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Residential segregation

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Title: Residential segregation  
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Subject: Segregation, Exclusionary zoning, School segregation in the United States, Mixed-income housing, Ghetto
Collection: Race and Society, Segregation, Urban Decay, Urban Politics in the United States
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Residential segregation

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Residential segregation is the physical separation of two or more groups into different neighborhoods,[1] or a form of segregation that "sorts population groups into various neighborhood contexts and shapes the living environment at the neighborhood level."[2] While it has traditionally been associated with racial segregation, it generally refers to any kind of sorting based on some criteria populations (e.g. race, ethnicity, income).[3]

While overt segregation is illegal in the United States, housing patterns show significant and persistent segregation for certain races and income groups. The history of American social and public policies, like Jim Crow laws and Federal Housing Administration's early redlining policies, set the tone for segregation in housing. Trends in residential segregation are attributed to suburbanization, discrimination, and personal preferences. Residential segregation produces negative socioeconomic outcomes for minority groups. Public policies for housing attempt to promote integration and mitigate these negative effects.


  • Recent trends 1
    • Racial 1.1
    • Income 1.2
    • Combined 1.3
  • Segregation by tenure 2
    • Homeownership 2.1
    • Rental 2.2
  • Influences on segregation 3
  • Exclusionary zoning 4
    • Racial zoning 4.1
    • Land-use zoning 4.2
  • Location of public housing 5
    • Racial segregation in public housing 5.1
    • Income segregation in public housing 5.2
  • Homeownership 6
    • Redlining 6.1
    • Steering 6.2
  • Attitudes and preferences 7
  • Gentrification 8
  • Consequences 9
  • Social policies and initiatives 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12

Recent trends

The Index of Dissimilarity allows measurement of residential segregation using census data. It uses United States census data to analyze housing patterns based on five dimensions of segregation: evenness (how evenly the population is dispersed across an area), isolation (within an area), concentration (in densely packed neighborhoods), centralization (near metropolitan centers), and clustering (into contiguous ghettos).[4] Hypersegregation is high segregation across all dimensions.

Another tool used to measure residential segregation is the neighborhood sorting indices, showing income segregation between different levels of the income distribution.[5]


An analysis of historical U.S. Census data by Harvard and Duke scholars indicates that racial separation has diminished significantly since the 1960s. Published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the report indicates that the dissimilarity index has declined in all 85 of the nation's largest cities. In all but one of the nation's 658 housing markets, the separation of black residents from other races is now lower than the national average in 1970. Segregation continued to drop in the last decade, with 522 out of 658 housing markets recording a decline.[6][7]

Despite recent trends, blacks remain the most segregated racial group. The dissimilarity-index indices in 1980, 1990 and 2000 are 72.7, 67.8, and 64.0, respectively.[8] Blacks are hypersegregated in most of the largest metropolitan areas across the U.S., including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.[9] For Hispanics, the second most segregated racial group, the indices from 1980, 1990 and 2000 are 50.2, 50.0, and 50.9, respectively.[10] Hispanics are highly segregated in a number of cities, primarily in northern metropolitan areas.[9] Segregation for Asians and Pacific Islanders has been consistently low and stable on the Index of Dissimilarity over the decades. The indices from 1980, 1990 and 2000 are 40.5, 41.2 and 41.1, respectively.[10] Segregation for Native Americans and Alaska Natives has also been consistently the lowest of all groups and has seen declines over the decades. The indices from 1980, 1990 and 2000 are 37.3, 36.8 and 33.3, respectively.[10]


Analysis of patterns for income segregation come from the National Survey of America's Families, the Census and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. Both the index of dissimilarity and the neighborhood sorting indices show that income segregation grew between 1970 and 1990. In this period, the Index of Dissimilarity between the affluent and the poor increased from .29 to .43.[11] Poor families are becoming more isolated. Whereas in 1970 only 14 percent of poor families lived in predominantly poor areas, this number increased to 28 percent in 1990 and continues to rise.[11] Most low-income people live in the suburbs or central cities. When looking at areas classified as "high-poverty" or "low-poverty" in 2000, about 14% of low-income families live in high-poverty areas and 35% live in low-poverty areas.[12]


More than half of all low-income working families are racial minorities.[13] Over 60% of all low-income families lived in majority white neighborhoods in 2000. However, this statistic describes the settlement patterns mainly of white low-income people. Black and Hispanic low-income families, the two most racially segregated groups, rarely live in predominantly white or majority-white neighborhoods. A very small portion of low-income white families lives in high-poverty areas. One in 3 black low-income families live in high-poverty areas while 1 of every 5 Hispanic low-income families lives in high-poverty areas.[13]

