Friday, May 16, 2008

40 Years Later, a Blueprint for Change

This week, The Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance released its 2008 State of Fair Housing Report for the 6-County region. The report provides statistics on the frequency of discrimination complaints in the Chicago region and a narrative on the structure of segregation and inequality throughout the region.

It also includes a Blueprint for Change that recommends ways to foster integration, improve access to housing options, and promote sustainable development throughout the region.

You can view it here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

40 Years of Fair Housing Ends June 2, 2006

As posted at Infinite Dia(b)logue...

We’re going to make this an open city, because it’s right. We’re going to make it an open city because it’s practical. We’re going to make it an open city because it’s sound economics. We’re going to make it an open city because we’re tired of being humiliated.

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Those were Dr. King’s words 40 years ago when he and Al Raby lead the Chicago Freedom Movement's campaign for open housing, resulting in the establishment of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. In 1966, discrimination was overt and blunt. There were sundown towns, restricted covenants, and other visible actions.

Today more choices are available to minorities in Chicago and the region (although, income tends to be a factor in that equation). However, discrimination still exists. In 2006, discrimination is subtle and sophisticated. Discrimination occurs through the omission of information, linguistic
profiling, and other invisible means.

So, it is with much sadness that I report to you that the Leadership Council will close its doors on June 2. As those doors close, the primary voice for fair housing in the Chicago region will be silenced. Hopefully, others will take up the cause. But, the reason this loss is so great is due to the fact that no other organization has fully embraced the need to overcome segregation in the region.

As I have repeatedly announced here, Chicago is the 5th most segregated region in the country. The pattern of segregation continues through both individual actions and stuctural forces that further the system of containment and sprawl that is modern segregation.

Yet, there has been progress. Much of that progress directly ties to the programs of the Leadership Council. The 40-year legacy of the Council includes landmark lawsuits, advocacy for affirmative public policies, an engagement with the housing industry, and mobility programs that actively increased integration and housing choice in the region.

Despite the successes of the Leadership Council, there is still much to accomplish – much progress yet to make. While the Council and others have had victories in defending the rights of individuals facing discrimination, segregation still exists. Indeed, it exists in even more subtle and divisive ways today than it did in 1966 by including not only race but also income.

Today’s segregation is a segregation of opportunity. Minorities and low to moderate-income persons are largely housed in neighborhoods and communities that have few employment opportunities, poor schools, crumbling infrastructures, and limited transportation networks. Meanwhile, whites and middle and upper-income persons enjoy plentiful job growth, good schools, steady investment, and more abundant transportation choices.

Although the Leadership Council is closing its doors this year, our work as fair housing advocates is not finished. We still need to make this an open region because it’s right, it’s practical, and it’s sound economics. We still need to ensure that no one is humiliated through limitations based upon their race or income. Dr. King’s mission, left to us, has yet to be completed. Who will answer the call now?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Learning about Segregation from Katrina

[Cross posted at Infinite-Diablogue, Fair Housing Action, and TPM Cafe]

The consequences of Hurricane Katrina have provided obvious evidence of an often invisible phenomenon, racial segregation. Rarely talked about in the media, ignored by most whites as a problem that doesn't directly affect them negatively, and supported by political-economic policies, everyone knows our nation's cities are segregated but too few consider it seriously.

The poor response has brought up the question of how race factors in government policies that lead to such consequences and in government response in the wake of crises. These questions need to be asked not only of how they affected the situation surrounding Hurricane Katrina but also of how they affect the daily lives of people, especially minorities, living in all of our cities.

As I have argued previously and the Leadership Council has documented, segregation has created systemic inequalities and structural barriers to community development and personal improvement that continue to encourage a widening socio-economic gap between whites and minorities. This is especially true for African Americans.

Segregation negatively affects minorities in many ways. Economically, poverty is concentrated in minority neighborhoods thus, severely limiting the fiscal capacity of predominantly minority municipalities and the infrastructure in predominantly minority neighborhoods. That results in poorer schools, libraries, and public spaces; fewer services such as police, fire, and garbage; lower qualities of life including limited transportation options on more antiquated networks, less green space, more heavy industry, and fewer child care options; and reduced civic participation caused by (understandable) cynicism and despair.

As shown here at SUNY Albany's Lewis Mumford Center web site, New Orleans ranks as the 33rd most segregated city in the United States. Its black/white dissimilarity score is 69 -- meaning 69% of all whites and blacks would have to move in order to create a fully integrated city. Full integration does not mean equal percentages of each group. It means that percentages of each group for each census tract (typically larger in area than neighborhoods) will be similar to the region's average racial percentages.

