Segregation Still the Norm

by Earni Young

Philadelphia Daily News

(Used by permission)

"We have seen the enemy and it is us," was the summary comment offered during a day long conference on the barriers to racially integrated neighborhoods and housing markets. The conference at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mount Airy was sponsored by Fund for the Future of Philadelphia program for the Fund for an Open Society, nonprofit group that promotes racial integration in housing markets.

The comment was offered by Don DeMarco, director of Fund for an Open Society, as a wry observation on the role played by many community development and housing activists. "It's good folk like us, who, in our zeal to promote affordable housing and neighborhood redevelopment, end up continuing racial segregation," DeMarco said. "It's not by choice but because of government policies that determine what projects are funded."

Those same policies also concentrate poverty, continuing the problems that devastate so many African-American neighborhoods, DeMarco said. His criticisms were echoed by John Gallery, former director of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development and developer of MarketEast and the Gallery II.

"Virtually all of the housing funding programs we have in the city maintain racial segregation, though not intentionally so," Gallery said. As an example, Gallery cited the city's practice of "almost exclusively" distributing community development money through a network of neighborhood-based Community Development Corporations (CDCs). These nonprofit groups use the money to rehab and construct affordable houses within the neighborhood for local low-income residents, Gallery said. Thus, poor white neighborhoods stay white and poor white neighborhoods stay black.

To correct the policies that have turned a once racially integrated Philadelphia into one of this nation's most segregated cities, Gallery offered several provocative solutions. "Philadelphia provides CDCs subsidies of$55,000 to $65,000 for every housing unit they produce...instead, I suggest that these subsidies go directly to individuals." A low-income family could use the city subsidy to increase its home-buying power to purchase a home anywhere in the city and have instant equity, Gallery said.

Gallery also proposed that government mortgage subsidies be offered to anyone making a pro-integrative housing move regardless of income and that CDCs be required to market their properties "pro-integratively." The onus of integration should not fall solely on blacks and other minorities, he said. "Policies that say blacks and Hispanics should move to other neighborhoods to promote racial integration are unreasonable. Whites should be willing to move to minority neighborhoods," Gallery said.

Gallery's proposals may sound farfetched, but no more so than the misguided public policies that got us into this mess. "Segregation is not a relic of the past; it is very much with us," said University of Pennsylvania professor Douglas S. Massey, co-author of "Residential Apartheid, and the Making of the under Class."