Sunday, February 23, 2020

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Article Index

A. White Flight: A Brief History of Segregation and Ghettoization

While our national narrative portrays racial segregation as a closed chapter of an unenlightened past, in reality “segregation continues to characterize the present lives of many minorities in America.” Segregation is a key component of contemporary, on-going urban poverty. Housing segregation and economic inequality continue to keep the country from moving towards “true racial equality.” The areas of the country most overtly defined by the segregation, the legacy of slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, and restrictive housing covenants experience the greatest food struggles today. According to a study conducted by the Food Action Research Center, the Southeast has the country's highest rate of food hardship overall with 21.1 percent. In stark contrast, the same study found rates of food hardship in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to be one-third lower.

Racial segregation did not always characterize U.S. cities in the way it does today. As African-Americans began moving north following World War I and II, federal and local governments began intentionally creating racial segregation through various public projects such as urban renewal, public improvement, and public housing programs, causing the “picture of the urban ghetto . . . to develop.” Local governments adopted racial segregation as a de facto policy. Whites began pouring out of the urban areas and into suburbia in a widespread pattern termed “White flight.” Industry began leaving the urban areas in favor of cheap land and tax incentives. Zoning ordinances, designed to facilitate segregation, separated blocks by race, and restrictive covenants allowed for legally backed racial discrimination and segregation. Urban decay and ghettoization are the clear “result of deliberate housing policies of the federal, state and local governments.”

Historically, the federal government has emerged various policies to create and maintain racial segregation. Since its creation, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) perpetuated discrimination as the “protector of all [W]hite neighborhoods.” The FHA employed “redlining,” a discriminatory practice that diverted mortgage funds away from urban, African-American neighborhoods, and toward borrowers in White, middle-class neighborhoods. From 1930 to 1950, three-fifths of all homes purchased in the United States were backed by the FHA, yet “less than two percent of the FHA loans were made to non-White home buyers.” Federal interstate highway and urban renewal programs further segregated neighborhoods and consumed urban land using eminent domain. The cumulative effect of these policies has made the federal government the “most influential in creating and maintaining residential segregation.” In 1968, the Civil Rights Act made discrimination in housing rentals and sales illegal, but “subtle and explicit” housing discrimination continues.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continues to promulgate and maintain intentionally racist policies, which in turn, ensure the continued segregation of urban communities. Courts have found HUD liable for overtly racist policies in Section Eight administration, selection of public housing sites, and tenant housing procedures. Laws designed to prevent such discrimination have failed to prevent housing inequality, and do not address its underlying structural causes.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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