Hurricane Katrina has shown just how stark a dissimilarity score of 69 is. Obviously, 32 Cities are more segregated than New Orleans include large, medium, and small cities such as:

1. Detroit, MI (85) [16 points higher than New Orleans]
4. New York, NY (82) [+13]
5. Chicago, IL (81) [+12]
14. Benton Harbor, MI (74) [+5]
17. Kankakee, IL (73) [+4]
24. Fort Wayne, IN (71) [+2]
30. Dayton, OH (70) [+1]
31. Johnstown, PA (70) [+1]

Clearly, there's not only a crisis in New Orleans. There is a crisis of racial relations in almost every city in America, especially east of the Mississippi River. For the most part, blacks and whites are not living together. And, they are not experiencing the same America. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. A serious and heartfelt discussion about race, racial inequality, and racial segregation in America could provide one positive result from this terrible disaster.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Change in Scope

Race and Place is now Housing Policy. The blog will venture outside of fair housing policy and include policy regarding affordable housing, tenants' rights, sustainable development, and other housing advocacy topics. For a specialized fair housing site see the Fair Housing Action Blog.

I have also recruited contributors who have more experience in the new subject areas. Because this is still a Blogspot blog, we don't have the option of categories. But, if Blogspot incorporates them we will definitely include them in the future to allow for topical searches.

The contributors will hail mostly from the Chicago area. So, a Chicago or Illinois perspective might show up. Likely, many of the examples will use Chicago data. However, the primary aim is still to address federal housing policies providing reliable, reasonable, and respectable comments and news.

Expect some updates to the links on the right and a steadier stream of entries by the end of September as contributors increase.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Might Make a Difference

You can write in to Senate Democrats and tell them what you would ask John Roberts. I'm guessing they're looking for simpler questions but mine was:

In much of America, structural inequality directly and indirectly frustrates the rights of individuals. For example, in many metropolitan regions, patterns of racial and ethnic segregation create a structural barrier to community development and personal improvement including access to quality education, employment, and government services. These patterns did not appear out of thin air. Individuals and governments shaped these patterns over decades. The federal Fair Housing Act and Amendments of 1988 (as well as the Community Reinvestment Act of 1973 and other federal laws) requires the federal, state, and local governments to affirmatively further fair housing. Yet, governments at all levels do not seriously engage in affirmative measures. One response to this is to bring cases against governments charging them with policies and practices that have disproportionately negative effects on minorities, families, and persons with disabilities. Given that the facts of a case proved a government did have a policy with a disparate impact on protected persons, what is your opinion of whether federal law allows for such a lawsuit where an individual sues a government for structural inequality that leads to restrictions on individual rights?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Familial Status is a Protected Class

[Cross posted at Infinite Diablogue]

David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy tries to understand fair housing law regarding advertising. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt about his argument since he doesn't clearly state it. He thinks he's making a logical argument by pointing out that, for instance, professionals and non-professionals are not protected by the Fair Housing Act.

He complains it should be okay to have ads seeking professionals, students, or stating a preference for a number of people. I'll quote his complaint:

Is it illegal to discriminate against non-professionals? non-Northeastern students? people who like to sleep one in a bed? loud partiers? I suppose these are supposed to be "code words" for discriminatory classfications, but you'd have to be smarter than I am to figure out what, as it strikes me that professionals, partiers, medical workers, etc., come from all groups.

The problem is that he doesn't take into account who is excluded by these descriptions. Using the terms "professionals" is often used as code to deny housing to families with children. The same goes for "students." Both could violate local laws that protect seniors as well.

In an ad he cites advertising a four bedroom place great for 4 or 5 people, the exclusion here is families with children again. HUD operates on a general consideration that 2 persons per bedroom is a reasonable occupancy standard. That would mean up to eight people could live in the unit. Limiting the occupancy to 5 people would exclude families with 6 to 8 persons.

Few people know that the Act protects families with children. It has since 1988 when the Act was amended to include families with children and persons with disabilities.

He complains about a couple other things as well, including wondering why he can't give out racial demographics to prospective renters. This really has to do more with steering people into segregated neighborhoods. The are a number of cases where real estate agents and property owners steered people by race (and other protected classes) into different neighborhoods or buildings. Thus, real estate agents and landlords are discouraged from giving out this type of information.

