County makes gains in housing integration, gets a prod for more

Jefferson County has made inroads in integrating its neighborhoods, even though nearly three-fourths of the county is still racially segregated.

A report released yesterday by the Fair Housing Council said segregated housing - aided by desegregation of public schools that began in 1975 - has declined 11 percentage points, from 82 percent in 1980 to 71 percent in 1990.

The council is a private, non-profit organization set up five years ago to monitor housing desegregation. Its report, which relied on 1990 census data, showed that the 1975 school plan spurred more open housing countywide during the late 1970s and 1980s.

However, the report's authors expressed concern that the school system's new student-assignment plan adopted in December may jeopardize housing integration gains, because it relies on voluntary transfers to desegregate schools.

At a news conference yesterday, Galen Martin, the council's executive director, called for "the adoption of a comprehensive communitywide housing desegregation program, a program that would have an affirmative fair housing marketing plan."

"The community needs to reinforce its efforts for housing desegregation," said Martin, who wrote the report with Molly Hadley, a researcher with the council. Two previous reports were produced by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights when Martin was its executive director.

The plan, which would be modeled after one in Boston, would do the following:

  • Maintain a directory of all subsidized housing.
  • Alert minority residents to housing opportunities.
  • Investigate complaints of discriminatory practices.
  • Ask financial institutions for help in assisting low-income housing plans in the city and county.

The plan recommended that the Louisville and Jefferson County housing authorities be merged to provide a central processing center for public housing applications.

Currently, the county processes more applications from whites while the city processes more applications from African-Americans. A central clearinghouse would help balance distribution of public housing.

"The dual system, as it's structured, doesn't do anything but to offset desegregation," said Andrea Duncan, executive director of the Housing Authority of Louisville. "If there was a combined waiting list to work from, then we would have a better opportunity for providing more racially integrated housing."

John Van Ness, executive director for the county housing authority, did not return calls for comment. Mayor Jerry Abmmson and County Judge-Executive Dave Armstrong declined to comment on the report because they had not reviewed its findings.

The study underscored the fact that public housing is more segregated than private housing and cited federal policies as the reason.

Duncan said her agency attracts more African-American and other minority applicants than white because of existing laws.

She said that "whites tend to wait for the Section 8 vouchers," which subsidize tenants' rental costs in a variety of housing and is administered only by the county. This, she said, leaves the city subsidizing public housing, in which tenants get a reduced rate in housing projects. The city has no Section 8 program.

The city now has about 1,000 people on its waiting list for public assistance, about 78 percent of them black or other minorities.

The council's report said that more than four out of every five census tracts in the county gained African-Americans in the last 10 years. Between 1970 and 1980, black
residents had gained in only three out of four census tracts.

Only one census tract - Audubon park - was listed as having no blacks in 1990. In 1980 there were seven all-white tracts and in 1970 there were 15.

Only 1,560 people live in the Audubon Park tract, according to the census data.

James Gloor, Audubon Park's acting mayor, said he was surprised that his community was the only one not to have black residents.

"To my knowledge, there has not been a black family to live here, but not because of any action of ours," said Gloor, noting that he has a Vietnamese family as neighbors.

"This seems to be a general region where the black community has not attempted to move in."

The study also reported that of the 22 census tracts that had a decrease in black population between 1980 and 1990, 10 are located in the southwestern corner of Jefferson County, and two are in the most eastern parts of the county.

In addition to Martin, the council's members include Nettie Alice Greene, a community advocate; William Haliday, a Louisville attorney; L. L. Holder, former Veterans Administration housing employee; the Revs. Louis Coleman, a civil-rights activist, and David Bos, executive director of St. Matthews Area Ministries; Cecil Blye, a Louisville attorney; Rhonda Curry, a Social Security hearing officer for the federal government;
Ruby Dunn of Harrodsburg; Peter Ebbs, a housingloan arranger; Jim Hill, a Louisville attorney and a teacher at the University of Louisville; and Stephen Porter, also a Louisville attorney.

Reprinted with permission, The Courier-Journal, May 28, 1992