In recent days, President Trump has indicated that he will likely retract a federal requirement that cities and counties act to promote residential integration and equal housing opportunities.
Such a move would be unacceptable under any circumstances, but it is particularly repugnant that in the midst of a national crisis, the President is using racist, inflammatory language to undermine civil rights and tacitly endorse segregation. In remarks on July 16, the President stated that pro-integrative policies mean that “your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise,” and that suburbs will “go to hell.”
As Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, tweeted in response, “This is what every block-busting racist real estate agent said to white homeowners to encourage white flight from cities in the 60s and 70s. This is the racism that contributed to the entrenched, devastating segregation of our cities. And it is vile beyond words.”
Congress passed the federal Fair Housing Act in 1968 with the clear aim that the Act would help dismantle racial segregation in our nation. In order to promote integration, cities, counties and states are only eligible for certain types of federal funding if they agree to affirmatively further fair housing – meaning that they must identify local obstacles to equal opportunity and integration, and then take action to remove such obstacles. In 2015, the Obama administration issued detailed and clear guidance to local governments on how to fulfill this obligation. This guidance, known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule, has never been fully implemented by the Trump administration and now may be rescinded altogether.
For decades, local governments across the nation and here in Wisconsin have made minimal and ineffectual gestures toward dismantling segregated living patterns. Indeed, in many cases, cities and counties have enacted policies that reinforce and increase residential segregation. Nonetheless, local governments have continually received millions of dollars of federal housing aid and community block grants. This represents an astonishing absence of political will and a lack of any meaningful commitment to justice and equity.
The consequences of this are glaringly obvious in regions like ours. Metropolitan Milwaukee is the most racially segregated urban region in the nation for African Americans, and has been hyper-segregated for decades. This segregation has deeply harmful economic, social and cultural costs for all of us. Our region’s enormous racial disparities in infant mortality, education, homeownership, employment, educational achievement and more all spring, in part, from our segregated living patterns. These disparities don’t just harm some individuals, or just people of color; they hurt all of us because they undermine the collective wellbeing of our neighborhoods, our schools, our labor market and our health care systems. Further, because segregation has been created and maintained by purposeful policies and behaviors, the attempt to undo it must be deliberate and proactive, too.
We can’t lose sight of integration as a goal with value. It’s hard to believe that it is still necessary to state in 2020: we know that separate is not equal. It never will be. Segregated housing conditions will always be harmful.
People of good conscience must come together and reject language of division, fear and bigotry. We must speak out to our elected officials and others in our spheres of influence to say, loud and clear: in a nation that professes to value equality, integration is our right and our goal.
William R. Tisdale is President and CEO of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC). MMFHC is a private, non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote fair housing throughout the State of Wisconsin by combating illegal housing discrimination and by creating and maintaining racially and economically integrated housing patterns. It operates satellite offices in Dane County (the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison) and in Northeast Wisconsin (the Fair Housing Center of Northeast Wisconsin).
Persons who feel they may have experienced illegal housing discrimination should call 414-278-1240 or 1-877-647-FAIR (a toll-free number for use outside the 414 area code). For more information about MMFHC and its services, visit fairhousingwisconsin.com.
This op-ed also appeared in The Milwaukee Independent on July 21, 2020.