Taking on Class and Racial Discrimination in Housing

Taking on Class and Racial Discrimination in Housing, Richard Kahlenberg, The American Prospect, August 2, 2018, available here

Zoning laws are not usually the stuff of which presidential campaigns are made. But Senator Cory A. Booker, who is often talked about as a presidential contender, says bad zoning laws are making housing more segregated and less affordable, and he has just introduced legislation to do something about it. 

Booker was born in Washington, D.C., one year after the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. That legislation, which outlawed racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing, helped make it possible for Booker’s parents, African American executives, to become the first black family to reside in Harrington Park, New Jersey, an affluent white community outside of Newark with strong public schools. Those schools helped launch Booker to Stanford, Oxford, Yale Law and beyond.

But as a child Booker quickly became aware that a single law couldn’t wipe out entrenched inequalities of housing opportunity.  He visited relatives living in predominantly black communities, he told me in an interview yesterday, and “clearly saw that something was wrong,” especially the limits on “the opportunity [to attend] great public schools.” As a young adult, he learned about the Mount Laurel litigation in New Jersey, which exposed the way in which municipal zoning laws were employed to “segregate our state by income as well as race.”

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