This piece ran in the Gray Matters section of the Houston Chronicle on February 16. Texas Housers Houston co-director Chrishelle Palay co-authored the column along with three influential fair housing leaders involved with the Inclusive Communities Project in Dallas: Elizabeth K. (Betsy) Julian, Ann Lott and Demetria McCain. Read the column online (behind paywall) at the Chronicle website.
As fair housing and civil rights advocates, we know all too well the harms to which low-income families of color are subjected by persistent racial segregation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Title VI investigation and finding against the City made clear what we have known and what many Houstonians of color have experienced for a long time: Houston, like many places across our land, suffers from a legacy of segregation in all aspects of individual and community life.
From schools to public facilities to public safety to healthy environments, the unequal distribution of and access to resources and opportunities is due to discrimination and residential segregation. And the inequality that damages too many communities of color is easy to perpetuate as long as those neighborhoods remain separate.
Our government excludes “those people” from access to the opportunities found in areas that have historically benefited from the unequal distribution of resources, using policies that keep affordable housing out of whiter, more affluent areas.
In the past, Houston’s communities of color were legally denied basic municipal services like street lights and drainage and amenities like parks and up-to-date educational services. Even after the courts struck down overt Jim Crow segregation, its patterns and effects remain in place. Myriad local, state and federal policies, to this day, result in those neighborhoods bearing an undue burden of the city’s failing schools, environmental hazards, crumbling infrastructure and service disinvestment.
And while the passage of the Fair Housing Act and improved economic conditions have allowed many individual people of color to break the color line imposed by official segregation, local, state and federal housing policies have ensured that almost no choices exist for low-income families to move to well-resourced areas of greater opportunity – and that the areas where they most often live suffer from segregated conditions.
Since the inception of subsidized housing in the Jim Crow era, nearly all affordable units in Houston have been located in high-poverty, African-American or Hispanic areas. That hasn’t changed: As HUD noted in its finding against the City, in the past four years, 91 percent of the developments that City Council considered for housing tax credits were located in majority-minority Census tracts. The Houston Housing Authority has never affirmatively invested in a majority white, low-poverty neighborhood – a situation they attempted to remedy with the Fountain View development (rendering pictured at top), which was then blocked by the City, causing the federal investigation.
At the same time, the neighborhoods where subsidized housing is overwhelmingly concentrated lack the basic services and investment that majority white neighborhoods take for granted. Eighty-eight percent of the city’s open drainage ditches are located in neighborhoods with a non-white majority. Census block groups where at least three-quarters of the population is non-white bear an absurd proportion of the city’s pollution: 78 percent of closed landfills, 84 percent of carcinogen emitters and 88 percent of hazardous waste sites.