Edward G. Goetz, The One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017. 224 pp. notes, index. ISBN 9781501707599
Reviewed by Eric Michael Rhodes
Should those concerned about racial inequality in the American metropolis bring opportunity to people or help people move to opportunity? This question has wrankled policymakers and community organizers alike for nearly 50 years. Community development advocates have generally promoted the “opportunity to people” approach, while fair housing proponents have tried to “move people to opportunity.”
In One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities, Edward Goetz argues that the “fair housing” movement, a well-intentioned effort to integrate the suburbs, grew into a myopic, integration-at-any-cost crusade in which people of color paid the price. This effort to increase affordable housing opportunities ultimately diminished such possibilities in city and suburb alike.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, “integrationist” fair housers obsessed with increasing suburban housing opportunity actually began suing community developers trying to build subsidized housing in the inner city. At the root of this controversy was decreasing federal funding for new subsidized housing construction: a “climate of scarcity” pitted the camps against one another. Professor Goetz’s sweeping indictment of the well-intentioned effort to advance racial integration deserves thoughtful consideration; it should inspire wide-ranging debate.
Following adoption of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the fair housing movement attempted to build low-income housing in the suburbs to increase housing opportunity for poor Americans. Such efforts, exemplified by Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney’s Open Communities initiative, promised to increase opportunity for those wishing to move to the suburbs or remain in the city. Fair housing advocates at this early stage promoted building low-income housing in the inner city as well. Thus, this initial iteration of the fair housing movement, even with its suburban focus, presented no real obstacle to continuing inner city housing and redevelopment programs. Community development and fair housing were not yet at odds.
It was only after the ostensible victories in Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority (1969) and Hills v. Gautreaux (1976) that a rift developed between the suburban integrationists and city re-constructionists. Following Gautreaux, the NAACP and other civil rights groups could fairly celebrate orders to demolish Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green and other highly segregated public housing projects. But Gautreaux also presumed that concentrating poor families, whether in tall towers or single-family homes, might create inherently dysfunctional living conditions or threaten largely-white communities. So, the new Section 8 housing voucher impaction rules, seeking to avoid intensifying segregation, discouraged the award of vouchers in inner-city neighborhoods; as for poor families moving to the suburbs, the goal was to ensure that they would be sufficiently dispersed to mitigate social disruption or alarm. According to Goetz, as a result of the acceptance of rigid constraints to prevent the “tipping” of communities from white to black, the number of low-income families that could move to majority white areas within or outside the city actually diminished. The worst of the integrationists’ impulses surfaced in the form of HOPE VI, amounting to the destruction of extant black, low-income communities.
Goetz points out that fair housing advocates underestimated the deep-seated white resistance to integration that, even now, after decades of litigation, still severely limits the number of affordable units that can be built or rented in white neighborhoods; at the same time, reformers overestimated the equity outcomes of integration. How much better off were black and Hispanic families in the suburbs than those who remained in the city? The matter has been debated and studied for the past forty years. Instead of attempting to measure and predict with mathematical precision the spatial makeup of each community, Goetz suggests it would have been more effective simply to increase resources to provide for additional low and moderate-income housing in historically disinvested neighborhoods, even if they were segregated.
But this point is hard to prove. In the first place we should not forget that beyond the basic goal of generating more housing units, there were legal and moral reasons for battling suburban exclusionary zoning and discriminatory real estate practices, and if, to give Goetz his due, the integrationist impulse had been more restrained and less rigid would we have generated more housing? After all, funding for low and moderate-income housing has, for all sorts of reasons, been so dismal since Nixon’s 1973 moratorium on subsidized housing that it is difficult to blame the problem simply on the myopia of suburban integrationists.
Looking ahead, when the funding for affordable housing (through new construction, increased subsidies and constraints on gentrification) finally returns to some decent level, city builders and suburban integrationists may yet find themselves moving back and forth from city to suburb along a two-way street.