Monday, March 31, 2008

Fair Housing 40-year first step?

By Eavon Lee Mobley, Managing Editor at the Kirwan Institute

I can remember the first thing my daughter said upon coming home from the first day of school in the third grade. We had just moved back to Ohio from Michigan and were staying with family in Dublin. We had lived for 5 years in Michigan while their father attended the seminary studying to become a minister. Many racial and ethnic groups from the USA and around the world were represented in the community at the seminary and the university. We lived our lives day to day in a racially and ethnically diverse community. Our community was there for the common goal of education, and our life experiences were intertwined. But it was an artificial atmosphere. It was a reality separate from mainstream society in the USA. How do I know that? From what my daughter said to me after her first day of class in Dublin: “All the kids in school are white, Mom.”

That was 20 years ago. And the complexion of Dublin has changed very little.
Dublin’s racial homogeneity is a result of racial bias in mortgage and housing markets from the 1940s through the 1960s that limited entry for non-white populations. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 lifted these barriers by requiring the government to protect the freedom of individuals to choose where they wanted to live. However, this protection did not guarantee that communities would become integrated, as we can see from looking at examples of communities like Dublin. And then the Supreme Court Milliken decision in 1974 that exempted the suburban schools from desegregation orders increased white flight from urban areas to the suburbs like Dublin.

So what were my choices then and even now to live in an integrated community? Limited. I could choose the community that would offer good schools, public services, and jobs but it would be far from integrated and in all probability predominately white. Even my desire to live in an integrated community was not enough for me to decide to give up living in a community of opportunity and move to a community of less opportunity. No one chooses to live in a community of little opportunity unless either they have no other choice or other benefits of staying outweigh the complications of leaving.
I was reading a Columbia Law Review note by Brian Patrick Larkin on the Fair Housing Act ( that I found very insightful. It’s called the Fair Housing Act the 40-year first step. The first step allowed for freedom of choice. What are the next steps to achieve “fair housing”? Fair housing should not be just about moving people to communities of opportunity; it should be about equity, about creating communities of opportunity in places currently suffering from disinvestment. The act, according to Larkin’s note, was intended to be supplemented by policies that addressed segregation and inequality in our communities but these policies were not enacted. These policies are critical in order to achieve these goals of desegregation and equality.

So here we are at the 40 year anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. What is the next step? How do we enact the policies necessary to achieve fair housing and create communities of opportunity so that we don’t wander aimlessly for another 40 years?

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