Now is the Time to Dig out Segregation at its Roots and Achieve Fair Housing
On September 17, 2018, Tom Angotti wrote the blog post in Shelterforce “Fair Housing at 50: At the Root, It’s Still Race Over Place.”
Agnotti writes about how in 2018, at the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission’s report, that the United States’ cities and towns are still as segregated as they were fifty years ago.
The Kerner Commission’s 1968 report warned that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.” We learned from the Commission that race and not place matters most. Martin Luther King was assassinated that year and there was a clear racial and territorial divide between the Black central cities and their white suburbs.
“The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was signed to induce state and local governments to end residential segregation. There have been modest successes since then, but by and large, segregation and housing discrimination remain. The shape of the territorial divide has morphed and is more complex, with many divides within cities and within suburbs. However, the social and economic disparities behind the spatial divides remain in place.”
Agnotti tells the story of segregation using the town of Hudson, New York as an example. As Hudson became part of the ever-expanding New York metropolitan region and a politically progressive, center for the arts, culture, restaurants and shopping, its main street divides the majority white neighborhood and the majority Black and Latino neighborhood.
The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Obama’s administration issues the long-needed guidelines to “affirmatively further” fair housing. But now President Trump’s admiration is undoing that progress.
Agnotti writes, “And even if they were strongly in place, they would be weak tools that only nudge local governments and the housing and land markets toward racial equality. Priority must be shifted from promoting integration to strategies that will end structural racism in all arenas. These include campaigns such as the “War on Drugs,” which have resulted in the mass incarceration of Black people—the ultimate expression of segregation. And an assault on racism must be coupled with honest discussions of white privilege.”
“The Kerner Commission certainly stretched the limits of discourse on race at that time, but history tells us that segregation is only a symptom. Its roots lie in the violent theft of land by settlers, the basis for our institution of private property, and the violent theft of African people, the basis for slavery, racism, and segregation. It’s time to dig out the roots.”
Tom Angotti is professor emeritus at Hunter College and The Graduate Center at the City University of New York.