Bernstein, like many others, seems to be of the mind that discrimination doesn't really occur much anymore. But, it does occur often. In 2000, HUD found that discrimination occurred in 20% of housing transactions by African Americans and Latinos throughout the Chicago region. (And, this is a low estimate based on the protocols of the research survey. I worked on the survey in Chicago and Albuquerque. It did not include incidents where a minority person did not get a call back from a housing provider but a white person did get a call. It also tested for discrimination against African Americans in predominantly African American neighborhoods and against Latinos in predominantly Latino neighborhoods. Both practices lowered the rate of measured discrimination.)

Nationally, In 2004, there were 27,319 complaints of housing discrimination filed with non-profit fair housing centers, HUD, and DOJ. Of these complaints 31% were for disability, 26% were race, 13% familial status, 12% national origin, 6% sex, 2% religion, 1% color, 9% other local protected classes (sexual orientation, source of income, marital status, etc.)

Meanwhile, racial and ethnic segregation continues to be a dominant housing pattern, especially throughout cities east of the Mississippi River. These patterns cannot be accounted for simply by considering economics. (i.e. suburban Atlanta)

There has been progress. But, it isn't as though discrimination is gone or even minimal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

[Cross posted at Infinite Dia(b)logue.]

This is an update of something I wrote almost a year ago. Anyway, HUD is probably going to try and implement some changes to the voucher program which will hurt those who have vouchers and the housing authorities that issue them.

By the way, the waiting list for a voucher in Chicago has 9,756 names on it. The list has been closed for years. No new vouchers have been issued during the period it has been closed (other than those mandated by the loss of site-based Section 8 units).

The changes are similar to what Secretary Alphonso wrote about in his op-ed piece last August.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson has written an opinion piece in today's Times. The Times should be ashamed of allowing such propaganda to be spilled on their pages. Examples of the lies, er, inaccurate statements:

1. Jackson blames the need to fund Section 8 vouchers as a cause for cutting the National Science Foundation. Really? Is there some sort of actual accounting that can prove this? I'll bet that I could make a similar claim that increased defense spending caused the NSF cuts. Besides, when has the Bush administration cared about science anyway? They consistently do the opposite of what scientific consensus proposes, i.e. the EPA report on lower Manhattan after 9/11, global warming, arsenic levels, etc.

2. Jackson states, "Over the past few years, most rental markets have softened and vacancy rates are the highest in decades." Census data proves his statement is wrong. The vacancy rates for 1990 and 2000 are as follows:

1990 (US population 248,709,873; MSA population 192,725,741):
% Vacant Unit of all US Housing Units - 10.09% (10,424,540 vacant units)
% Vacant Units of all MSA Housing Units - 8.22% (6,379,049 vacant units)
% Vacant Units per US Population - 4.15%
% Vacant Units per MSA population -3.31%

2000 (US population 281,421,906; MSA population 229,192,868):
% Vacant Unit of all US Housing Units - 8.99% (10,424,540 vacant units)
% Vacant Units of all MSA Housing Units - 7.21% (6,637,067 vacant units)
% Vacant Units per US Population - 3.70%
% Vacant Units per MSA population - 2.90%

Clearly vacancy rates have tightened in the last ten years. All the information is available via the American Factfinder website.

3. Jackson also claims that if Sec. 8 vouchers could be more flexible (that they did not require a certain fixed payment) that housing authorities would be able to help more people. To support his claim he compares the average rent with the average Sec. 8 paid rent in one zip code for Washington, DC (20020) Jackson ignores some critical factors in this scenario.

a. 20020 is not exactly the average neighborhood for the US or MSAs. It's 96% African American. And in 2000, the median rent asked was $504. These rent figures change quickly over time so 2004 could be higher as he states. Still, the average rent in DC as a whole was $518 in 2000. Maybe it has gone up as well. For the DC Urban Area it was $713. Shouldn't Sec. 8 holders be allowed to rent anywhere in the region? If the voucher is flexible, and the HUD budget is decreased (as proposed by the Bush administration), housing authorities will feel pressure to lower the value of the voucher. This will perpetuate concentrations of poverty and, in most urban areas, patterns of racial segregation.

b. Sec. 8 voucher holders often need to show they can pay more than average rent because of the stigma associated with the voucher. This stigma is informed by prejudices based on race, class, disability, and familial status (presence of children) among other ignorant considerations. If Jackson was serious he'd advocate for legislation that prohibited landlords from refusing a tenant based on their Sec. 8 status. Currently, most municipalities allow landlords to refuse someone with a voucher.

c. In most cities and regions, HUD's "fair market rent" (FMR) is lower than the average rent asked for vacant units. In Chicago, FMRs are actually decreasing for three and four-bedroom units. Meanwhile the housing market is booming and more expensive than ever. HUD uses a random dialing technique to determine FMRs. It is woefully inadequate in its implementation and its sample size.

