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Perspectives on Fair Housing

Perspectives on Fair Housing provides historical, sociological, economic, and legal perspectives on the critical and continuing problem of housing discrimination and offers insight on the tools required to address it.

Perspectives on Fair Housing

Edited by Vincent J. Reina, Wendell E. Pritchett, and Susan M. Wachter. Foreword by Marc Morial

2020 | 240 pages | Cloth $45.00
Public Policy
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Table of Contents

Marc H. Morial

Vincent J. Reina, Wendell E. Pritchett, and Susan M. Wachter

Chapter 1. The Long History of Unfair Housing
Francesca Russello Ammon and Wendell E. Pritchett

Chapter 2. Sociology, Segregation, and the Fair Housing Act
Justin P. Steil and Camille Z. Charles

Chapter 3. Parallel Pathways of Reform: Fair Public Schooling and Housing for Black CitizensAkira Drake Rodriguez and Rand Quinn

Chapter 4. The Economic Importance of Fair Housing
Vincent J. Reina and Raphael Bostic

Chapter 5. The Fair Housing Act's Original Sin: Administrative Discretion and the Persistence of Segregation
Nestor M. Davidson and Eduardo M. Peñalver

Chapter 6. A Queer and Intersectional Approach to Fair Housing
Amy Hillier and Devin Michelle Bunten

List of Contributors

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Vincent J. Reina, Wendell E. Pritchett, and Susan M. Wachter

On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, was the most robust piece of federal legislation aimed at stopping the systemic and severe discriminatory practices that defined the housing market at that time and through the present. This legislation has been crucial to the fight against housing discrimination but has by no means eliminated it. The compounding inequities of historic housing discrimination, and its persistence to this day, present a serious challenge to the future of American society. This book makes the case that fair housing is a critical issue not only for those directly affected by it, but also for society more broadly, and that meaningful government intervention is required to achieve fair housing just as much now as fifty years ago.

The Fair Housing Act, when it was passed in 1968, prohibited discrimination in the sale, rent, and financing of housing based on race, religion, or national origin. Manifold historical and contemporary forces, driven by both governmental and private actors, have segregated these protected classes by denying them access to homeownership or housing options. These forces are all well documented in the first chapter of this book, written by Francesca Russello Ammon and Wendell E. Pritchett. This chapter highlights one of the main themes that runs throughout this book: the fact that residential segregation did not emerge naturally from the benign preferences of the minority. Rather, segregation was forced on them, legally, economically, socially, and even violently.

One tool that has been key to discrimination in the housing market is local land use planning. Ritzdorf and Thomas document the many ways land use regulations and zoning were used to further segregation in their 1997 book Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows. The book shows how cities like Atlanta, Richmond, and Baltimore used racial land use and zoning practices in the early 1900s to establish and reinforce racial segregation and how such practices spread across the country. Explicit racial zoning ordinances were ruled illegal in 1917, but they were replaced with land use practices that, though they were less explicitly racist, would prove just as damaging.

Zoning and land use laws decide what can be built and where. They can easily serve as more subtle means to achieve the same goals as explicit racial zoning. As Orfield (2006: 8) notes, "by prohibiting the development of housing that only the better-off can afford, these local policies effectively exclude the poor and people of color from the places that erect those policy fences." The practice of zoning areas exclusively for single-family housing has both reinforced and advanced segregation across the country, from the invention of zoning in the early 1900s to the present day. This fact is borne out by multiple studies. Richard Rothstein's book The Color of Law documents how land use and zoning laws, even when not explicitly racial, historically established the foundation for racial segregation in housing markets across the country. Using more recent data, Rothwell and Massey (2009) find a significant relationship between today's low-density zoning and segregation; they argue that antidensity zoning inhibits desegregation over time. Rothwell (2011) also finds that antidensity zoning significantly contributed to both the level and the change in segregation between 1990 and 2000 and that a movement to more liberal zoning could decrease racial segregation by as much as 35 percent.

