Housing And Urban Development Officials Take Another Stab At Integrating Cities

With communities still reeling from home foreclosures, racial integration appears as distant as ever.
By @FrederickReese |
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    In 1964, Malcolm X sat down for an interview with U.S. News & World Report and shared his views on integration. “[It] has failed. Schools are becoming more segregated. Housing…all phases. Job segregation is one of the worst situations. Washington D.C., is one of the best examples of how integration has failed. I know about the desegregation of the theaters and restaurants and all that in Washington. But the only Negroes who have been helped by that are the Negro bourgeoisie. They are the only Negroes who can afford to go to the theaters and the white restaurants. New York, which is supposed to be liberal, has more integration problems than Mississippi.”

    “I favor, building up living conditions, schools, jobs. That’s the heart of the problem. I want to take Negroes out of the ghetto and put them in good neighborhoods in good houses.”

    In the aftermath of one of the greatest economic disasters in modern remembrance, many African-Americans and Latinos find themselves in a worse position than they were in 2008. Despite proclamations of an economy that is nearly at pre-Great Recession levels, the median White household is over 20 times wealthier than the median Black household, per Census Bureau figures.

    In light of a rash of predatory loans targeting African-Americans, in which nearly 50 percent of all home equity loans given to Black borrowers were classified “subprime,” and in which more than 10 million people were foreclosed from more than 4 million homes — that’s the population of the state of Michigan — African-Americans have found themselves at the bottom of the housing heap, with many of the historic Black neighborhoods lost and millions unable to secure suitable housing or stuck in areas of persistent poverty.

    In a proposed rule change, entitled “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” the Department of Housing and Urban Development has called on a plan to demographically balance the nation’s neighborhoods on racial and economic lines. While details on how exactly this new policy will work is currently unclear, the policy — with the help of a new prototypical geospatial tool that would plot exactly where the population lives based on racial and economic definitions — would help HUD make better decisions on where to invest money toward developing heterogeneous neighborhoods.


    A not-so “meaningless exercise”

    “Local governments and States that receive Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA), as well as public housing agencies (PHAs) are required to affirmatively further the purposes of the Fair Housing Act,” HUD wrote on its proposed rule’s summary page. “To better facilitate this obligation, as well as address issues raised by the Government Accountability Office, HUD proposes an improved structure and process whereby HUD would provide these program participants with guidance, data and an assessment template from which they would complete an assessment of fair housing (the AFH). This assessment would then link to Consolidated Plans, PHA Plans and Capital Fund Plans, meaningfully informing resulting investments and related policies to affirmatively further fair housing.”

    A HUD official, who spoke in confidence to U.S. News & World Report due to the rule’s 60-day public review period, stated that the rule is intended to help secure HUD-assisted housing in communities that have good schools, hospitals and other amenities. This is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights groups, as this would directly offer access to needed resources to the minorities.

    “It’s not just having people of different colors live together just to do so,” said Dedrick Muhammad, senior director of the economic department for the NAACP. “African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to live in segregated communities, which are predominantly lower income, have less strong public resources, less schools and educational opportunities, employment opportunities. This kind of integration strengthens economic equality.”

    The department has admitted that previous attempts toward mandating integration were largely “a meaningless paper exercise with no teeth.” “Perhaps most important — for the first time ever — HUD is providing data for every neighborhood in the nation, detailing what access African-American families, and other members of protected classes, have to the community assets I talked about earlier — including jobs, schools and transit,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told the NAACP at its national convention in June. “With this data and the improved AFFH process, we can expand access to high opportunity neighborhoods and draw attention to investment possibilities in underserved communities.

    “Make no mistake: this is a big deal. With the HUD budget alone, we are talking about billions of dollars. And as you know, decades ago, these funds were used to support discrimination. Now, they will be used to expand opportunity and bring communities closer to the American Dream.”


    Opposition to government intervention

    The rule change, however, is being met by its share of opposition. “This is just the latest of a series of attempts by HUD to social engineer the American people,” said Ed Pinto, of the American Enterprise Institute, to FOX News. “It started with public housing and urban renewal, which failed spectacularly back in the 50s and 60s. They tried it again in the 90s when they wanted to transform house finance, do away with down payments, and the result was millions of foreclosures and financial collapse.”

    “I think it is a bad idea to force people to live together,” wrote “J.S.,” a commenter to the proposed rule. “I am a low income white male, and I would feel completely out of place living in an affluent neighborhood. I’m sure that it sounds good on paper, but how do I tell my children that we can’t afford to get them a new bike like the other kids. Also living around other low income people I can tell you firsthand that the majority of my neighbors behaviors would not mesh well with those who live in a middle class neighborhood. Drug selling is common place as is theft, robberies and murder. Please take this into consideration.”

    “[The] poor you obviously want to move into middle income neighborhoods can’t afford it,” comments “D. L.” “If you really want to diversify residential neighborhoods, the way to do it is to improve the economy so there are decent jobs to be had, and improve education so the poor can get those jobs, and then be able to afford the house. Both of those are outside HUD jurisdiction. The claim that zoning is discrimination is ridiculous. One of the zoning classifications here is agricultural. Is someone who owns a farm that has been in their family 100 years discriminating against anyone? What happens after this rule fails to achieve its stated purpose. Do you start drafting new rules to dictate exactly who is allowed to live where?”


    Racial segregation

    This call for integration of the nation’s neighborhood comes at a time in which racial segregation is at its highest levels since the Civil Rights movement. According to a report published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, researchers Ronald J.O. Flores and Arun Peter Lobo found that, in New York City, the number of integrated neighborhoods in which African-Americans make up at least 10 percent of the residents fell by a third in the last 40 years, while the number of integrated White, Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods increased threefold in the same timespan. This, according to the researchers, is resulting in an “emerging black/non-black color line, where Asians and Hispanics are increasingly aligned with whites while distancing themselves from blacks.”

    This is supported by a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that shows that about 40 percent of White Americans have no friends outside of their race. This is contrasted by the about 25 percent of non-White Americans who also responded that they have no friends outside of their race. The poll, taken between August 7 and August 8, 2013, shows that 37 percent of all White respondents said they have no non-White friends, while 19.6 percent — the next largest demographic — reported having five or more non-White friends. In contrast, among Black respondents, 37 percent stated that they have no non-Black friends, but 33 percent responded that they have five or more.

    “This country has a pretty long history of restriction on interracial contact and for whites and blacks, even though it’s in the past, there are still echoes of this,” said Ann Morning, associate professor in the department of sociology at New York University. Without a conscious effort toward unifying the races, the gap between them will only continue to grow.

    Public commenting on the rule change ends Sept. 17, 2013. To comment, visit the Regulations.gov comment page here.

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