The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in connection with the sale or rental of residential housing. Not long after the enactment of the 1968 legislation, however, fair housing advocates recognized the shortcomings of the statute. The original administrative enforcement mechanism was limited to conciliation, a process encouraging voluntary compliance that the real estate industry largely ignored. Congress eventually became aware of these failings. In 1988, a comprehensive overhaul of the Fair Housing Act was enacted. Despite the enhanced enforcement mechanisms that the 1988 Amendments added, discriminatory practices are pervasive in the nation's housing markets. African American families do not enjoy the residential options that are available to white families with similar incomes and credit histories.

A Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report, based on data derived from matched pair tests conducted over several months, found that African American homebuyers and renters continue to encounter discrimination in the nation's housing markets. White homebuyers were favored over blacks in 17% of tests. White homebuyers were more likely to be allowed to inspect houses and to be shown homes in more predominantly white neighborhoods than similarly situated blacks. Whites also received more information about financing than comparable black homebuyers.

In a 2002 survey, researchers found that while housing discrimination declined, it still exists at high levels. In rental and sales markets in metropolitan areas nationwide, black and Hispanic home seekers experienced significant levels of adverse treatment, compared to similarly situated white homes seekers. The extent to which whites were consistently favored over blacks was 17%. Blacks experienced adverse treatment, compared to equally qualified whites, about half the times that they visited real estate or rental offices to inquire about the availability of housing advertised in the major metropolitan newspaper.

Showing black and white buyers homes in different neighborhoods is referred to as steering. It is driven by real estate agents' assumption that whites will not want to live in neighborhoods with more than a token number of minority residents. This unlawful practice is widespread and researchers have found that real estate agents are now using schools as a proxy for race. White home seekers were discouraged from considering homes in racially mixed neighborhoods on the grounds that the local schools were bad. This was a coded message which meant the schools had high minority enrollments. The researchers also found that neighborhoods from which whites were steered were recommended favorably to African American and Latino purchasers.

Studies have consistently shown that whites will desert neighborhoods when they reach a tipping point and become too black. This was confirmed more recently in Tipping and the Dynamics of Segregation, where the authors found strong evidence that white flight occurred in most cities when neighborhoods reached tipping points ranging from 5% to 20% minority populations. In Dynamic Models of Segregation, Thomas Schelling showed that extreme segregation can arise from social interactions and white preferences.

White flight is fueled by the perception that the presence of African Americans in a neighborhood causes property values to decline. This belief is driven by stereotypes, overt bias, and unconscious discrimination. Polling data indicates that most whites believe residential segregation reflects the preferences of African Americans. However, the empirical evidence rebuts these claims. Kryson and Farley found that African Americans prefer mixed communities in which the racial balance is 50% white and 50% black.

A great deal of progress has been made over the last 40 years, but high levels of residential segregation persist. A study using census data from 2005-2009 determined that progress toward housing integration came to a halt during the first decade of the 21st century. The data showed that the average white person lives in a neighborhood that is 77% white. The average African American resides in a neighborhood that is majority black. African Americans are the most segregated minority, followed by Hispanics and Asians.

Social scientists measure neighborhood segregation using an index of dissimilarity. This calculates how evenly different racial groups are distributed across metropolitan areas. The lowest possible value, zero, indicates that the percentage of each racial group in every neighborhood is the same as their overall percentage in the metropolitan area. For example, if African Americans constitute 20% of the population in a metropolitan area, a zero on the index means blacks are 20% of the population in each neighborhood. The highest value, 100, indicates that racial groups reside in completely different neighborhoods.

An index of 60 or higher denotes high levels of segregation. A neighborhood with an index of 30 or lower is considered integrated. By this measure, black-white segregation averaged 65.2 in 2000 and 62.7 in 2009. Hispanic-white segregation was 51.6 in 2000 and is currently 50. Asian-white segregation has grown from 42.1 to 45.9. This was a nationwide measure. The levels of segregation in many of America's largest cities are much higher.


Between 1970 and 1995, 7 million blacks moved to suburban communities. This number is considerably larger than the 4.5 million blacks who moved from the South to the North during the great migration that took place during the first half of the 20th century. The movement of middle-class blacks to suburban communities has contributed to cultural and spatial divisions within the black population. In the mid-1970s, more than 60% of blacks lived in cities in which the population was greater than 50,000. Only 7.3% of the African American population lived in suburban communities. By the mid-2000s, the proportion of blacks living in suburban areas increased to nearly 30%. The numbers living in cities declined to approximately 30%.

However, many suburban blacks live in older, inner-ring suburbs that are less affluent, less white, and have higher levels of crime and social disorganization than suburban communities where comparable whites reside. Blacks live in neighborhoods that are, on average, 15 to 20% less affluent than other groups with a comparable status. Middle-class and affluent blacks in the most segregated U.S. cities live in areas with substantially more whites than their poor, inner-city counterparts. The suburban areas where middle-class and affluent blacks live are significantly less white and less affluent than their white counterparts.

Despite increased economic opportunities and Fair Housing laws, there are still high levels of residential segregation. Middle-class blacks who live in racially mixed neighborhoods tend to have higher levels of education and income than their white neighbors. However, blacks in the higher socioeconomic category (those in the top fifth) were more integrated than blacks in lower socioeconomic categories. Blacks in the higher income category have more white neighbors, fewer poor neighbors, and they reside in neighborhoods with higher housing values.

In Black Picket Fences, Patillo-McCoy studied a black, middle-class neighborhood located adjacent to the south side of Chicago. Her book chronicles the evolution of Groveland a fictional name for a neighborhood that Patillo-McCoy studied for three and one-half years. Her focus was the interplay between race, class, and structural inequality in black communities. As blacks entered Groveland during the 1950s and 60s, whites quietly moved out. Within a few years the neighborhood became entirely black. The residents were a mix of college educated professionals and unionized factory workers with good salaries and benefits. Some of the men worked two jobs to support their families. The residents maintained their homes and manicured their lawns. They attended neighborhood churches and created civic and social organizations for themselves and their children.

As time went on, the neighborhood took on a black identity. As white merchants moved out, black entrepreneurs moved in. At the intersection of one of the main thoroughfares in Groveland, one corner was occupied by a branch of a Chicago bank that served that neighborhood's more affluent residents. Across the street, a check cashing service catered to lower-income residents. Another corner was occupied by a black-owned service station. A soul food restaurant was located on the other corner.

As the children of the Grovelanders grew up, many were unable to replicate their parents' middle-class status. Some did not attend college at all. Others enrolled, but dropped out before finishing. Several second generation Grovelanders continued to reside in the parents' homes into their adulthood. Some of the young women bore children out of wedlock. Others returned to their parent's homes with children after divorcing their spouses; intergenerational households were not uncommon.

The high-paying factory jobs that supported the pioneering black families slowly disappeared as a result of automation and globalization. When the second generation Grovelanders' inherited their deceased parents' homes, some could not afford to maintain them. Some of the homes fell into a state of disrepair. Others were rented to outsiders; some of the second generation residents were lured into the world of drug and crime. Their presence was tolerated because the neighbors had known them as children. Eventually the neighborhood became the home of one Chicago's most notorious gangs. In the end, Groveland became a mix of middle, working class, and low-income occupants. It was not as crime-ridden and impoverished as most of Chicago's inner city neighborhoods, but it was not like white, middle-class communities.