this article
is primarily directed to those who see themselves as practitioners in
the fields of fair housing and community development, because it is
at the grass-roots level that this discussion must start, the geography of race is a subject
that the country needs to address, and that requires leadership at all
Squires rightly decries Justice Roberts insistence
on colorblindness as reflecting either ignorance of the
nations racial history or just another effort to maintain white
privilege. But arent we advocates for low-income people guilty of the same diversionary tactics? In approaching our work,
how often have we said among ourselves that its class, not
race? We may say it because we want to believe it, or we may say
it because we think that the white majority will be more generous in
addressing poverty if it is not thought of as a race issue. Whatever
the reason, it is just another way of denying the very real role that
race plays in the creation and perpetuation of distressed communities.
If it is not race but only class discrimination
that causes social and economic inequities, why are there such stark
disparities between poor whites and poor people of color? And if it
is race, then why is it race? Is it because white people are inherently
more functional, capable, etc.? Or is it because America historically
erected a social, legal, and political structure that was built upon
that assumption, and as a society we have never completely dismantled
it? I imagine that Shelterforces readers would say we believe
the latter, but we dont act like we believe it. Otherwise, the
fair housers and the community developers would be working together
more effectively to redress the race-based geographic inequality that
oppresses communities of color and the de-facto segregation that limits
individual opportunity and choice.
Racial disparities exist in almost every indicator
of individual health and well-being. Those disparities play themselves
out particularly viciously in the context of low-income communities.
By and large, poor whites do not live in or suffer from the conditions
that exist in communities of concentrated poverty to the extent that
blacks or Hispanics do. These conditions are largely the products of
segregation and discrimination, and the solutions must address that legacy directly.
What, specifically, is the legacy of segregation?
Minority communities that are located in
environmentally degraded areas.
Minority communities subjected to decades
of discrimination in the provision of public services.
Minority communities avoided by private
retail investment because of residents race, and assumptions about
their ability to function as a market.
Minority communities avoided by job creators
because of assumptions about the conditions in the community and the
abilities of the work force that lives there.
Chronically under-funded schools in minority
communities, the consequence of unequal distribution of resources based
upon racial geography, which continue to struggle to serve a student
population that is disproportionately disadvantaged.
Minority individuals subjected to economic
discrimination that depressed earning power and incomes.
Minority individuals whose parents were
not able to acquire property and accumulate wealth on the same terms
as whites because of discrimination in the real-estate market, leading to a racial gap in inherited wealth
particularly with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation.
White communities that, as they became more
racially diverse, were targeted for disinvestment by the public and
private sectors, making it more difficult to achieve the benefits of
a more integrated community.
Exclusive white communities whose real-estate
prices and property values are based upon assumptions about the negative
impact of too much of a minority presence. This segregation
premium, which whites are often willing to pay for that reason,
reinforces the notion that more inclusive racially and economically
diverse communities are undesirable.
Squires suggests that a number of things are being
done, and can be done, to address these and other legacies of segregation
both in terms of individual housing discrimination and community-based
discrimination. I agree with most of his suggestions, as well as with his observation
that individual fair-housing cases, while absolutely appropriate and
necessary, are not sufficient to address the larger task. I would urge
fair-housing and community-development advocates to come together in their work on the
ground and in their public-policy work around a more ambitious agenda
that reflects the individual, institutional, and structural aspects
of the problem of racial segregation in our communities. What might that agenda
Congress should hold hearings and make findings
about the extent and scope of the ongoing effects of segregation on individuals and communities. The record has been made in courts, in academia, and in social-policy
circles, but not in the one place it could matter most: Congress. Findings
based upon a thorough and honest assessment of the lingering effects
of segregation would not only spur a legislative response for explicit
remedial measures to address segregations vestiges but would also
provide support for other advocacy work by fair-housing and communitydevelopment activists.
For example, while the legislative history of the
Fair Housing Act and legal decisions interpreting it have made clear that addressing segregation
is one of the acts purposes, the act itself does not use the term
segregation. Perhaps that wasnt necessary in 1968
when racial segregation was the housing civil-rights issue, but today
the act, particularly as amended, is a much bigger tent, and the countrys
consciousness of the history and ongoing effects of segregation has
dimmed. Congress should make explicit that the duty to further fair-housing
practices imposes a responsibility on recipients of housing and community-development funds to take affirmative
steps to ameliorate racial segregation, and make it a violation of the
Fair Housing Act for governmental entities to engage in policies or
practices that perpetuate racial segregation.
