Hope After Hope VI? Reaffirming Racial Integration as a Primary Goal in Housing Policy Prescriptions

Kost, Thomas C. | July 1, 2012

In a small but significant portion of urban public housing, the dual legacies of segregation and concentrated poverty have long plagued residents. Over the course of decades, these legacies have contributed to chronic systemic failures, the burden of which has disproportionately fallen on members of minority groups. The federal government has responded through two strands of policies, each aimed at a different legacy. First, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act to root out the last vestiges of state- sanctioned segregation by affirmatively promoting racial integration. Second, and more recently, Congress created a program known as HOPE VI to combat the concentration of very poor residents in urban public housing by replacing dilapidated projects with mixed-income developments, which bring in moderate-income working families to serve as role models. But success in overcoming historical failures remains elusive—largely because housing policies that promote income mixing seem bound to come into conflict with housing policies that promote racial integration. Persistent patterns of residential segregation in HOPE VI communities attest to the problem. The use of restrictive income-based admissions policies has put once-distressed neighborhoods on track to become as segregated as before, though the racial pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. I thus argue that programs advancing racial integration should trump income-mixing considerations when the compasses point in different directions. Reaffirming racial integration as a primary policy goal would ultimately remedy the related harms of racial isolation and displacement that have continued to mar HOPE VI projects. Just as importantly, adopting an integrative norm comports with both the express obligations and underlying spirit of the Fair Housing Act.