Moving Toward Sustainable Residential Integration with Racial Justice and Social Equity.

AuthorLind, Kermit
PositionFair Housing Past, Present, and Future: Perspectives on Moving Toward Integration


Among the outpouring of scholarship upon the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act there have been few publications matching the size, scope, and ambition of Moving Toward Integration: The Past and Future of Fair Housing, the book that is the subject of this symposium. Its three authors cover multiple disciplines--law, economics, sociology, and history. (1) Their perspectives look to both the past and the future. Using data and multi-disciplinary studies, they set out to examine housing desegregation to analyze what fifty years of public fair housing policies have done, and where those policies have been successful. Their thesis, if one can summarize it in a single sentence, is that after fifty years of fair housing law enforcement against housing providers, the future requires a revived and proactive initiative toward metropolitan integration. (2) The authors propose twelve strategies for that task that are likely to be familiar to many practicing housing advocates and observers. (3)

A work of this scale--attempting to revise and restate both the historical record of racial segregation and the discrimination that established and maintains it--presents critics with a large selection of targets. Still, those who have been studying and practicing in the fields of fair housing law, residential integration, and racial equity must humbly accept that racial discrimination and inequity are not moving in the direction we have been pushing for during the past fifty years. We must admit that our optimistic expectations in 1968 stretched well beyond our collective grasp of the reality summed up in the introduction to the Kerner Commission Report: "What white Americans have never fully understood--but what the Negro can never forget--is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it." (4) There is scant evidence that white society has a fuller understanding now. (5)

In a very thoughtful article, University of San Francisco School of Law Professor Tim Iglesias demonstrates that advocates of "residential integration" are still not certain of what we mean by it, and analyzes two competing meanings. (6) New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall asked a number of leading scholars in 2019 to assess the progress of residential and school integration. (7) The scholars' replies pointed out that while studies showed significant benefits resulted from integration, white fear and intransigence frequently limited and undermined the success of residential and school integration initiatives. (8) Walter Mondale, a sponsor of the Federal Fair Housing Act fifty years ago, acknowledges now that the expectations of its proponents were naive and are far from being met. (9) Surely, then, our more optimistic authors have good reason to question the past approach of replacing the prevailing residential segregation by moving African Americans into previously white neighborhoods and communities. (10) Even maintaining residential integration when it occurs in metropolitan contexts dominated by persistent systemic discrimination requires more willpower and commitment than normally seen in the past fifty years. (11)

The question for readers of Moving Toward Integration is whether the authors' prescribed approach is up to the task now, given the present state of experience, knowledge, and general public resistance. This essay responds by offering an alternate approach--one that sees racial integration as part of an emerging, more comprehensive movement toward development of residential communities that are both ecologically and socially sustainable for all, not exclusively for a rich and politically powerful minority. This approach would not measure integration solely in terms of dermatological factors. It would consider the significance of the whole range of societal and cultural elements of life sought in the pursuit of happiness--health, safety, social and economic security, quality of life, and an equal opportunity to access them all. It will prefer the well-being of a residential community over the inequitable individual privileges of a fortunate few. It will be inclusive without demanding uniformity, and diverse without division or marginalization. Sustainable community development can move along different paths toward just and equitable objectives. Development processes will not be the same for every neighborhood, municipality, or region. Equity does not require uniformity. In fact, rigid uniformity may result in inequity.


    As a matter of integrity, I must disclose my perspective in this essay and discuss some of the critical terms I employ. (12) Moreover, I must acknowledge that my own language varies depending on when and where I use it--classroom, courtroom, client consultation, or coffee shop. For the purpose of this essay I am trying to be understood by persons beyond my narrow professorial discipline.

    Community development as a field of study and professional practice is both broad and varied--more like a wildflower-filled meadow than a field with a single crop. As a government department its job description adheres to the highly regulated management and use of funds deployed for public projects and purposes. Private enterprises identifying as community developers by name may be about for-profit or public-interest activities. Community development may be teamed up with other academic or professional practice fields--for instance planning and community development, (13) housing and community development, community and economic development, and here at Case Western Reserve University there is the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development.

    While "development" refers most often to material construction, here it will refer to construction, organization, or change in the realm of non-material social, cultural, or institutional things as well. Development of communities would be an apt example of both or either of those types of development. The term "community" implies or is accompanied by an adjective specifying what common factor identifies membership. "Residential," "neighborhood," "municipality," "county," and "region" are examples of locational identification. "Community" indicates a group with one or more things in common. We designate as communities groups with no physical connection or proximity--for instance, "arts community," "academic or school community," "foodie community," and "conservation community." Ethnic or racial categories may be identified as communities without the possibility of them being aware or interested in communing--the "black community," "white community," and "elderly community," for instance. For the purposes of this essay, community refers to a group, all of whom reside in a specific place, neighborhood, municipality, or maybe a county, but a smaller place than a metropolis or Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area


    After the media's year-long course in the history of slavery in America, it is unlikely that readers will need more than a brief summary of it here. It is sufficient to say that in the four hundred years since 1619 there have been great changes, but not elimination of all the vestiges of race-based discrimination. (14) Derived from the culture of slave ownership of African people, racism remains branded on American history. (15) As Sander, Kucheva, and Zasloff acknowledge, in the fifty years since passage of the Federal Fair Housing Act, the stated objective--to replace residential segregation by race with open and racially integrated communities and neighborhoods--is largely unrealized. (16) Our authors and others confirm that residential integration as measured by census data would require a large proportion of the population to move to generally achieve demographic integration. (17) Thus, the challenge of re-engineering residential racial segregation remains unfinished business for the nation.

    Now, however, there is better understanding of the formidable challenges that loom ahead. It has been widely demonstrated and documented that the Trump administration's policy on fair housing is to generally roll back previous success with residential integration. (18) In addition, a federal government attack occurring against existing policies and programs established to reduce racial injustice and inequity in health, education, labor, economic opportunity, politics, and culture. All of these--the entire fabric of the nation's social and institutional order--are now known to be connected to one another and are crucially related to the prospects for sustainable residential integration. The numerical waning of the middle class that grew steadily after the middle of the twentieth century is accelerating social and cultural separation. Add to this the forecasts of drastic demographic and ecological changes along with increasing tribalism, creating a growing cloud of existential uncertainty. It can rightly be described as a time of dystopia. Yet there are indications of scattered local movements for healing and renewal if we care to look for them.

    One such indicator is the recognition that conditions and prospects for future generations are not good enough and that many of our most trusted institutions have much to answer for as a result of that recognition. The United States can no longer honestly boast of excellence compared to most industrialized countries in virtually all indicators of...

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