4. Housing Authorities would be freer to deny mobility moves (to higher-opportunity areas) or portability moves (from one housing authority to another) because of the increased cost. This would likely be in direct conflict with the Fair Housing Act and HUD's duty to affirmatively further fair housing in all of its programs.

5. Jackson states that Section 8 has grown from 36% of the HUD budget to over 50%. He doesn't state that many other programs in HUD's budget have been cut or eliminated. (This includes money for fair housing by the way.) And, he doesn't;t explain that federal policy has been to decrease public housing and place-based subsidized housing and use vouchers in their place.

6. There are other dumb statements. Jackson points out that the voucher regulations are 120 pages. This is a small number of pages for a federal regulation but people think it sounds big so he put it in there.

The official press release from HUD is here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: The 21st Century Challenge

Depending on who you ask, a little or a lot has been accomplished since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Either way, enforcement of the rights of individuals to choose where they live has been the primary focus of private fair housing groups. This has made sense given that discrimination has continued ocurring and that the few sources of funding for fair housing focus on enforcement of the law. Private fair housing centers and government agencies still receive thousands of complaints each year. And, federal funding for fair housing is much larger for enforcement than for education and outreach.

In May, the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities published a report that showed the extremely high correlation between race and opportunity in the Chicago region. The Segregation of Opportunities found that despite improvements in minorities' access to housing in area communities and reduced housing discrimination, stark racial and economic disparities persist in the distribution of access to opportunities across the Chicago region. The study measured a variety of opportunity factors at the municipal level, including strength of the local tax base, quality of schools, access to jobs and transportation, and other quality of life issues as compared to region-wide averages and the extent to which opportunities are accessible to people from various socioeconomic groups, specifically race and income. All of the municipalities in the region were placed into one of five classes from highest to lowest opportunities. 94% of Black residents and 83% of Latino residents lived in either the low or lowest opportunity areas.

This followed a report in January that showed how little local suburban governments were doing to enforce fair housing or promote their communities affirmatively. Of the 271 suburban municipalities, fewer than a dozen made strong efforts to maintain an open and inclusive community.

Given this information, it seems like the time has come to rethink our priorities in the fight for fair housing. Certainly, enforcement of individuals' rights must remain a primary concern. But, promotion of affirmative measures needs more attention in most of the country. The Midwest is in the most dire need of this type of fair housing advocacy. Midwestern cities dominate the segregation index top 50.

In Chicago (#5 on the list), it could be argued that the issue of housing choice is more about individual perceptions and governmental efforts than about housing industry practices. Discrimination by real estate agents, landlords, lenders, and insurance agents still occurs. But, what might be an even bigger contributing factor to the perpetuation of segregation is the absence of affirmative measures by municipalities in the region. The dearth of affirmative programs is evidence that municipalities are either promoting or ignoring prevailing perceptions of exclusivity in the region. If a suburb that is 95% white does nothing to promote itself affirmatively, it is essentially maintaining regional segregation patterns.

These perceptions are important because they impact which communities minorities will even consider. Most people don't want a hassle. And, finding a placeto live is a stressful undertaking in the best of circumstances. So, when people at risk for discrimination think about buying or renting a home they either conciously or subconsiously steer clear of places that they feel will involve anything from discouragement to harassment. The most effective way to counter this problem is to persuade municipalities to affirmatively further fair housing in their communities. Until this occurs, choices will continue to be limited from the start.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Disparate Impact in the Lending Industry

It is well documented that minorities, especially African Americans, receive sub-prime loans more often than whites regardless of income. Some studies documenting this phenomenon are here, here, and here.

While there has been much study and discussion of this problem, there has been little in the way of enforcing lenders to provide prime loans to African American and other minority borrowers. Primarily, this seems to be due to the idea that mortgage underwriting is a neutral practice that only takes into account the financial health of a borrower.

This reminds me of the arguments made by the insurance industry defending their policies from discrimination lawsuits in the 1990s. Many African Americans were not offered the most comprehensive and safe type of homeowners insurance -- guaranteed replacement cost insurance -- nor were they offered the next best insurance -- replacement cost insurance. Instead, African Americans were disproportionately offered market value insurance on their homes.

