The United States’ History of Segregated Housing Continues to Limit Affordable Housing

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Few human decisions are more important to household and community stability than a family’s choice of where to live.

For those with the requisite resources, staking out a preferred neighborhood; selecting an appealing house or apartment; and, perhaps most challengingly, paying off a mortgage or monthly rent may be a source of pride. At its core, homeownership is a building block of civic life.

But that has not always been the case for every American, especially African Americans and Latinos, who have faced a history of housing segregation. To be sure, owning a home is all but an impossible dream for an increasing number of poor families. More likely, finding safe and affordable housing is an existential aspiration—a costly struggle of making daily ends meet rather than a joyous reflection of belonging to a community.

This issue brief examines the nexus of racial discrimination and housing disparity in the United States. It also offers a two-pronged set of policy recommendations that would increase the availability of affordable housing. The recommendations serve dual purposes.

First, they would allow increased mobility for low-income families to secure housing options in more affluent communities—a proven strategy for promoting better health, increased employment, and earnings and educational attainment for low-income residents.3 Second, the proposals would promote vigorous revitalization of high-poverty communities, thus empowering residents through improved lives and employment.

This would reduce the imperative that people move away from communal ties to existing and familiar supports in search of secure, affordable housing.

The historic roots of housing discrimination
Matthew Desmond, an assistant professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University and affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty, recently outlined the severity of the housing challenge that poor Americans face.

He noted that rising housing costs, stagnant or falling incomes among the poor, and a shortfall of federal housing assistance means that the poorest households now spend more than half of their income on housing. Specifically, he wrote:

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