Moreover, Congress should evaluate all existing
housing and community-development programs from the standpoint of whether
they are currently designed to achieve the legitimate governmental interest
of reducing segregation and racial isolation in residential housing markets. The
HOPE VI public-housing program, which is replacing distressed public
housing with new mixed-income development, must balance the interests
of the current residents who may want to return to the redeveloped site
with the need to break the stranglehold of segregation that public housing
has historically represented. This can be accomplished by requiring
some replacement units in non-minority, lower-poverty areas where no public
housing currently exists and guaranteeing that no resident of, or applicant
for, public housing is required to accept a unit in a census tract in
which his race predominates as a condition of receiving federal housing assistance.
In the Section 8 voucher program, Alex Polikoffs
proposed national housing mobility program, calling for a realistic
targeting of housing vouchers toward the minority poor locked into inner-city
ghettos (see "Lessons
from a Chicago Saga," Shelterforce, Spring 2007), should
be implemented as a means of supporting minority families who wish to
make that housing choice but are currently held hostage by housing policy
that does not recognize the fair-housing rights of low-income people.
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit programone
of the most important vehicles for the creation of new affordable housingcurrently
requires that tax credits be targeted toward Qualified Census Tracts (any census tract
in which at least 50 percent of households have an income of less than
60 percent of the area median gross income.) As a practical matter this
steers tax-credit developments into high-poverty, racially concentrated
areas and is an excellent example of how a housing program can be used
to perpetuate rather than ameliorate segregation. The tax credit statute
should be amended to more effectively balance the interests of community
revitalization with the goal of affirmatively furthering fair housing
by expanding housing available to low-income families in higher-opportunity areas.
The Community Reinvestment Act should provide for
incentives to financial institutions whose investments promote more
racially and economically inclusive communities, including housing-related
financing that expands housing opportunities for low-income families in high-opportunity areas
where there is little or no affordable housing. In the private homeownership
market, local initiatives such as that undertaken by the Village of
Oak Park, Ill., to which the Squires article alluded, including subsidizing
mortgages for families whose move into a neighborhood contributed to
racial diversity and reduced racial isolation, are examples of the kinds of unapologetic
race-conscious efforts to undo the legacy of segregation our policymakers
Fair-housing organizations and advocates should
refocus their advocacy on the systemic problem of institutionalized
discrimination and segregation, including initiating litigation based
in case law regarding the appropriate role of the Fair Housing Act in
promoting integration and dismantling segregation. In ACORN, et al
v. Garden City, et al, for example, a recent case filed in New York
State under the Fair Housing Act and related civil rights laws, a local
community organization is challenging a historically white citys
pattern and practice of excluding affordable housing in order to keep
out people of color. The case involves a nonprofit seeking to develop
an affordable-housing site, along with individuals who would like to
reside in the affordable housing once it is built. The suit recognizes
that allowing overwhelmingly white communities to engage in land-use practices that
exclude low-income people of color is as unacceptable as refusing to
provide services to a overwhelmingly minority community.
Those working in low-income communities of color
no doubt know that the conditions which residents face often are the
result of systemic and structural imperatives that were begat by legally
imposed segregation. For this reason, they should be bolder in using litigation and other forms
of race-based advocacy to obtain resources and remedy for those communities.
Municipal-services cases filed by legal-services and civil-rights advocates
during the 1970s and early 1980s documented the conditions in the minority
community involved that were the result of conscious and deliberate
governmental action to deprive them of the support and services that
existed in areas where whites lived. (See Hawkins v. Town of Shaw,
438 F.2d 1286 (5th Cir. 1971), affd en banc, 461 F.2d 1171 (5th
Cir. 1972); Johnson v. city of Arcadia, 450 F. Supp. 1363 (MD.Fla.
1978; Dowdell v. City of Apopka, 511 F. Supp. 1375, affd
in part, and revd and remanded in part, 698 F. 2d. 1181 (1983).)
More recently, litigation in Dallas on behalf of a minority neighborhood led a federal court to conclude that ...The sordid history of the Citys decision making process regarding racially-segregative zoning and related policies, when viewed in conjunction with the discriminatory effects of zoning decisions, industrial nuisances, and landfill practices, offers substantial circumstantial of evidence of discriminatory intent. (See Miller v. City of Dallas, 2002 WL 230834, N.D.Tex. 2002.)
Litigation and administrative advocacy initiated
by the National Fair Housing Alliance and its affiliates on the issue
of property insurance and lending discrimination has effectively used
the Fair Housing Act to address the effects of segregation on the opportunities afforded both individuals
and communities. Those cases, and related advocacy efforts, reveal how
resources that are essential to stable, healthy, and prospering neighborhoods
and communities have been withheld from minority communities by private business enterprises because of the predominant
race of the areas residents.
