Can we truly pronounce housing segregation against African Americans dead?
Yes, claims the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in a much-publicized study released February 6, 2012. Analyzing 2010 Census data, the authors conclude that “all-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct” with “African-American residents in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide,” compared 160 out of 200 fifty years ago.
On the North Shore? No.
The Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs analyzed Census data of Chicago’s 16 northern suburbs and found that African Americans comprise only 2 percent of the population outside Evanston (4.7 percent overall), hardly evidence of an open housing market.
Denunciation of this new study, authored by a conservative New York-based think tank, has been swift and vociferous.
Fair housing groups including the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance point out that the Manhattan Institute failed to consider the economic health of neighborhoods in which African Americans are living.
Fifteen years of predatory lending practices targeting African Americans and Latinos and the subsequent mortgage meltdown and unemployment crises have erased the homeownership gains of these groups.
The National Fair Housing Alliance reports that “African Americans and Latinos are 75 percent more likely to experience foreclosure.” There is a correlation between the price of housing in a community and its level of racial diversity, as Interfaith’s data show.
Remapping Debate, sponsored by the non-profit Anti-Discrimination Center in New York, has published an extensive series of on-line maps demonstrating that segregation is “alive and well” in the U.S. Using a “dissimilarity index,” which measures the percentage of a particular racial group that would have to move to a different neighborhood to ensure an even racial distribution throughout the area, 65 percent of African Americans would have to move according to 2010 data, not much of a change from 69 percent in 2000.
African Americans also continue to face discrimination in the housing market. Following an extensive audit of the housing market in Chicago’s northern suburbs, my organization, the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, found that African Americans are more than 50 percent likely to be treated worse than whites with the same qualifications and familial backgrounds in trying to rent or buy in the area.
While it is true that “all-white neighborhoods have largely disappeared, this is more due to the entry of Latinos and Asians into formerly all-white neighborhoods,” as Princeton professor Douglas Massey, author of a history of housing segregation in the United States, is quoted in the New York Times.
This is the case in the northern suburbs. In 1980, only 10 percent of the sixteen community region was made up of Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Today, that proportion has risen to more than 26 percent, nearly half of it (12.6 percent) Asian. In Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, and Skokie, one in four persons is Asian. Highwood is the one community in which the non-Hispanic white population is under 50 percent; 56.9 percent of its population is Latino.
But African Americans have made virtually no inroads in the northern suburbs, where it appears that they may have moved from Evanston (a loss of 3,610 African Americans) to Skokie (a gain of 3,255). This shift could be attributed to condominium conversions in Evanston and rising home prices. People of color and immigrants earn less than their native-born white counterparts.
All of this begs the question of why should we care.
From an individual rights standpoint, we should all be concerned that human beings continue to be turned away from the housing of their choice simply because they are Black. This is wrong, period.
From a neighborhood perspective, we should applaud the growing ethnic diversity of the North Shore. Our children benefit from having friends from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It builds understanding and empathy, important attributes to “global citizenship” in an increasingly interconnected world.
We should fight any effort to close our communities from those who would turn back the clock on 44 years of fair housing law. The Heritage Foundation, in a recent memo critical of the federal government’s settlement with Westchester County, NY to further racial integration for African Americans, would have us believe that “minority beneficiaries” don’t want to move to white areas and would have to be “compelled” to do so. They believe that integration is nothing less than an “imposed” exercise and “intrusion” into local markets.
What these opponents do not understand is that on the contrary, it is housing discrimination and the failure to allow for affordable housing that constitute the “intrusion” into local markets. It is not a failure of the personal choice of "minorities." In the words of New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Pashman, in his 1975 concurrent opinion striking down exclusionary zoning practices:
“Many suburban communities have failed to learn the lesson of cultural pluralism. A homogeneous community, one exhibiting almost total similarities of taste, habit, custom and behavior is culturally dead, aside from being downright boring. New and different life styles, habits and customs are the lifeblood of America. They are its strength its growing force. Just as diversity strengthens and enriches the country as a whole, so will it strengthen and enrich a suburban community.”
Take a look at the statistics in the Patch Media Uploader.