Desegregation misfires

Top down approaches by western governments to end race segregation are dislocating well-functioning communities.

The United States is pursuing a policy of racial desegregation by subsidising construction of affordable housing in the country’s wealthy areas and marketing the housing to racial minorities. The aim is to pepper disadvantaged people across areas where infrastructure and services are well-established and effective, and disperse disadvantaged ghettos.

But the government has missed the point. In its ham-fisted attempt to end racial discrimination, policymakers have overlooked the fact that many of these ‘ghettos’ are fast gentrifying.

Some of the nation’s best charter schools service the Bronx and Harlem. Crime rates in the Bronx are now lower than in Queens, and Harlem is below the national median crime rate. Upper Manhattan is reviving its jazz-era soul as brownstones are restored amidst a bunch of hip (hop) nightspots. And you can’t go past the tamales sold by Hispanic ladies on late winter nights at 137th and Broadway.

Just as conditions are looking up in these communities, do-gooders want disadvantaged people to move out. And they’re being moved to areas where services do not target their needs.

As settlement for a major legal battle, Westchester County this week agreed to spend US$50 million on one such affordable housing scheme. It will construct cheap housing in its whitest and wealthiest areas.

But the suburbs targeted by the settlement are some of the nation’s most expensive. From grocery prices to doctors, businesses service the needs of the affluent.  Perhaps US$450 spring dresses and personal pilates training sessions are the panacea for discrimination?

Policymakers should look beyond the superficial in attempts to end discrimination. The government’s vision of racial equality might not match local reality. But reality is what counts.

Elise Parham is a Policy Analyst at the Centre.