The exclusionary effects of single-family zoning have been compounded by racially motivated barriers to obtaining the credit necessary to purchase a home. Increased attention is now being paid to redlining and its impact on access to homeownership and neighborhood opportunity for nonwhite households. Redlining is the practice of using race and ethnicity as a primary proxy for risk in lending decisions and color-coding maps based on where minority households live so that lenders can make credit decisions based on those boundaries. The Home Ownership Loan Corporation (HOLC) is widely credited for the advent of redlining in the 1930s and 1940s. However, research shows that the race- and ethnicity-based boundaries explicitly drawn in the HOLC maps largely predated them. The HOLC maps reflected the prevailing discrimination in the market and served to further it, but they should not be viewed as the genesis of this deleterious practice (Hillier 2003). For some time, we have known that redlining created a self-fulfilling prophecy that lending in minority areas was riskier, because redlining effectively chilled investment in those neighborhoods (Guttentag and Wachter 1980). However, new forms of data have allowed for a more detailed and longer-term analysis of this impact of this practice. For example, the Mapping Inequality website led efforts to digitize HOLC maps from across the country and make the data accessible to the general public.

Redlining policies reinforced demographic and economic segregation in American cities, and in many cities, the lines drawn unfortunately still correlate with investment levels (Appel and Nickerson 2016). A recent study by Mikhitarian (2019) shows that median home prices in areas that were redlined remain lower than those rated "best" and that only 1 of the 151 areas analyzed was an exception to this rule. The difference in housing prices is the result of historical discrimination that fueled a cycle of underinvestment in minority neighborhoods on the basis of racially justified credit accessibility (Krimmel 2017). These policies, endorsed and facilitated by the federal government, constrained the physical and economic mobility of minority households in ways that still afflict minority communities today. In fact, the same behavior promoted by the HOLC maps took the form of predatory loan products that targeted minority neighborhoods in the housing boom and bust of the 2000s and is reflected in the barriers to accessing credit that minority households face to this day.

Today's challenges in fair housing are not solely a product of flawed government policies and programs. Sociological dynamics have made segregation a pernicious force that evades reform, as documented by Justin P. Steil and Camille Z. Charles in the second chapter of this book. Steil and Charles discuss the "color line" that has divided cities in every area from job access to public services to social relations; the authors also discuss how this physical separation inculcates mistaken beliefs on both sides, reinforcing the suspicion and prejudice that led to the oppression of minorities in the first place. The themes in Chapter 2 provide an important extension to previous research. For example, Cutler, Glaeser, and Vigdor (1999) found that collective action from whites drove segregation for the first half of twentieth century, but since 1990 more decentralized dynamics, such as whites' willingness to pay more to live near other whites, have driven ongoing segregation. Korver-Glenn (2018) conducted an in-depth qualitative study to identify how and when racial stereotypes and discrimination affect a minority household's housing search process. This research shows that minorities are subject to negative racial stereotypes throughout their housing search process, whereas white households benefit from positive ones. Such realities affect whether, and where, a minority household purchases a home, and aggregate to stereotypes and bias being applied to majority minority neighborhoods. The decentralized racist dynamics highlighted by Cutler and colleagues are rooted in the self-reinforcing divisions that Steil and Charles present in this book and are formalized, consciously or unconsciously, in the housing search process.

The second main assertion of this book is that discrimination in the housing market results in unequal outcomes for minority households and, in aggregate, diminishes economic prosperity in American cities and across the country. As shown by Akira Drake Rodriquez and Rand Quinn in Chapter 3, racial inequity in housing has a powerful effect on access to high-performing and safe schools, investments in schools, and educational outcomes. This effect is particularly concerning when we consider that schools are even more segregated by race and income than their surrounding neighborhoods, since the childless households who do not factor school quality into their location decisions tend to represent the more affluent, nonminority portion of overall low-income minority communities (Jargowsky 2016).

When housing markets are fair, individuals have access to better economic opportunity and the ability to build more wealth, as Vincent J. Reina and Raphael Bostic argue in Chapter 4. Absent fair housing, minorities have greater difficulty becoming homeowners and experience lower house price growth. These experiences translate into minority households having persistently lower homeownership rates and significantly lower levels of housing wealth than white households (Acolin, Lin, and Wachter 2019). These economic realities affect rates of minority entrepreneurship and local investment, and then permeate the broader regional economy. Such forms of income and wealth inequality have severe and important macroeconomic implications. Research demonstrates that, relative to whites, black Americans continue to face substantially lower rates of upward mobility—while also experiencing far higher rates of downward mobility (Chetty 2016). This leads to income disparities that fuel the self-reinforcing nature of inequality.

