Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fair Housing Month in the Fiftieth Year after the Civil Rights Act

Housing Segregation Lingers 50 Years After the Civil Rights Act[1]
Conditions for African Americans are different and immeasurably better than they were before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. At the present, it is almost difficult to imagine the extreme oppression African Americans endured under Jim Crow. In the Southern states, schools, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and public transportation, were segregated. The separation included elevators, parks, public restrooms, hospitals, drinking fountains, prisons, and places of worship. Whites and blacks were born in separate hospitals, educated in segregated schools, and buried in separate graveyards. Blacks were not allowed to vote in elections.
There were, in effect, two criminal justice systems: one for whites and another for blacks. The system was codified in state and local laws and enforced by intimidation and violence. When the color line was breached, violence was unleashed against offenders by the Ku Klux Klan and local whites, often in concert with local law enforcement officials. Lynching and other forms of violence and intimidation were routine. In the north and south, blacks lived in segregated neighborhoods and were relegated to the lowest paying, least desirable occupations.
In the decades that followed the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the black middle-class has grown rapidly. Levels of educational attainment are higher. Employment opportunities are greater. Family incomes are higher. The election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 signaled an unprecedented advance in race relations in America.
However, an examination of the status of African American families reveals a mixed picture; the best of times for some, the worst of times for others. For those in a position to take advantage of the opportunities created by the Civil Rights revolution, the gains over the last generation have been remarkable. For those left behind in America's impoverished communities, the obstacles to advancement are more daunting today than they were a generation ago.
A significant impediment to African American progress is the high levels of discrimination and segregation that persist in the nation's housing markets. Most people believe that families live wherever they can afford to purchase a home or rent an apartment; that residential patterns reflect the private choices of individuals. This widely held assumption is simply not accurate. Year after year, studies have consistently shown that discriminatory practices are alive and well in the nation's housing markets. African-American families do not enjoy the range of residential options that are available to white families with similar incomes and credit histories.
Racial segregation began at the beginning of the twentieth century. In housing it was perpetuated by the federal government in the 1940s and '50s when suburban communities were constructed with federally-insured mortgages. To be eligible for mortgage insurance, the federal government required property deeds to contain racially-restrictive covenants that excluded African American families from suburban communities.
Despite being outlawed in 1968, housing discrimination persists. In "matched pair" tests, (using whites and black testers with identical income and credit histories), white homebuyers were favored over blacks in 17.0 percent of the cases. White homebuyers were more likely to be allowed to inspect houses and to be shown homes in more predominantly white neighborhoods than similarly situated blacks. White home seekers also received more information about financing than comparable black homebuyers.
Social scientists use a measure known as the "dissimilarity index" to determine levels of residential segregation. Cities are categorized as highly segregated, moderately segregated and integrated. These measures show that the 50 largest American cities are all highly segregated. http://www.censusscope.org
The continuing high levels of segregation in public schools reflect the racial composition of the neighborhoods where they are located. Public schools in segregated neighborhoods almost  invariably lack the quality of schools in suburban communities. They often have high drop-out rates and other educational deficits. As April is Fair Housing month, it is important to understand the societal effects of neighborhoods that are lingering vestiges of a segregated past.

[1] Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Professor, University of Delaware

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