The Myth of Housing Disparities and Residential Segregation

Educational inequities, racial wealth gaps, health disparities, environmental racism … America’s race peddlers have invaded every aspect of our public life with their ongoing schemes of injecting race into various government programs, education policies, health initiatives, and so on.

Alas, the never-ending race grift has descended on government housing policies. Since 2023, the San Diego Housing Commission, a public housing agency, has implemented a program called, “City of San Diego First-Time Homebuyer Program for Middle-Income, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Households.” True to its namesake, the “BIPOC only” program provides aspiring BIPOC first-time homebuyers with up to $40,000 in down payments and closing costs, with a goal of assisting 40,000 households by the end of 2025.

The city of San Diego justifies handing out racial preferences with research demonstrating racial disparities and systemic discrimination in homeownership and access to mortgage assistance. A July 2022 study by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit priding itself with a mission to help build “a more inclusive, equitable, and just society,” is cited by the city as evidence. In it, the Urban Institute presents a slew of crude data on housing disparities in the San Diego area. Accordingly, Asian and white households are overrepresented by 15 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively, while “Black and Latino households are underrepresented by 69 percent and 40 percent, respectively.” The briefing paper zeroes in on helping “potential Black homebuyers” as a top priority for the housing assistance program.

Even though the study acknowledges that credit history and exceeding debt-to-income ratio are the most common factors for mortgage denial, which in turn explains the imbalances in racial representation of homeownership, the authors emphasize “racial segregation” and a “history of systemic discrimination” as reasons behind Black San Diegans’ lack of homeownership. The rationale is arbitrary and almost bizarre, even if we don’t account for factors such as credit scores and debt-to-income ratios. Based on census data, white residents in the city tend to be older than their black counterparts, explaining the “disparities” in homeownership. Yes, it is simple math and common sense: older people, regardless of race, have had more time to save money and, as a result, are always “overrepresented” in their rate of owning homes.

In fact, grievance studies that attribute housing inequalities to systemic racism and white supremacy have been around in academia for at least a short while. In his 2017 book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, economist Richard Rothstein argues, with a series of historical case studies, that our governments at the local, state, and federal levels, along with the court systems, are responsible for upholding racist policies to maintain and perpetuate residential racial segregation of whites versus blacks in big American cities.

These racist policies include discriminatory zoning, taxation, subsidies, and explicit redlining. For Rothstein, who is also a senior fellow at the famed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 has done nothing to remedy the de facto segregation because state-sanctioned discrimination against black urban dwellers are so entrenched and institutionalized.

In his best-selling book, frequently quoted by racial justice warriors and diversity advocates, Rothstein writes:

We have created a caste system in this country, with African Americans kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies. Although most of these policies are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure.

While Rothstein and his progressive fellows may be unforgiving of America’s past wrongs of racial discrimination, other academics have scrutinized his claim of a residential caste system with more up-to-date data and theories. Scholars Richard Sander, Yana Kucheva, and Jonathan Zasloff, for instance, have provided America’s “first comprehensive analysis of housing segregation” in their 2018 book Moving Toward Integration: The Past and Future of Fair Housing. Their empirical analysis, critically examining the multi-eras evolution of housing segregation and U.S. housing policies from 1865 to the present, debunks Rothstein’s simpleminded indictment on a racist public housing apparatus.

Rather than the pessimism expressed in Rothstein’s work—and in far too many racial studies on this topic—Moving toward Integration adopts a “cautionary optimist” tone. It rightfully recognizes the effectiveness of fair housing policies over the past fifty years “in dramatically reducing many forms of discrimination” and “trigger(ing) broad integration in some metropolitan areas.” In areas where integration has not taken place or where segregation has deepened, Sander and Kucheva explain that complex, micro-level socioeconomic and demographic factors, such as lack of affordable housing, existing cycles of neighborhood choice, diverging housing demands in different metropolitan areas and migration patterns, are at play.

With better data and better faculty measurements, Sander, Kucheva, and Zasloff speak with reason and nuances:

[T]he story of African-American housing segregation over the past fifty years is really two stories: painfully slow declines in most major urban areas, but rapid and consequential declines in a fair number of other areas. Yet most of those writing in this field have ignored or dismissed this second, ‘increasing integration’ path.

We agree with the authors, one of whom, Richard Sander, advises our work at the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. We believe that San Diego, dubbed as “America’s Finest City,” is not plagued by systemic racism in housing policies. That is why we have teamed up with our long-term ally, the Pacific Legal Foundation, in a newly filed federal lawsuit against the City of San Diego for its BIPOC-only housing assistance program. In Californians for Equal Rights Foundation v. City of San Diego, we argue that the government should help first-time homebuyers based on needs and merit, not on race, which violates our Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Photo by Jared Gould — Adobe — Text to Image


  • Wenyuan Wu

    Wenyuan Wu is Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Twitter: @wu_wenyuan

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