Some of us recall our “old neighborhood” with fondness; others not so much.
That’s because where we live influences every aspect of our lives. This is true regardless of where we came from, who we were then, or who we are now. That thing we call “home” helps shape our attitudes and aspirations, and is why fair and equitable access to housing is a basic human right.
Now that right is under attack by the Trump administration as it pulls back enforcement efforts to ensure housing desegregation. The administration seeks to overturn an existing rule requiring the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide data to local governments and public housing agencies on segregated living patterns. This HUD rule enhanced the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and is important because it helps states and local entities develop solution models to promote equitable housing.
Segregation harms our communities by limiting equity in fair housing choice and perpetuating other community problems, such as disparities in education and health. Taken together, these inequities depress regional economic growth, which negatively impacts all residents of an area, regardless of an individual’s own socioeconomic status. This is certainly true for Long Island, which loses approximately $24 billion of GDP annually due to racial disparities.
Long Island is one of the most segregated regions in the United States, a fact that was supported by the findings of Newsday’s three-year investigation into housing discrimination in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Investigators used the paired-testing method wherein two testers assumed the role of applicants with equivalent social and economic characteristics, differing only in terms of race. Each person in the test pair separately visited the same real estate firm, asking to rent or buy a home. The treatment each received was notably different, depending on the race of the tester.
Investigators collected data that documents wide-spread Fair Housing Act violations by realtors who steered blacks and other people of color to certain integrated neighborhoods while directing whites to neighborhoods that are predominately white. This bias was consistent, in spite of testers showing similar economic status. The disparate treatment also occurred when testers stated a willingness to make a large down payment for a home purchase.
This was no surprise to either of us, nor to many other Long Islanders who are people of color. The lived experience of blacks and other minority groups is that inequities in housing and other areas of economic life are very real and very hurtful. In the 1990s, when Theresa was a fair housing tester, people called her racially offensive names and a few even threatened her with dogs.
Sidney’s experience as a school board trustee highlights the fact that segregation hurts everyone, not just minorities. Recently, a parent told him that her white niece, who had grown up in a mostly white school district, was shocked and distressed to find that her assigned college roommate was black. The girl had not had much interaction with a black student before and worried that the two might not get along well together. The parent went on to say she was grateful her son was attending an integrated school because he was learning how to operate in a multicultural society.
Research strongly indicates that racial discrimination and segregation have negative economic impacts throughout the region where the discrimination occurs. Segregated housing and economic inequities erode prosperity for every Long Islander, in every town. It is not in our best social, moral, or economic interest to allow outdated patterns of segregation and inequity to hurt the economic prospects for all of us, especially for our children.
There are solutions to these challenges and we at Urban League of Long Island are committed to working with the media, local governments, and all interested parties to build a more equitable region. To that end, we will be providing occasional equity commentaries on our website—urbanleaguelongisland.org—and in social media. Please watch for these updates by using and monitoring the hashtag #EquityLongIsland.
The writers are Board Chair and President/CEO of Urban League of Long Island.