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Session Recap: Racial Wealth Disparities and Housing Policy

November 10, 2014 12:12 PM

By Sarah Momilani Marshall, University of Hawaii-Manoa

During the Racial Wealth Disparities and Housing Policy roundtable session, many concerns were discussed regarding the current condition of segregation and discrimination in America’s housing policy and its neighborhoods. In light of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the first questions posed was “Have we seen improvements in racial segregation in housing policy over the last 50 years?” and one of the final questions posed was, “Why should we care?”

The panelists, who included Michael Stoll, University of California, Los Angeles; Raphael Bostic, University of Southern California; Ingrid Gould Ellen, New York University; and Darrick Hamilton, The New School for Public Engagement, agreed that there have been steady reductions in black / white neighborhood segregation over the past 50 year. The changes have been slow and not substantial enough to declare that America has racially integrated neighborhoods; there has been virtually no change in Hispanic / white segregation or Asian / white segregation. In neighborhoods that have seen greater integration, it has primarily been a situation of white gentrification, where segregation seems to be driven by white households being unwilling to move into certain neighborhoods they perceive as undesirable. Almost all racial groups express a desire for de-segregated neighborhoods, but the challenge has been in disparate definitions of acceptable integration – 50/50 percent or 20/80 percent, and so on.

Persistent discrimination still exists within housing policy as well, mostly notably in mortgage lending, and significant challenges remain in achieving racial equality in homeownership. Homeownership has become almost a measure of wealth, and as an indicator of equality and wealth, improvements among minority homeownership has not been significant. One of the main consequences of this persistent segregation and discrimination is a systemic re-enforcement of separate and unequal opportunities for different neighborhoods.

According to the opinion of the panelists, policy efforts should be focused on increasing access to capital and other financial resources as this is one of the only ways to secure capital-generating, capital-accruing assets such as homeownership. Policy makers need to focus efforts on expanding the range of financial choices that are currently available to minorities, increasing financial literacy and minority home ownership, continue reinforcing anti-discrimination laws, and continue striving for greater integration of neighborhoods.


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