Segregation by tenure


National trends for homeownership show a general upward trend since the 1980s, with a 2010 rate of 66.9%. As of 2010, 71% of whites were homeowners. The rates for black, Hispanics, and all other races remain consistently and significantly below the national average. In 2010, the rates for blacks, Hispanics, and all other races were 45%, 48%, and 57% respectively.[14] Looking at all homeowners in 2007, about 87% are white.[15] Low-income individuals are less likely to be homeowners than other income groups and pay a greater portion of their income on housing. Individuals living in poverty represent a very small portion of homeowners.[15]


Census information on renters shows significant disparity between the races for renters. Of all renters, about 71% are white, 21% are black, 18% are Hispanic and 7% are Asian.[15] Renters are generally less affluent that homeowners. From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of low-income renters increased significantly.[15]

Influences on segregation

Current trends in racial and income based residential segregation in the United States are attributed to several factors, including:

These factors impact both racial and income segregation differently.

Exclusionary zoning

Exclusionary zoning influences both racial and income-based segregation.

Racial zoning

Incidences of exclusionary zoning separating households by race appeared as early as the 1870s and 1880s when municipalities in California adopted anti-Chinese policies. For example, an 1884 San Francisco ordinance regulated the operation of laundries, which were a source of employment and gathering places for Chinese immigrants. The ordinance withstood several legal challenges before the U.S Supreme Court eventually struck it down because of its anti-Chinese motivations.

The prominent real estate developer J.C. Nichols was famous for creating master-planned communities with covenants that prohibited African Americans, Jews, and other races from owning his properties.

A decade later, the Supreme Court passage of Plessy v. Ferguson established "separate but equal" zoning ordinances that specified exclusively black, white and mixed districts and legally established segregation in housing opportunities. Many large and mid-sized cities in the South and mid-South adopted racial zonings between 1910 and 1915. In 1917 the Supreme Court ruled that racial zoning was illegal but many local governments continued to enforce racial segregation with alternative land use designations.[16]

Many of these deeds and covenants remain active, and continue to influence settlement patterns.

Land-use zoning

Local jurisdictions that adopt land-use zoning regulations such as large-lot zoning, minimum house size requirements, and bans on secondary units make housing more expensive. As a result, this excludes lower income racial and ethnic minorities from certain neighborhoods.[16]

Location of public housing

The location of public housing developments influences both racial and income segregation patterns. Racial segregation in public housing programs occurs when high concentrations of a certain minority group occupy one specific public housing development. Income segregation occurs when high concentrations of public housing are located in one specific income area.

Racial segregation in public housing

Federal and local policies have historically racially segregated public housing.

Local jurisdictions determined whether to incorporate public housing into their locality and most had control over where low income housing sites were built. In many areas, the white majority would not allow public housing to be built in "their" neighborhoods unless it was reserved for poor whites. Black elected officials recognized the need for housing for their constituents, but felt that it would be politically unpopular to advocate for inclusionary housing.[17]

Of the 49 public housing units constructed before World War II, 43 projects supported by the Public Works Administration and 236 of 261 projects supported by the U.S. Housing Authority were segregated by race.[18] Anti-discrimination laws passed after World War II led to a reduction in racial segregation for a short period of time, but as income-ineligible tenants were removed from public housing, the proportion of black residents increased.[18] The remaining low-income white tenants were often elderly and moved to projects reserved specifically for seniors. Family public housing units then became dominated by racial minorities.[18]

Three of the more infamous minority concentrated public housing projects in America were Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis and Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago.

Income segregation in public housing

Determining if a disproportionate level of public housing exists in low-income neighborhoods is hard because defining low, moderate and high income geographic locations, and locating projects in these locations is difficult.[18] Assumptions affirming the density of public housing in low-income areas are supported by the fact that public housing units built between 1932 and 1963 were primarily located in slum areas and vacant industrial sites.[18] This trend continued between 1964 and 1992, when a high density of projects were located in old core cities of metropolitan areas that were considered low income.[18]



In 1933 the federally created Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) created maps that coded areas as credit-worthy based on the race of their occupants and the age of the housing stock. These maps, adopted by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1944, established and sanctioned "redlining". Residents in predominately minority neighborhoods were unable to obtain long-term mortgages on their homes because banks would not authorize loans for the redlined areas. Unlike their white counterparts, many minorities were not able to receive financing to purchase the homes they lived in and did not have the means to move to more affluent areas where banks would authorize home loans.

