Last Wednesday, the Obama administration released new housing rules that will dramatically strengthen the way our nation addresses segregation—a move that has been met with staunch blowback from the right. The disconnect between their criticism and the support the rule has received from housing experts, progressives, and countless local government underscores this reality: a country that condemns segregation as a malady of its past must own up to the legacy of exclusion, disinvestment, and disadvantage this practice has left in its wake—and do something to change it.
Consider my hometown. When I was growing up in St. Louis in the 1950s, segregation permeated every aspect of life—where you went to school, where you could work, and where you could live. Though many of the overtly discriminatory policies of my youth are now illegal, the patterns of racial segregation of decades past overlap almost completely with patterns of poverty and disinvestment today, leaving many low-income communities of color cut off from the kind of community assets—good schools, healthy environments, job opportunities—that would allow them to thrive.
For instance, in zip code 63106, a distressed neighborhood in northern St. Louis, 96 percent of residents are Black and 52.5 percent of families live in poverty—more than three times the national poverty rate. A child born and raised here is expected to live only 69 years—10 years below the national average—and attend schools deemed so substandard that the state was forced to take them over in 2013. Drive 20 minutes southwest and you reach Clayton (zip code 63105), an affluent and predominately white suburb of St. Louis, where residents live on average 16 years longer, and their children attend schools in one of the best districts in Missouri.