The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
The Future of Fair Housing: Report of the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. December 2008.

Forty Years After the Passage of the Fair Housing Act, Housing Discrimination and Segregation Continue

The continuing levels of racial and economic segregation in America’s metropolitan areas result from a long history of public and private discriminatory actions. Segregation is rooted in historical practices but is maintained and sometimes worsened by continued discriminatory practices, including: present-day discrimination and steering in the private rental, sales, lending, and insurance markets; exclusionary zoning, land use, and school policies at the state and local governmental level; continuing government policies affecting the location of subsidized housing; the limited choices provided to those who receive federal housing assistance; income and wealth differences; and bank and insurance disinvestment in minority neighborhoods.

Since 1980, the level of Latino segregation has remained constant. Although there have been moderate declines in the degree of African-American segregation during that time, the rate is still very high, especially in metropolitan areas with the largest Black populations.[16] According to Professor John Logan, the racial and ethnic makeup of neighborhoods experienced by the average White American is starkly different than those experienced by the average Black or Latino American.[17]

The degree of economic segregation facing families of color is even starker. Although there are more poor Whites than poor Blacks and Latinos, high poverty neighborhoods (30 percent poverty and higher) are disproportionately Black and Latino; the higher the poverty concentration, the more likely that the neighborhood will be racially isolated. For African Americans and Latinos, relatively high incomes are no protection against segregation, as "disparities between neighborhoods for Blacks and Hispanics with incomes above $ 60,000 are almost as large as the overall disparities, and they increased more substantially in the [1990s]."[18]

The harms of racial isolation and concentrated poverty are well-documented and represent a dark reverse image of our positive vision for an inclusive, diverse society. As Professor powell summarized in his Commission testimony:

Fifty years of social science research has demonstrated that racially isolated and economically poor neighborhoods restrict employment options for young people, contribute to poor health, expose children to extremely high rates of crime and violence, and house some of the least-performing schools. A vast research literature documents the ways in which social opportunities, and the advantages they confer, cluster and accumulate spatially. Neighborhoods powerfully shape residents’ access to social, political, and economic opportunities and resources. A number of studies have linked segregation to an increased likelihood of perpetrating and being victimized by violence and crime. The level of stress experienced in high-poverty, isolated neighborhoods contributes substantially to this risk. When people face a high level of stress, child abuse, neglect, and family breakups are more likely....In addition, a voluminous literature has examined the "spatial mismatch" between predominantly African American, older urban neighborhoods and the employment opportunities in the suburbs and exurbs. And new research is emphasizing the importance of access to a diverse social network and workforce intermediaries to overcome the social dimension of the spatial mismatch....Researchers have also found that the poverty rate of a school influences educational outcomes far more than the poverty rate of an individual; and that impoverished students do better if they live in middle-class neighborhoods and/or attend more affluent schools.[19]

Housing segregation and school segregation are also intertwined, creating a vicious cycle of a lack of opportunity and a lack of education.[20] The shifting demographics of America’s cities are consequently making our public schools increasingly more segregated,[21] a trend that is further exacerbated by recent Supreme Court decisions restricting the options available to achieve greater diversity within schools.[22] These circumstances perpetuate racial inequality, as African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be educated in schools where students experience more health problems, and in schools that have fewer resources, higher dropout rates, less experienced teachers, and lower rates of college attendance among graduates.[23] Unless efforts are made to increase diversity within schools and improve the diversity of neighborhoods, segregation in schools and housing will only worsen.[24]

Next Section: How We Got Here: The Historical Roots of Housing Segregation


[16] Testimony of John Logan (Chicago), at 1; see also Testimony of Camille Charles (Los Angeles), at 3.

[17] Testimony of John Logan (Chicago), at 1.

[18] John Logan, Lewis Mumford Ctr. for Comparative Urban & Reg'l Research, Separate and Unequal: The Neighborhood Gap for Blacks and Hispanics in Metropolitan America 2 (2002), available at http://www.s4.brown.edu/cen2000/SepUneq/SUReport/Separate_and_Unequal.pdf.

[19] Testimony of john powell (Los Angeles), at 4.

[20] Testimony of Gary Orfield (Los Angeles), at 1.

[21] Testimony of Gary Orfield (Los Angeles), at 1.

[22] Testimony of Gary Orfield (Los Angeles), at 2. See, e.g., Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 127 S. Ct. 2738 (2007)

[23] Testimony of Gary Orfield (Los Angeles), at 1, 2.

[24] Testimony of Gary Orfield (Los Angeles), at 3, 4.

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