Market value policies do not cover a homeowner as completely as replacement policies do. They offer the market value for losses instead of replacements. And, the values of market value policies are less the values of replacement cost policies in most places. For instance, in Toledo a home in an African American neighborhood in the 1990s could be purchased for, say, $60,000. But, it would cost approximately $100,000 to replace it if it burned to the ground. African Americans were only offered market value policies because insurance companies wouldn't give replacement cost policies to homes with that large a difference between the two values. Often these differing values were (are) due to segregation and stereotypes. It was found in case after case (most of which settled out of court) that this "neutral" practice had a disproportionate effect on African Americans. Thus, the policies violated the Fair Housing Act.

Today, the lending industry works in a similar manner. The lending industry claims that it has neutral criteria to determine what type of loan can be offered to borrowers. Yet, African Americans are disproportionately offered sub-prime loans. A big part of this has to do with credit scoring. African Americans disproportionately score worse than whites. Consequently, they are offered sub-prime loans instead of prime loans. There is anecdotal evidence that lenders also tend to counsel white borrowers about their options (waiting to clean up their credit, finding more money to pay up front, etc.) more often than they counsel African Americans.

It seems plain as day to me that the lending industry is negatively affecting African Americans with theses policies. And, that this disparate impact is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. We just need to provide the cases to take to court.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Interest Only Loans, Gentrification, and Diversity

The Washington Post reports that over 1/3 of the loans in the DC area are interest-only loans. Within the District, the rate is over half.

My guess is that this isn't only happening in Washington. Most of the larger MSAs in the country are witnessing extremely rapid increases in home values. Here in Chicago, the median home price is $243,800 (according to the National Association of Realtors). That is a far cry from the median home price in areas near the lake and/or north of the Loop. In Uptown, which used to be known as a very affordable area of Chicago, the median price has increased over 80% in five years to $511,000.

This change in median value out-paces the income increases by a wide margin. One would be hard pressed to find someone who got 15-20% raises each of the last five years. Thus, housing is less affordable on the whole. It's unclear if the response has been the interest-only loan or if the interest-only loan has promoted these rapid increases.

In either case, this is yet another hurdle for African Americans and Latinos in the Chicago region. Not only are these groups disproportionately likely to have lower incomes, they are also more likely to be denied a mortgage or receive a sub-prime mortgage than whites or Asians.

Traditionally, Uptown has been an entrepot community area for low-income and minority immigrants to Chicago. It hosts numerous social service agencies and advocacy groups. And, it has the City's best Aldermanic friend to affordable housing development. Yet, despite all these forces for affordability, gentrification continues to roll through.

There are really only four community areas in the city that approximate the City's actual racial demographics. Uptown is one of them. The other three are Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Hyde Park. Three in the northeast corner of the city and one on the south side. Hyde Park is almost entirely due to the University of Chicago being located there. Activism is a much more important factor in the northeast. Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Uptown are diverse because the residents there fight hard to maintain that diversity. While this has not entirely clashed with gentrification efforts, the forces for gentrifcation and forces for diversity do not mesh well. Seeing that Chicago already consistently ranks in the top 5 of the most segregated regions in the nation, if gentrification ends up "whitifying" Uptown and the northeast it would be a very bad sign for the city and region.

2010 will be a very telling census.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


This is a new blog that will dedicate itself to discussions of fair housing. Fair housing is a set of laws and policies that aim to eliminate discrimination and segregation. Federally, the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) and its amendments (added in 1988) protect persons from discrimination and proposes to reduce segregation on the basis of seven protected classes:

Race (i.e. Black, Asian, etc.)
Color (skin tone)
Religion (any religion)
National Origin (i.e. Latino, Middle Eastern, etc.)
Sex (gender)
Familial Status (presence of children under 18)
Disability (mental or physical)

Many states, counties, and cities have added protected classes including age, marital status, sexual orientation, and source of income. And, there are other laws that address prejudice and/or fair housing.

Traditionally, housing in the United States has been segregated. As this table shows, metropolitan areas in the Midwest are generally the most highly segregated. MSAs and MSAs in the Southwest are the least segregated in general. However, segregation also generally increases as the numbers and percentages of African Americans within an MSA increases.

The entries here will consist of analyses, observations, commentaries, and links to items of interest regarding fair housing.