Now is the time for fair housing advocates to come to the aid of HUD Secretary Cisneros and support his call for affirmative action to end segregation in public and assisted housing.
Secretary Cisneros has provided bold new leadership for desegregation, the likes of which have not been seen since President Kennedy issued his famous executive order to desegregate public housing.
The New York Times heralded him as a "Lonely Clarion Against Racism" in their July 8 interview. (see page 3, August ADVOCATE.) But fair housing advocates know that he is far from alone. His actions have the legal support of federal judges in all sections of the country many of whom have ordered desegregation of public housing. The problem is that those orders have come in a piecemeal, city-by-city basis.
Cisneros said "race is at the core of the problems which confront America's urban areas." He is also concerned with "spatial separation," which keeps public and other assisted-housing residents away from good jobs and good schools.
The HUD Secretary has many examples of public housing authority desegregation orders. Foremost is the decision in NAACP v. Boston, which established an affirmative goal and required cooperation for dispersal of assisted housing in 137 cities and towns. Years ago Federal Judge Justice ordered desegregation of 70 PHAs in 36 East Texas Counties, including the City of Vidor. An $80 million settlement for desegregation of public and assisted housing in Los Angles was signed in 1992, and in January of this year, a federal judge in Kansas City, Missouri, ordered an affirmative action marketing plan for desegregation and dispersal.
What this country needs, and Secretary Cisneros deserves, is broad legal action that would back HUD in requiring every public housing authority to adopt an affirmative action plan for desegregation.
A broad legal plan would build on the example of the Adams cases, which ordered federal education agencies to require states with dual systems of higher education to develop plans to dismantle them. The federal government is much more implicated in creating and maintaining public housing segregation that it ever was in higher education segregation.
The pernicious impact of the Reagan-era policies of Brad Reynolds and Ed Meece against affirmative action are ongoing in Louisville and Kentucky as well
as across the country. Kentucky began implementing desegregation efforts soon after President Kennedy's order. By 1986 Kentucky had 19 local authorities desegregating under affirmative action plans. This number included one settlement initiated by the Civil Rights Division headed by Drew Days. Kentucky had more public housing desegregation than any region of the country.
But more than two decades of progress ended with a July 1987 letter directed by the Civil Rights Division telling Kentucky authorities not to follow their plans. HUD sent a similar letter to the Louisville Public Housing Authority, ordering them to, delete "desegregation," "integration" and "affirmative action" from their policies. The next year after a fifteen year increase in desegregation, Kentucky saw an increase in segregation.
Cleveland's housing history illustrates the effect of "affirmatively marketing" to segregate public housing. An article in the November issue of Cleveland's Metro Eye, "History Haunts Latest Effort to Rebuild CMHA," reports court victories but limited improvements.
Policies followed under Brad Reynolds and Ed Meece that were intended to end effective affirmative action are not the law of the land. Reynolds and Meece did not amend the constitution, or the statutes, or the regulations, or even President Kennedy's executive order. And despite Reagan and Bush judicial appointments in the last 12 years, case law has not upheld their ideological views. Instead, fair housing advocates can point to many court orders for public housing desegregation.
In order to continue the progress already made in public housing desegregation, supporters of fair housing should immediately come to the support of Secretary Cisneros.