Cross-posted from Living Cities: This blog post is part of the Living Cities series “Closing the Racial Gaps: Together We Can” which highlights efforts across the United States that show promise for closing racial opportunity gaps and creating a more equitable future.
Nearly 30 years ago I attended a community development conference focused on replacing decrepit housing in poor, mostly black, inner-city neighborhoods with attractive, affordable dwellings. The leaders in the room saw housing rehabilitation and new construction as the way to revitalize poor communities and improve the lives of the people who lived there. I was uncomfortable with the discussion and began asking: Why would community developers build housing in communities cut off from good schools, jobs, transportation, parks—the resources that people need to thrive and succeed? Is better housing the answer to inequality and injustice?
When I raised these issues, the response was not positive, but more like: “Who let her in?” And it was not just the mostly white community development leaders who pushed back. Black leaders and residents resisted my questioning the efficacy of focusing on rebuilding housing in severely depressed neighborhoods as the way to improve life outcomes. I decided to educate myself more about community development and find a better way to express my concern.