Attacking the Black–White Opportunity Gap That Comes from Residential Segregation

Attacking the Black–White Opportunity Gap That Comes from Residential Segregation

Kimberly Quick and Richard D. Kahlenberg, The Century Foundation, June 25, 2019. Available here. 

Residential segregation between black and white Americans remains both strikingly high and deeply troubling. Black–white residential segregation is a major source of unequal opportunity for African Americans: among other things, it perpetuates an enormous wealth gap and excludes black students from many high-performing schools. While some see residential segregation as “natural”—an outgrowth of the belief that birds of a feather flock together—black–white segregation in America is mostly a result of deliberate public policies that were designed to subjugate black people and promote white supremacy.

Because the federal, state, and local policy arenas were the laboratory for engineering black–white residential segregation, that is where people must work to help undo it. In order for these heinous differences to be reversed, people in government at all levels have to be proactive in eliminating policy that supports segregation and in creating anti-segregation policies.

It is time for bold action. The first part of this report outlines why all Americans should care about black–white residential segregation: the perpetuation of an opportunity gap between blacks and whites. The second part delineates the ways in which black–white segregation is rooted primarily in deliberate government policies enacted over generations. And the last part of the report sketches a four-prong strategy for undoing this horrible creation.

First, policymakers should address the legacy of generations of racial discrimination in housing by implementing the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” provision of the Fair Housing Act and providing new mortgage assistance to buy homes in formerly “redlined” areas. Second, government should seek to reduce contemporary residential racial discrimination by increasing resources allocated to fair housing testers and reestablishing the federal interagency task force to combat lending discrimination. Third, officials should counter contemporary residential economic discrimination that disproportionately hurts African Americans by curbing exclusionary zoning, funding “disparate impact” litigation, adopting “inclusionary zoning” policies, banning source of income discrimination, and beefing up housing mobility programs. Fourth, policy officials should respond to the re-segregating effects of displacement that can come with gentrification by revising tax abatement policies that promote gentrification, implementing longtime owner occupancy programs, and investing in people, not powerbrokers.

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