What policies might integrate the suburbs and remedy some of the inequities that stem from residental segregation?

Dalton Conley

The racial situation in America is in the interest of those who are racially privileged (i.e., whites) and nowhere does the rubber hit the road more than in real estate. There is a premium in housing values to live in a lily-white community, as opposed to a minority community, or an integrated community. When whites are the majority group and control most of the money, the task of changing that dynamic is very difficult. One way is to create tax incentives and create "integration insurance" in the private sector. If I'm a white homeowner and the racial composition of my neighborhood is integrating, I've probably heard that the tipping point for the devaluation of properties is when the percentage of black residents reaches 15 to 20 percent. Therefore, it's in my interest to sell before I think that the neighborhood "tips," because I'm going to lose money if I wait too long and the real estate values decline. Now, even if I'm not personally racist, it's in my economic interest to sell my house. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - people sell because they're afraid other people are going to sell, and then everyone sells, and neighborhoods just tip completely instead of remaining integrated.

Integration insurance - whether it's provided by the government or local non-profits - would insure against any price changes or any devaluation in your real estate as a result of racial composition in your area. This could potentially break the vicious cycle, because you will have taken away peoples' economic incentive to flee when integration occurs. This has been experimented with in various forms in Oak Park, Illinois, Shaker Heights, Ohio, and I think in Teaneck, New Jersey. These efforts have been fairly successful at these local scales, but again, these are self-selecting communities that have actively sought ways to curb segregation in their neighborhoods.

On another front, in a move to expand home ownership and racial integration in the suburbs, the Ford Foundation gave its largest single grant to an organization called Self Help to underwrite mortgages for low-income, predominantly minority populations much in the way that the FHA and the VA underwrote mortgages in the post-World War II period. The $50 million grant leveraged two billion dollars in low-interest, low-income mortgages.

David Freund

It's really important to understand that the economics of segregation and tipping points does not exist outside of peoples' ideas about race and property values. These values will go down precisely because white people think that the values will go down. There's no existing pure market that says that when people of a minority group move into a neighborhood, values will automatically go down. In fact, in a lot of black middle-class neighborhoods, the values go up. But there are two things to think about. The first one is pretty straightforward, and it doesn't solve the whole problem, but it's important. We need to enforce federal non-discrimination laws that have been on the books in various forms since the early 1960s. They have been enforced more since 1988, but currently the burden is on the person who has been discriminated against to prove that discrimination has occurred. This is a real problem. Active enforcement of these laws will begin to address the fact that minorities who are financially able to live wherever they want are still regularly prohibited from doing so.

The second part is much larger and is parallel to the Ford program that Dalton was talking about. We need to give working-class and low-income minorities the same shot at home ownership that whites have had since the 1940s. The film and the Web site introduced much of the background of this. Most whites would not own their homes today if not for the massive state interventions in the national mortgage market begun in the 1930s. And this privileging of white home ownership continued long after the state changed its official stance on it in the '60s. So, to reverse racial segregation in housing markets, the state should actively support all families' attempts to own a home just as it supported most white peoples' attempts to do so in an earlier era.

There's a range of issues involved in reaching these goals - achieving equality of opportunity in education and employment is, of course, a crucial factor here. Persistent poverty and a lack of savings make it harder for minorities to secure safe and secure housing. Also of equal importance - metropolitan areas have been radically fragmented politically throughout the 20th century. So it's not just neighborhoods that are segregated by race, it's also municipal jurisdictions and with them tax bases, city services, school districts. So many black neighborhoods, no matter how financially stable, still have inferior services, for example. It's not just a question of integrating minorities into white neighborhoods. It's giving all people in the country equal access to the opportunity to establish a home wherever they want to live.

I think one of the best strategies - and it's being implemented in just a few places in this country - is metropolitan governments where people actually share tax bases metro-wide. Many people call this "regional equity." So everyone who lives in a metro area can benefit from the wealth that's been accrued in terms of city services, access to good education, good transport. It's one thing to let people live wherever they want, but they also must have equal access to the benefits that have come from a post-war economy that was to a great degree driven by homeownership and the kind of wealth that people can accumulate from homeownership. The constant refinancing of home loans, moving into bigger and better housing, and refurbishing and furnishing homes - this is a huge driving force in the economy. Yet there are whole sectors of the population that have been, and still are, written out of that growth industry. So, first give more people the chance to work really hard and get a mortgage and own a home. Then create a metropolitan-wide government that shares tax resources and the benefits that come from property ownership. The combination of the two would provide ways to give people equal access to resources without saying, "You have to live here, you have to live there."

John Cheng

There is one other very radical solution, but there would be no political support: just get rid of the tax credits or the tax advantages of homeownership. You wouldn't find any political support for it, but essentially that's the mechanism that created the middle class and also created racial inequity through homeownership and real estate. The different mechanisms people are talking about are basically ways of changing how people actually decide the value of their homes. In other words, introducing some sort of financial incentive for people not to make certain choices. This is a great example of how people's individual choices perpetuate racism in a way that they don't obviously think about. So it's a great way to illustrate how our choices actually can change these systems. Choosing not to sell your home immediately - even if the financial value might go down - when blacks or anybody else moves into your neighborhood is a great example because the "value" of your home isn't just financial.

Sumi Cho

In terms of resources on this, I would like to refer people to two sources on metropolitics. john a. powell's work on race, poverty, and urban sprawl and why urban sprawl is a civil rights issue, and Myron Orfield's book, American Metropolitics.


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