Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says discriminatory housing policies have effectively segregated America, and housing vouchers, tax credits and an embrace of a Supreme Court decision handed down last week are the first steps toward fixing the problem. “We’re experiencing racial segregation on a much larger geographical scale than ever before -- a kind of economic apartheid,” Reich wrote in a post published Sunday on his website.
“The toxic mixture of housing discrimination, racial segregation over wide swathes of metropolitan areas, and low wages and few jobs in such places, has had longterm effects.”
Reich was spurred to make his comments after reading about the Supreme Court ruling that may make it easier for the government to take more proactive action in beating back discriminatory practices that have made it harder for the poor and minorities. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which enables the government to bring suit against people or companies responsible for policies that lead to discrimination even if the plaintiff is unable to prove there was intent to discriminate.
Observers called the decision an opportunity for the Justice Department to go after lenders and other bad actors who have been difficult to prosecute. In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said her office was “bolstered” by the ruling.
But making those cases, and seeing results, take a great deal of time, and Reich points to research showing some programs are able to produce change more quickly. Specifically, Reich points to research from Harvard that found children from families given housing vouchers allowing them to move to areas with little poverty tended to do better economically later in life.
While evidence abounds moving people out of high-poverty areas and into low-poverty ones improves their mental and physical health, this may not be a salve. Affordable housing funds and voucher programs took a nasty hit during the recession, and the supply of affordable housing is far outpaced by demand.