Due to the early discriminatory practices of mortgage lending, the black population remains less suburbanized than whites. Blacks, and to a lesser extent, other ethnic minorities remain isolated in urban environments with lesser access to transportation, jobs, health care and many of the amenities that are available to suburban residents. Thirty-nine percent of blacks live in the suburbs, compared to 58 percent of Asians, 49 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of non-Hispanic whites.[19] Further, post-World War II homebuilding in the suburbs benefitted whites, as housing prices tripled in the 1970s, enabling white homeowners to increase the equity of their homes. Because of this, blacks face higher costs of entry to the housing market, and those that are able to seek housing in the suburbs tend to live in lower-income, less desirable areas just outside of the city limits.[19]


"The United States Supreme Court defines steering as a 'practice by which real estate brokers and agents preserve and encourage patterns of racial segregation in available housing by steering members of racial and ethnic groups to buildings occupied primarily by members of such racial and ethnic groups and away from buildings and neighborhoods inhabited primarily by members of other races or groups.'"[20] The theory supporting steering asserts that real estate agents steer people of color toward neighborhoods that are disproportionately black and/or Hispanic, while white homebuyers are directed to primarily white neighborhoods, continually reinforcing segregation. In some studies, real estate agents present fewer and more inferior options to black homeseekers than they do to whites with the same socioeconomic characteristics.[21]

Even though the Fair Housing Act made discrimination in housing illegal, there is a belief that steering is still common. For example, real estate agents will assume white homebuyer's initial requests are an accurate reflection of their preferences, while they second guess a minority homebuyer's request, and adjust it to their personal perceptions. Moreover, some real estate agents will acknowledge that their actions are prohibited by saying such things as:

  • "'This area has a questionable ethnic mix, I could lose my license for saying this!'"[20]
  • "'[The area] is different from here; its multicultural.... I'm not allowed to steer you, but there are areas you wouldn't want to live in.'"[20]

A recent study of housing discrimination using matched pairs of home seekers who differed only in race to inquire about housing show that for those seeking rental units, blacks received unfavorable treatment 21.6 percent of the time, Hispanics 25.7 percent of the time, and Asians 21.5 percent of the time. Moreover, blacks interested in purchasing a home experienced discrimination 17 percent of the time, Hispanics 19.7 percent of the time and Asians 20.4 percent of the time.[20]

These conclusions are challenged because it is not clear what level of discrimination is necessary to make an impact of the housing market. There is also criticism of the methods used to determine discrimination and it is not clear if paired testing accurately reflects the conditions in which people are actually searching for housing.[22]

Attitudes and preferences

Theorists suggest that people make choices about the location of their residence based on the racial make-up of a specific neighborhood and that racial segregation occurs as a result of these preferences.

"White flight" is one theory supporting the idea that racial concentrations influence residential choice. The premise of this belief is that an increase in the population of blacks in a specific locality will cause whites to leave once the concentration of blacks reaches a certain level. The support for this hypothesis is largely anecdotal but analyses of surveys of white and black attitudes toward the racial make-up of neighborhoods confirm that some whites are uncomfortable with even a small number of black neighbors.[9]

Whites also have the highest degree of preference for completely homogeneous (100% white resident) racial makeup. Additionally, among whites, Latinos, and Asians, blacks are universally the least-preferred group of neighbors. This reaction may stem from the fact that statistically speaking, black neighborhoods have higher percentages of high school dropouts, single-parent families, and the unemployed, and these neighborhoods are likely to experience significantly higher rates of property crime, violent crime, and decreased home equity appreciation. In addition, schools populated by all-black or majority black students were found to have dramatically lower scores on standardized tests. The phenomenon of white flight may apply to all non-black races fleeing from neighborhoods with too many black residents.

