Forty-seven years after the Fair Housing Act’s passage, the federal government is taking measures to promote integration nationwide. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will soon issue its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule requiring municipalities to routinely look at their data, own up to racial/ethnic inequities in their communities, and take corrective action.
In New York City, as officials scurry to build 80,00 affordable rental units and solve an affordability crisis, we must ask two questions: Is integration really still a relevant goal for NYC? Can’t we assume that gentrification and revitalization will lead to integration?
New York City is home of the most diverse population in the world; 37 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born. Recent data analysis shows that our neighborhoods are undergoing rapid change are gradually becoming more integrated.
After walking every block in the city, William Helmreich, CUNY sociologist and author of The New York Nobody Knows, concludes that, “in the long run, I do think assimilation will be the case.” He cautions though, that differences in socioeconomic backgrounds, educations, social preferences and lifestyles “aren’t automatically solved by just moving someone into mixed-income housing.”
An analysis of recent census data by NYU’s Furman Center illustrates these differences. White households are the most concentrated of all racial/ethnic groups and their neighborhoods “have, on average, the highest income, share of college educated residents, and home ownership rates.” Those in 80-percent minority neighborhoods occupy the opposite end of the spectrum.
In a recent essay on what she calls the conundrum of integration politics, Mary Pattillo, Northwestern University sociologist, writes, “Integration is a strategy to achieve equality, not the substance of equality itself.” Pattillo explains that in the absence of sufficient political will and investment to improve the lives of black or poor people, integration “posits proximity to whiteness as the solution, or the most likely way to get to a solution.”
Policymakers are aware of the unjust conditions underlying the need to integrate. Decades of analysis have led to a unanimous conclusion that good housing policy doesn’t just invest in low income communities but provides poor people with access to better neighborhoods and the opportunities available within them.
The Dangers of Confusing Gentrification for Integration
Phil Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, has been waiting for a policy like the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.
“One obvious challenge is going to be political opposition from communities and neighborhoods that don’t want to accept affordable housing. But a more subtle kind of challenge will come from cities already heavily invested in affordable housing,” Tegeler cautions. “These communities need to be careful not to over-concentrate low income housing in neighborhoods and school zones that already have high rates of poverty.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio faces the challenges presented in both scenarios. In the scurry to make way for affordable housing, de Blasio has decided to revitalize and rezone low income communities like Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, East New York, and Flushing, where land is more available and affordable.
But low income residents in East New York are resisting the mayor’s efforts out of fear that even new affordable housing will trigger the gentrification domino effect. In some cities, the poor want to leave their neighborhoods; in NYC they want to stay.
In a recent article, The Economist suggests that de Blasio landed the best possible scenario. Low income neighborhoods can get a free upgrade by welcoming gentrifiers who “put pressure on schools, the police, and the city to improve.” As property values increase, so do tax revenues and the quality of services.
A recent Grist article aptly titled, “Gentrification doesn’t fix inner-city schools,” points out that “school choice” policies are trending in cities like NYC where un-zoned public schools end up concentrating higher status children who make their way in. In order for housing policy to impact schools, holistic intervention is needed.
In 2012 a federal complaint drew attention to this very issue in NYC, resulting in a new, groundbreaking admissions policy at Park Slope’s PS 133. Despite broad-based demands from parents and advocates, de Blasio has failed to implement city-wide standards.
Education aside, The Economist’s reasons why gentrification benefits poor people all rely on the assumption that those poor people can afford to stay.
Defending the Right to Stay In Place
New Yorkers know that displacement is a reality today, but there is little data available to document it. Census and survey data collect point-in-time demographics and don’t track the movement of people over time and neighborhoods.
For the same reason it is likely that NYC’s future analysis under HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule will also fail to support the stories of displacement heard throughout East New York.
What we do know, however, is that more and more people are returning to US cities for their labor markets, transit and dynamic culture. While cities are expanding, the number of poor are growing in our nation’s suburbs.
As NYC scurries to build housing for another half million people by 2024, ensuring that revitalization meets the needs of existing communities is a past debt owed to current New Yorkers. Making sure low income families can stay and benefit from the myriad opportunities in this evolving and thriving metropolis is imperative.
Amy DeHuff, a guest writer, is a fair housing advocate and consultant for subsidized housing programs.
For more resources and discussion on anti-displacement policies please visit:
The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD):
- Expand Special Districts and negotiate terms of the district with local community to protect residents’ interests.
- Give priority to CDC’s and non-profits when building affordable on city owned land.
From the NYU Furman Center’s Neighborhood Gentrification Discussion
1) New York City Council Member Brad Lander:
- Strengthen rent laws by rolling back vacancy decontrol
- Repeal the Urstadt Law to regain control over rent regulations
- Institute mandatory Inclusionary Zoning
- Require permanent affordability of subsidized housing
- Protect manufacturing and mixed-use areas
- Adopt a citywide plan to reduce school segregation
2) Columbia University Professor Lance Freeman:
- Fund nonprofits and community based organizations to construct new affordable housing in a target areas
- Finance future affordable housing through incremental property tax increases
- PolicyLink’s Equity Tools