Scholars have debated for decades whether America's fair housing laws are effective in reducing racial segregation and helping to address inequality in the United States. In their new book Moving toward Integration: The Past and Future of Fair Housing (Harvard University Press), Richard H. Sander, Yana A. Kucheva and Jonathan M. Zasloff provide the first comprehensive analysis of American housing segregation. They explain why segregation has been resilient even in an increasingly diverse and tolerant society, and demonstrate how public policy can align with demographic trends to achieve broad housing integration within a generation.
Sander is a professor at UCLA School of Law, an economist and an expert on race, housing and affirmative action. Kucheva is a professor of sociology at City College of New York who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA and served as a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. Zasloff is a professor at UCLA Law and a former senior policy advisor to the Speaker of the California Assembly who focuses on the response of public institutions to social problems. Sander answered questions about the book, integration of American cities and fair housing policy.
Why did you write Moving toward Integration?
First, because we think we have figured out a cost-effective path to greatly improving black outcomes in urban America. Second, because Yana, Jonathan and I realized that existing work on segregation and fair housing was conducted within a series of silos – sociology, economics, law and litigation – that largely ignored one another. We wanted to create a synthesis, and found that the whole taught us much more than the sum of the parts. Third, there is a shortage of objective, empirically-driven work that takes a big-picture look at race in America, and our book strives to be all those things.
Moving toward Integration argues that reducing residential segregation is the best way to reduce racial inequality in the United States. Why do African-Americans benefit so dramatically from integrated cities?
Well, the benefits are clearly huge. Housing segregation is commonly measured on a 100-point "index of dissimilarity." In many major urban areas, like New York and Chicago, the black-white index is over 80, which is quite intense segregation. In areas where the index is even 20 points lower – places like Seattle, San Antonio, or San Diego -- the black-white gap in youth unemployment falls by three-quarters; black-white earnings gaps fall by more than half; test-score gaps fall by more than a quarter; and even the black-white mortality gap falls by two-thirds. What causes so much convergence? Basically, lowering segregation lowers every type of disadvantage that black people experience: it provides access to better schools, puts black adults closer to jobs and good health care, and generally just lowers the average person's awareness of race as a fundamental divider in society.
The landmark Fair Housing Act was signed into law 50 years ago. What consequences did fair housing legislation have for integrating American society? What were its successes and failures?
On the whole, we think the FHA was a remarkable (but unheralded) success. Its direct goal was to reduce housing discrimination against African-Americans, and the best available metrics suggest that discrimination rates fell by more than two-thirds in the decade after the act's passage. Everywhere in the U.S., black mobility into white neighborhoods sharply increased. But the rub is that in most cities, black migration went into a relative handful of neighborhoods that often resegregated. Only in urban areas where a special mix of demographic ingredients existed was black migration dispersed enough to set off a self-reinforcing cycle of wider and wider integration.
Moving toward Integration notes that liberals tend to emphasize "discrimination" and "racism" as explanations for continued segregation, while conservatives usually accentuate the role of "personal preferences" and "self-segregation" while making a case against government social engineering of neighborhoods. Why do you believe those factors are less important than is often supposed in explaining ongoing segregation?
While housing discrimination still exists, Chicago and New York today have much less discrimination than places like San Diego and Seattle did when they began to experience widespread integration. And whites not only express dramatically more tolerant attitudes about integration today; they also move into heavily minority areas at steadily increasing rates. So "discrimination" and "racism" do not explain much by themselves. The "preferences" theories – that blacks and whites prefer segregated communities – don't explain why, in the less segregated urban areas, integrated neighborhoods are highly stable. The number of people in even the most segregated areas who say they would like to live in integrated communities greatly exceeds the number of such communities. The evolution of urban areas shows that whenever a critical mass of integrated communities arise in a metro area, integration becomes self-sustaining. So the challenge is getting to that critical mass in more metro areas.
What specific policy solutions do you recommend to further integrate housing? Why do you support light-touch incentives and information to promote integration while strongly opposing forced integration policies?
In the book, we lay out a dozen detailed strategies, and we work out the costs and implementation process in fairly specific terms. We think one can lower the black-white dissimilarity index by 20 points in our segregated urban areas – and thus get the various positive cycles we describe underway – at a fraction of the cost of many current social welfare programs. Here are two examples. In gentrifying neighborhoods, we suggest that a good deal of existing moderate-rent housing be put into housing trusts that would preserve enough affordability to sustain both racial and economic integration in places like Harlem and Chicago's near West Side. Next, establishing high-quality housing counseling services has proven a very effective way to help families envision a wider "geography of opportunity" when they change apartments or homes. Housing counselors can help households that want more integrated housing to actually find it, and can help smooth the path of moving into a new area. In both these strategies, and several others we examine, a key idea is to take advantage of existing market forces and nudge them in the direction of integration.