In spite of these statistics over the last half century white Americans have expressed a greater willingness to live in neighborhoods with minorities. "From 1958 to 1997 Gallup polls found that the proportion of a national sample of whites who said they would move if a black moved next door fell from 44 to just 1 percent. Additionally, the proportion of white respondents who would move in the face of 'great numbers' of black dropped from 80 to 18 percent."[22]

Concepts like white flight misrepresent the issue of housing preference by suggesting that a specific population enters an area and another decides to leave it. "Empirical evidence shows that white flight does not cause racial transition in neighborhoods. Several preference studies and data from the American Housing Survey in 1980 and 1990 found both black and white households were less concerned about a neighborhood's racial mix - as long as a neighborhood remained stable, black and whites were willing to remain."[22] Therefore, white flight might be fueled by economic reasons.[23]

Residential preferences of blacks are categorized by social-psychological and socioeconomic demographic characteristics. The theory behind social psychological residential preference is that segregation is a result of blacks choosing to live around other blacks because of cultural similarities, maintaining a sense of racial pride, or a desire to avoid living near another group because of fear of racial hostility. Other theories suggest demographic and socioeconomic factors such as age, gender and social class background influence residential choice. Empirical evidence to explain these assumptions is generally limited.[24]

One emprical study completed in 2002 analyzed survey data from a random sample of blacks from Atlanta, Boston, Detroit and Los Angeles.[24] The results of this study found that the housing preferences of blacks are largely attributed to discrimination and white hostility, not a desire to live with a similar racial group.[24] In other words, the study found that blacks choose specific residences because they are afraid of hostility from whites.

Critics of these theories suggest that the survey questions used in the research design for these studies imply that race is a greater factor in residential choice than access to schools, transportation, and jobs. They also suggest that surveys fail to consider the market influences on housing including availability and demand.[22]

Existing data on the role of immigration on residential segregation trends in the US suggest that foreign-born Hispanics, Asians and blacks often have higher rates of segregation than do native-born individuals from these groups. Segregation of immigrants is associated with their low-income status, language barriers, and support networks in these enclaves. Research on assimilation shows that while new immigrants settle in homogenous ethnic communities, segregation of immigrants declines as they gain socioeconomic status and move away from these communities, integrating with the native-born.[25]


Although it is not always connected to race and can sometimes be generalized by class, gentrification or urban renewal is another form of residential segregation. Gentrification is defined as higher income newcomers displacing lower income residents from up-and-coming urban neighborhoods. The concept is understood as reflecting the residential turnover of an area that was predominantly composed of residents of color, to one populated by higher income whites. Yet definitions of gentrification fail to mention this racial component. Critical race theory is used to examine race as an implicit assumption that merits investigation as demographic changes in the U.S. challenge these class-based definitions.[26]


Location of housing is a determinant of a person's access to the job market, transportation, education, healthcare, and safety. Persons residing in neighborhoods with high concentrations of low-income and minority households face higher mortality risks, poor health services, high rates of teenage pregnancy, and high crime rates.[27] These neighborhoods also have higher rates of unemployment, and lack of access to job networks and transportation, which hinders households from fully accessing employment opportunities. The result of isolation and segregation of minority and the economically disadvantaged is increased racial and income inequality, which in turn reinforces segregation.[19]

Social policies and initiatives

In 1948, the Supreme Court outlawed the enforcement of racial covenants with Shelley v. Kraemer, and two decades later the Fair Housing Act of 1968 incorporated legislation that prohibited discrimination in private and publicly assisted housing. The 1975 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act limited mortgage lenders' ability to provide discretion in issuing loans and requiring that lenders provide full disclosure of where and to whom they were providing housing loans, in addition to requiring that they provide loans for all areas where they do business.[19] The passage of fair housing laws provided an opportunity for legal recourse against local and federal agencies that segregated residents and banned integrated communities.

Despite these laws, residential segregation persists. More ardent enforcement of these laws could stop discriminatory lending practices and racial steering.[28] Moreover, educating property owners, real estate agents and minorities about the Fair Housing Act and housing discrimination could help reduce segregation.

The class action lawsuit Hills v. Dorothy Gautreaux alleged that the development of Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) public housing units in areas of high concentration of poor minorities violated federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policies and the Fair Housing Act. The litigation resulted in HUD and CHA agreeing to mediate segregation imposed on Chicago public housing residents by providing Section 8 voucher assistance to more than 7,000 black families. The Section 8 assistance provided blacks the opportunity to move out of racially segregated areas and into mixed neighborhoods. Policymakers theorized that housing mobility would provide residents with access to "social capital", including ties to informal job networks. About seventy-five percent of the Gautreaux households were required to move to predominately white suburban neighborhoods while the remaining 25% were allowed to move to urban areas with 30% or more black residents.[29]

Social scientists researched the impacts of mobility on Gautreaux participants and found that children with access to better performing neighborhoods experienced improvements in educational performance, were less likely to drop out of school and more likely to take college preparation classes than their peers who had moved to more segregated areas of Chicago.[29]

