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Actually Enforcing the Law Would Reduce Segregation

David Callahan

The deep racial segregation of America's schools is such a difficult challenge because it is so driven by economics: Many families of color simply can't afford to live in white or mixed neighborhoods. Zoning rules also play a big role, with white communities often making it difficult to contruct more affordable multi-family apartment units. 

But make no mistake: old fashioned discrimination by property owners against renters of color also is to blame for residential and educational segregation. Which is to say that even when there is affordable housing in white communities, it can be difficult for non-white families to move in. Such discrimination is illegal under the Fair Housing Act, but the federal government doesn't do nearly enough to enforce that law. 

The persistence of widespread discrimination was revealed, most recently, in a major study for HUD released in June, based on 8,000 undercover tests in 28 metropolitan areas. The study found some good news, showing that discimination has fallen over recent decadses. But it's a long way from gone. 

Take New York's Westchester County, where schools are intensely segregated, as I discussed yestrerday. Recent tests by auditors posing as renters found that:

black and Latino testers were discriminated against in 40 percent of the 90 tests conducted. They were treated the same as white testers in 48 percent; 12 percent of the tests were inconclusive.


Overall, the tests showed that black and Latino home seekers still face significant odds of being steered to heavily minority areas by real estate agents and denied the opportunity to view apartments. 

But here's the thing: According to excellent investigative reporting by ProPublica, the federal government is persistently lax when comes to doing much about discrimination. And congressional proposals to beef up enforcement tend to get nowhere. 

All of which is to say that we can't blame only entrenched economic patterns and zoning ordinances for our segregated schools. Failure to enforce existing civil rights laws are another piece of the picture. And that's a problem that can be easily solved.