Tag Archives: segregation

The Big, Fat Long Tail of Neighborhood Segregation

Manchester     The “long tail” is a tech-marketing concept that pundits and futurists promote with some enthusiasm.  The heart of it is that some businesses, especially enabled by the internet and the Amazon world view, could make money on small, niche products, even at low sale volumes, almost forever.  Some things are not small market, but seem to have even longer, larger, and fatter tails, and one of those is segregation in housing and neighborhoods and its continuing ability from the Civil War through the white supremacists push back to end Reconstruction to the rise of the KKK and then embedded as an ideology nationally and in the South not just in culture but also in governmental policy.

In 2017, Richard Rothstein published a brilliant book, The Color of Law:  The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, that made it clear that the residual impact of segregation was a national policy, rigorously applied by government, private enterprise and banking in the middle of the 20th century going forward until the late 1960s and the passage of the Fair Housing Act and other reforms.   The book was also crystal clear that the racial wealth gap endured in robust fashion today, since so much of individual citizen wealth comes from home ownership and thereby neighborhood value, because of the enduring impact – the long tail – of these overly segregationist practices.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Rothstein reprised his Color of Law arguments in looking at the proposals of the Trump administration for housing policy now under Secretary Ben Carson to eliminate challenges to efforts to re-segregate or perpetuate segregation in housing.  Central to enforcement of Fair Housing requirements, upheld by all federal appeals courts, has been the ability to prove adverse impact through the theory and practice of “disparate impact” on racial minorities.  Essentially, even if overt racism could not be proven, if we were able to establish that the impact was averse to minorities, regardless of intent, then there was a remedy.

Trump’s HUD is now trying to unravel this doctrine, as Rothstein makes clear, by forcing complaints to overcome innumerable obstacles.  As Rothstein writes,

complainants would have to imagine every conceivable justification that the city might assert, and prove that each was not legitimate, without knowing what actual defense the city might claim or what standard of legitimacy HUD would impose. If the city then came up with a justification that the homeowners hadn’t refuted to HUD’s satisfaction … HUD could dismiss the disparate impact action. A process that requires complainants to refute defenses that haven’t yet been offered is one that is designed to block civil rights, not protect them.

This is a policy that seems so Catch-22 and bizarre that it seems unimaginable that it is even contemplated, much less in the process of being formulated and imposed.  Unbelievably, the new HUD policy seems to track the racist effort of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish to prevent a project’s construction with diverse and contradictory claims to disguise their actions as something other than discrimination.  The Supreme Court ruled their effort illegal, but now HUD is attempting to recraft their rejection of St. Bernard’s excuses, as requirements of their rule. Other new HUD policies, Rothstein notes, attempt to delete any mention of “segregation,” further diluting the protections of the Fair Housing Act.

Welcome to America where on one day we can celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King and on the next we can contemplate the work of yet another government agency and another racist administration doing its damnedest to eliminate the civil rights and economic justice won with a return to segregation perpetuating inequality.


De Jure versus De Facto Racism

Torino As we move forward on the Home Savers Campaign we are finding victims of predatory practices among all communities black, white, and brown, but more often than not since these are lower income communities, there seems to be a significant tilt towards residential segregation. Lawsuits in some cities and research reports are starting to argue that this is blatant discrimination.

Reading an excellent, recently published, book, The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, marshals the evidence that the impact on our communities was not accidental. He makes the case overwhelmingly that, contrary to recent Supreme Court decisions, this is not de facto racism, meaning just the fact that that people are prejudiced and don’t care to live near each other, but is de jure racism, a matter of longstanding public policy. Rothstein sums up the argument of his book early, writing,

The Color of Law demonstrates that racially explicit government policies to segregate our metropolitan areas are not vestiges, were neither subtle nor intangible, and were sufficiently controlling to construct the de jure segregation that is now with us in neighborhoods and hence in schools. The core argument of this book is that African Americans were unconstitutionally denied the means and the right to integration in middle-class neighborhoods, and because this denial was state-sponsored, the nation is obligated to remedy it.

Rothstein demonstrates how de jure segregation worked most effectively in general housing and housing finance policy, but also in the areas of school location by local communities and tax assessment policies that over assessed lower income areas and under-assessed largely while middle income areas. The situation around redlining and the failure of the Federal Housing Authority to guarantee mortgages in non-white areas until the mid-1970s is well known, but Rothstein moves the clock back as well, citing a 1910 Baltimore “ordinance prohibiting African-Americans from buying homes on blocks where whites were a majority and vice versa.” He notes that similar zoning restrictions were passed in Atlanta, Birmingham, Miami, Charleston, Dallas, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Richmond among other cities.

De jure segregation was not just a Southern and border state phenomena. Taking the segregation and siting of public housing projects as an example, he notes that a dozen states passed laws in the 1950s requiring a popular vote before approval of a location. That dirty dozen included California, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, hardly Southern strongholds. He tells the story of the committed segregationist city fathers of Boston, Massachusetts who built the Mission Hill housing project, where I hit the doors as a young organizer, and then built a Mission Hill Extension, so that the first was black, and the second was white. The fight to keep Detroit a haven for white homeowners propelled neighborhood segregationist into the mayor’s office there. Rothstein also effectively argues that suburbanization was a governmental supported and enabled segregation project.

And, of course he revives the argument that rent-to-own and installment land purchases in urban areas, forced by the inability to acquire home ownership by minorities in any other way, created ghettos and exploited African-Americans. As we know from hitting the doors in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Detroit, Akron, and so many other cities with ACORN’s Home Savers Campaign, that’s still the case.

Finishing the book or walking the streets of urban America, there’s never a doubt that governmental fiat blocked natural integration and mandated segregation. When will justice be served and a remedy be offered?