Finally, in a recent case, Kennedy, et al v.
City of Zanesville, et al, a black community in Ohio is suing under
the Fair Housing Act and other civil-rights statutes for the decades-long
refusal of the white-controlled governmental entities of which they
are a part to run water lines to the Coal Run Road area. The facts reveal
that members of the community, located just outside the City of Zanesville,
were relatively organized and worked for years to get the various governmental
bodies involved to extend water lines to Coal Run Road. However, it
was not until the black residents hired legal counsel and filed a discrimination
complaint in 2002 based upon the Fair Housing Act that the governors
office stepped in and convened a meeting of all concerned to address
the issue. Coal Run residents finally received running water in early
2004. The pending lawsuit, which seeks damages, is instructive of the
role that effective race-based legal advocacy can play in effecting
remedy for a longstanding pattern and practice of discrimination in
the way a minority community has been treated in the context of provision
of public services (or lack thereof).
Community development organizations should harness
gentrification efforts rather than oppose them, by being open to greater
racial and economic inclusiveness that protects and insures current
residents a continued place in the community and at the decision table.
Recent Shelterforce articles (The
Purchase of a Lifetime and A
Winning Campaign, Spring 2007) about residents fight
to stay in a gentrifiying Washington D.C. neighborhood and a community
embracing inclusionary zoning as a means to respond to gentrification
underscore the difficulties of learning to live together
in the wake of neighborhood change, but they also reveal the possibilities
for a positive outcome.
Anyone involved in affordable-housing development
is all too aware of the NIMBY dynamic, whereby local officials give
in to angry white homeowners who do not want housing that might be occupied
by those people in their neighborhood. No one should give
implicit support to these actions by failing to condemn them and/or
agreeing that the affordable housing should be put only where poor people
already live, and only where it is wanted. Allowing NIMBYism
to act as an effective hecklers veto to efforts to expand affordable
housing in non-low-income, predominately white communities may theoretically
make more affordable-housing resources available to low-income communities,
but it is a Faustian bargain. It helps perpetuate the perception that
low-income people of color are happy being contained in
their communities and ignores the fact that low-income people of color, no less than their middle-class counterparts,
are not monolithic in their desires about where and how they want to
Community-development activists should partner
with fair-housing activists to break down barriers that exclude low-income
people of color from a community where it is clear that the legacy of
segregation is otherwise going to persist. Without such concerted efforts to break segregations
bonds, community-development practitioners effectively and repeatedly
undermine the mission at the heart of their field. A society that allows
such exclusion is not likely to be a society that will see the needs
and viability of a minority community as a high priority. Advocates
interested in working outside the traditional community-development
and fair-housing boxes can employ community-organizing skills to identify
and organize groups of individuals who want to live in more diverse
and inclusive communities and provide them with the tools to make their
If Squires is rightand I think he isthat
the Supreme Court has put fair housing back on the social and political
agenda, it will only stay there with effective advocacy. While the term
fair housing has come to mean many things both in the courts and in the arena of public policy, the core
issue that the Supreme Courts education decisions thrust back
into the national debate and into the national psyche is racial segregation.
And although the terms movement and activist
may seem relics of a bygone era to many of us who now think of ourselves
as practitioners in our chosen fields, community
developers and fair-housing advocates would do well to reconnect with
our common history and sense of social and racial justice that spurred
the work that we do as a catalyst for concerted action.
There will be a new U.S. president elected in 2008,
and signs are that the country is prepared to move toward a more progressive
agenda on many fronts. Its time for the fair-housing and community-development
worlds to come together to lay out a common agenda calling for fair and affordable
housing in stable, healthy communities that are racially and economically
inclusive. This will require that we deal forthrightly with the national
legacy of racial segregation and what it means for the people and the communities
of which we are all a part. It is the elephant in the room, and he is
not going away.
Elizabeth Julian is president of the Inclusive Communities Project, a Texas-based nonprofit that works for the creation and maintenance of racially and economically inclusive communities. She served at HUD in the Clinton administration and has practiced poverty and civil-rights law for more than 30 years.
Poverty & Race Research Action Council, Inc. www.nhi.org/go/prrac
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity www.nhi.org/go/structracism
PolicyLink, Inc. www.nhi.org/go/policyhousing
Structural Racism and Efforts to Radically Reconstruct the Inner-City Built Environment, by Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. and Sam Cole. www.nhi.org/go/innerracism
Metropolitan Housing & Communities Policy Center hosted by The Urban Institute www.nhi.org/go/urban