How Housing Discrimination and the White Leak Divided America
THE LIFE of white and black Americans is very different. Black residents, for example, generally have a lower life expectancy and lower educational attainment than their white neighbors. They are generally poorer – the median black family has about $ 150,000 less net worth than the median white family – and are less likely to own a home. Other racial and ethnic minorities such as Latinos and Asians also perform worse than whites.
Who is the biggest culprit behind these racial disparities? One suspect is geographic segregation in housing. Look through American cities and you will find consistent patterns of physical divisions among residents. Whites, Latinos, and African Americans often live in different places.
Many cities attempt to integrate neighborhoods, often with intermittent success. Rochester, New York, recently removed a freeway that separated African-American neighborhoods from downtown. Town planners have replaced it with shops and more housing. Seattle has championed a housing voucher program to move low-income residents to areas of greater opportunity, ones with more jobs and access to better public transportation and better education. But it will be difficult to put families on a real level playing field. The separation between races has deep roots in American history.
In 1950, for example, most African Americans lived in enclaves in major cities in the north or were scattered in smaller and less dense areas of the south and west. Many were also settled along the “black belt,” a fertile slice of land stretching from southern Virginia to the Mississippi Delta where cotton production was most intensive and where many ancestors of black residents were enslaved. by whites a few generations earlier. At the time, the country was 85 to 90 percent white, according to figures from the US Census Bureau (estimates of the precise share depend on how the government counts Latinos, who lived primarily in the Southwest and immigrant communities in New York and Miami).
Residential segregation has been imposed by various legal and social pressures. The northern states practiced segregation by allowing landowners to draft agreements that made it nearly impossible for successive white owners to sell houses to non-whites, and through redlining – a practice of legal discrimination. in real estate pricing and loans that prohibited non-whites from owning homes in “desirable” white neighborhoods. The practice began with the creation, during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a government company that rated homes and extended purchase assistance to new owners, but did not. did not do the same for all races.
From 1933 to 1954, the HOLC effectively prohibited African Americans from buying homes in attractive neighborhoods, even when they could afford it. Suburban housing has also been extended almost exclusively to whites, for example in developments largely funded by mortgages from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), another New Deal agency that allowed racial segregation. The practices of the HOLC and the FDA have reduced house prices in predominantly black neighborhoods, while preventing non-whites from leaving them. In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower’s federal freeway expansion through most American cities also physically cut off neighborhoods with high concentrations of minorities from the whiter areas of cities. This allowed urban segregation to survive in an era when discriminatory policies were deliberately pursued.
Discriminatory models in federal housing were made illegal by Lyndon Johnson’s Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968. But they still cast a shadow over America’s racial geography. An analysis of HOLC lending practices by Jacob Faber, a sociologist at New York University, found that various measures of segregation in 2010 were significantly higher in cities assessed by the HOLC at the turn of the 20th century, controlling for d other factors.
The HOLC produced a map of Atlanta, for example, which shaded each neighborhood based on the risk that borrowers would default on their loans. Suburban areas northeast of the city were shaded in green, signaling mortgage lenders that they could make “safe” loans, while blocks with high concentrations of minorities in the center were labeled high risk. These loan models match Atlanta’s current racial split. The story is similar in other large cities that have received HOLC ratings (see graph).
But the causes of geographic segregation were not entirely conceived by the government. During the Great Migration of the 1950s and 1960s, 6 million African Americans settled in northern and western cities, and prompted record numbers of whites to leave. The “white robbery” was a direct response to the inbound migration of black residents, regardless of changes in income or house prices. A study of census data conducted by Leah Boustan, professor of economics at Princeton University, found that each arrival of an African American resulted in the departure of two to three whites. The HOLC and FHA just provided them with a place to go.
The census provides a record of where they went: the suburbs. As urban areas became less white, lily white suburbs grew. Sociologists suggest two main reasons they left town. First, the GI Bill provided education and housing loans to returning soldiers to buy new homes in new neighborhoods. Second, the expanding road network has made life outside the city easier and the ability to continue working there.
The “white flight” is best illustrated by immigration to and from Washington, DC between 1950 and 1970. By the mid-twentieth century, whites lived in the northwest, northeast, and far south. -est of town (see map). African Americans mostly lived in the more urban neighborhoods directly north of the White House and in the region’s less dense eastern corridor, although by mid-century these neighborhoods were still mixed. By 1970, however, whites had left all of these areas to settle in the city’s northwest and surrounding counties of Maryland and Virginia. Northeast and Southeast Washington, DC turned almost entirely black, in large part because all of the whites had fled.
Today, drawn by access to transportation and declining suburban housing construction and federal mortgage assistance, whites have returned to the city’s black neighborhoods. The northern development corridor along 16th and U streets has been a particular hotspot for gentrification. Similar patterns have occurred in parts of many other cities, such as Harlem and northern Brooklyn in New York, and central Atlanta. But the effects of these red lines drawn by the government from the 1930s to the 1960s persist. In Houston and Los Angeles, African Americans mostly live in the same neighborhoods as 70 years ago, even as the rest of the city has diversified, with an influx of Hispanic and Asian Americans.
Knock down that wall
It will not be easy to right the wrongs of the federal government and to equitably integrate racial groups in all American cities. While de jure housing segregation is a thing of the past, the legacy of restrictive and discriminatory covenants is reinforced by today’s housing prices and zoning laws. A common culprit is the “not in my backyard” movement, which campaigns against the construction of new apartment buildings, multi-family homes like duplexes, and tight houses. The gentrification of neighborhoods by white Americans, who can afford more expensive housing, also tends to displace non-white residents and push them to cheaper neighborhoods, ones that were traditionally branded and where quality housing and economic opportunities are harder to find. through.
There are some things that cities could do to reduce geographic segregation. They could make it easier for non-white residents to leave very poor neighborhoods by making better use of federal programs such as the Housing Choice Vouchers Program, which helps families move to more desirable neighborhoods. States can also use the low-income housing tax credit to reduce developer costs to build more affordable housing in richer areas. Governments can use similar tools to prevent displacement of current residents into gentrifying neighborhoods in cities.
The federal government, having helped create geographic segregation through its policies, can help repair the damage. One step would be to strengthen existing federal programs to revitalize disadvantaged neighborhoods. Some reformers also offered to rebuild infrastructure and buy and redevelop abandoned housing and commercial areas. Yet there is no quick fix. A myriad of forces created this problem. A myriad of solutions will be needed to reverse it.