Congress authorized the Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration (MTO) in 1993. MTO shares a similar design to Gautreaux. However, the program focuses on economic desegregation instead of racial desegregation. As of 2005, MTO has allocated nearly $80 million in federal and philanthropic funding to disperse and de-concentrate low-income neighborhoods, track the short and long-term effects of MTO program participants, and determine if small low-income de-concentration programs can be expanded to a national scale.[29]

In addition to the MTO program, the federal government provided funding to demolish 100,000 of the nation's worst public housing units and rebuild the projects with mixed income communities. This program, known as HOPE VI, has received mixed results. Some of the rebuilt projects continue to struggle with gangs, crime, and drugs. Some tenants choose not to return to the locations after redevelopment. While it may be too soon to determine the overall effect of the HOPE VI program, the Bush administration recommended termination of the program in 2004.[29]

Inclusionary zoning practices refer to local planning ordinances that can increase the supply of affordable housing, reduce the cost of creating housing, and enforce regulations that improve the health, safety and quality of life for low income and minority households.[16]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Kawachi, Ichiro and Lisa F. Berkman. Neighborhoods and Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. page 265
  3. ^ Eric M. Uslaner, "Producing and Consuming Trust". Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 115, No. 4 (Winter, 2000-2001), pp. 569-590
  4. ^ Denton, N.A. (2006). Segregation and discrimination in housing. In A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda, eds. Rachel G. Bratt, Michael E. Stone, and Chester Hartman, 61-81. Philadelphia: Temple University Press
  5. ^ Watson, T. (2005). Metropolitan growth and neighborhood segregation by income. Seminar Paper, Department of Economics, Williams College. Retrieved: December 6, 2011 from:
  6. ^
  7. ^ Edward Glaeser, Jacob Vigdor. "The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America's Neighborhoods, 1890–2010". Manhattan Institute, Number 66, January 2012
  8. ^ Iceland, J., Weinberg, D.H., and Steinmetz, E. (2002). Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000, U.S. Census Bureau, Series CENSR-3. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved: October 9, 2011 from
  9. ^ a b c
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ Turner, M.A. and Fortuny, K. (2009). Residential Segregation and Low-Income Working Families. Urban Institute. Retrieved: October 12, 2011 from
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Housing Vacancies and Homeownership Annual Statistics: 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved: November 19, 2011 from
  15. ^ a b c d Schwartz, A.F. (2008). Housing Policy in the United States. New York: Routledge, 22.>
  16. ^ a b c Pendall, R., Nelson, A., Dawkins, C., Knapp, G. (2005). Connecting smart growth, housing affordability, and Racial Equity. In The Geography of Opportunity, ed X. de Souza Briggs, 219-246. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
  17. ^ Schwartz, A.F. (2008). Housing Policy in the United States. New York: Routledge, 132
  18. ^ a b c d e f Coulibaly, M., Green, R.R., James, D. (1998) Segregation in Federally Subsidized Low-income Housing in the United States. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  19. ^ a b c d Denton, pp. 65-66
  20. ^ a b c d The Poverty Race Research Action Council and The National Fair Housing Alliance. "Racial Segregation and Housing Discrimination in the United States," 2008. Retrieved October 7, 2011 from
  21. ^ Turner, M.A. and Ross, S.L. (2005). How racial discrimination affects the search for housing. In The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America, ed. Xavier de Souza Briggs, 81-100. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press
  22. ^ a b c d von Hoffman, A., Beklsky, E. S., and Lee, K. "The Impact of Housing on Community: a Review of Scholarly Theories and Empirical Research," 2006. Joint Center for Housing Studies Harvard University. Retrieved October 8, 2011 from
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b c
  25. ^
  26. ^ Martinez-Cosio,Maria. "Coloring housing changes: Reintroducing race into gentrification" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, TBA, New York, New York City, Aug 11, 2007.
  27. ^ "Immigration and Socio-Spatial Segregation - Opportunities and Risks of Ethnic Self-Organisation"
  28. ^ Yinger, John. 2001 "Housing Discrimination and Residential Segregation as Causes of Poverty," in Sheldon H. Danzinger and Robert H. Haveman, eds. Understanding Poverty. New York: Russell Sage Foundation
  29. ^ a b c d Goering, J. (2005). The MTO experiment. In The Geography of Opportunity, ed X. de Souza Briggs, 219-246. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution
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