Segregation Conversation Goes National
Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on August 19, 2015
The conversation about balancing placed-based revitalization and expanding access to high-opportunity areas has been edging onto the national radar recently, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on disparate impact and HUD's release of the affirmatively furthering fair housing regulations.
The good news is that these are important questions for everyone to be asking in a nation that has absurd poverty levels and is deeply divided by race and class. The less good news is that rather than a united front to present now that housing issues have a wider audience, that wider audience is trying to make sense of the ongoing tension within the field between how these two sides of the same coin should relate to each other, get funded, etc. . .
As our own Greg Squires has pointed out here on Rooflines, when so much of the country still believes in cultural causes of poverty, it is too bad that those of us who don't aren't speaking with one voice in response.
Many people across the spectrum felt they needed to respond to Thomas Edsell's controversial New York Times op-ed "Where Should a Poor Family Live?," which slams what he calls the "poverty housing industry" for concentrating affordable housing in low-income areas. While his call for more integration is widely supported, there have been the reminders that not everyone wants to move, and some have noted that Edsell dramatically misrepresents both what has caused concentrated poverty and the business model of most affordable housing developers, who would dearly love to build in higher opportunity areas if land costs, NIMBY, and policy obstacles could be overcome.
Broadly, the response from Solomon Greene and Margery Austin Turner from the Urban Institute reframed the conversation as one about housing choice, removing constrained choices wherever they appear, and fighting the entire legacy of segregation:
Today's problems of segregation and neighborhood distress were caused by both disinvestment from poor neighborhoods and exclusion of poor people from opportunity-rich neighborhoods. So the remedy has to include both reinvestment in urban neighborhoods where poor people live and opening up housing options at a regional scale.
And it can be done—it's not just pretty words. Coming soon we're going to have an article from New Jersey that looks at how its community development community and fair housing community collaborate—constantly—on policy advocacy that appropriately advances this balance. We'd like to keep focusing on collaborations, programs, and policies that are showing a united way forward. If you have examples of other policies, organizations, or organizing campaigns that are refusing to buy into the either/or framing, but moving ahead with truly improving quality of life and housing choice for everyone, please share them with us—we'd love to highlight them.
Meanwhile, here is a wonderful example from Chicago of a program that changes the way funding streams work to open up housing options on a regional scale, overcoming one of the systemic problems (resources fragmented across many little jurisdictions) that had been leading to Section 8 housing only being built in the central city. It looks replicable, doesn't come at the expense of revitalization work, and supposedly sidestepped NIMBY opposition. Quite an achievement! This seems like something everyone could get on board with.
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Ian, via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.