The importance of fair housing is clear, but the best mechanisms to achieve this goal are harder to ascertain. The third main assertion of this book is that at least one thing is certain: government action is required if we want to meaningfully address fair housing. On the most basic level, government action substantively contributed to the current situation of segregation and unequal access to public amenities and economic opportunities, and it is the duty of the government now to correct for that. Second, the pernicious nature of fair housing and the troubling level of inequity make this an issue that the market will not address on its own. Advantage has multiplied upon advantage and disadvantage upon disadvantage, institutionalizing the gap between races.

Fortunately, the law authorizes the federal government to take up this challenge. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination by landlords, lenders, insurance companies, and cities. The law outlawed racial zoning, redlining, and racially restrictive covenants. As highlighted by Nestor M. Davidson and Eduardo M. Peñalver in Chapter 5 of this book, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) also instructed the executive branch to administer all housing-related programs and activities "in a manner affirmatively to further" the dual purpose of the law: to eliminate discrimination and to desegregate communities. Through this law, Congress charged the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with actively reversing segregation. In recent opinions, the Supreme Court has upheld this mandate in the form of disparate impact liability that allows plaintiffs to sue for discriminatory outcomes in the absence of discriminatory intent. This mandate does not appear to be unlimited, so we must interpret and apply it with prudence. HUD's "affirmatively furthering fair housing" initiative under the Obama administration offers one such application, leveraging newly available data to identify programs and policies that contribute to the dual mandate that legislators approved in April 1968.

Recent scholarship has focused on the importance and meaning of the FHA itself. Its continuing relevance stems from its recognition that housing is important for the groups affected and for the greater good. In this book we argue that the FHA is absolutely necessary, but given the myriad of challenges that confront us, it may not be sufficient on its own. That is not a fault of the FHA itself, but a result of the complexity of the problem at hand. While the FHA is the law of the land, its power lies entirely in meaningful enforcement and in programs that further its goals. Under the Obama administration, the FHA saw renewed support, buoyed by a Supreme Court decision that concluded that the act protected not only against direct discrimination, but also against the "disparate impact" of seemingly neutral policies on protected classes. The Obama administration developed a series of tools and incentives for localities to develop meaningful programs and policies that would reduce segregation and "affirmatively further fair housing." Research shows that this mandate indeed motivated municipalities to produce fair housing plans that were more ambitious, involved more community engagements, and had clearer quantifiable goals than previous plans (Steil and Kelly 2019). This mandate is now the subject of litigation as the Trump administration endeavors to roll back the policies set in place by the Obama administration. This sequence of events highlights how political will can, and does, affect the strength of the FHA. On the one hand, the FHA mandate can be realized through programs and policies aimed at advancing its goals; on the other hand, it can exist solely through litigation meant to protect the progress that has been made. In this book we acknowledge the importance of the FHA but embrace a broader focus on the importance of fair housing itself. Fair housing represents a moral, societal, and economic imperative to address the intentional and unintentional oppression that remains ingrained in our system.

The final major point raised in this book is that, though fair housing is often defined as a white-versus-nonwhite phenomenon, discrimination actually goes well beyond race. As Amy Hiller and Devin Michelle Bunten argue in Chapter 6 of this book, discrimination based on sexual identity and orientation is also well documented. When the Fair Housing Act was passed, it protected people based on race, religion, national origin. The act was then amended in 1974 to include gender and again in 1988 to include families with children and people with disabilities. The list of those who fall within the legal category of a protected class must continue to change as our society evolves if our goal is to ensure true equality of opportunity and outcomes for all.

In this volume, we offer distinct perspectives on the topic of fair housing—from historical, sociological, economic, and legal points of view—and show how the importance of fair housing permeates every aspect of our society. We also demonstrate that while we have tools in place to address housing discrimination, we have a long way to go. Fair housing's continuing relevance is driven by the same issues that necessitated the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968: a recognition that the structural prevention of discrimination in housing is necessary to further the greater good in our communities. It may seem, in hindsight, that fifty years is too long to wait for true fairness and integration. Indeed, any time is too long to live with such inequities.

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