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PRRAC Update March 3, 2011

Welcome to the PRRAC Update! Every other Thursday, PRRAC sends out a brief digest of news, recent publications, and other points of interest related to our work in housing, education, and health. We welcome feedback and encourage you to forward to others. To join the PRRAC email list, click here.

HUD-sponsored study on housing voucher discrimination laws

Professor Lance Freeman of Columbia University has released a new study seeking to measure the effectiveness of state and local "Source of Income Discrimination" laws, which protect families with federal and state housing vouchers from discrimination in the private housing market. The study, funded by the HUD Office of Policy Development and Research, found significantly higher rates of voucher "utilization" (percentage of families who were able to use their vouchers) in jurisdictions where source of income discrimination laws were present, and much smaller, but statistically significant changes in "locational outcomes" for non-hispanic families in these jurisdictions (changes in locational outcomes were measured as moves to lower poverty or less racially concentrated neighborhoods). Freeman's study relies in part on PRRAC's national survey, which documents source of income discrimination laws in 12 states, the District of Columbia, and 37 cities and towns (Professor Freeman is also a member of PRRAC's Social Science Advisory Board). The study does not differentiate between the effects of strongly enforced SOI laws and weakly enforced SOI laws, which could be a useful avenue for future research. The study's findings on locational outcomes also reflect the segregative effect of the current Section 8 "Fair Market Rent" system, which severely limits the geographic choices of voucher families, regardless of the presence of a source of income discrimination laws (see PRRAC's 2010 policy brief, "Continuing Barriers to Housing Choice and Integration In HUD's Section 8 Voucher Program").

Integrated charter schools?

In a reversal of the usual narrative about racially segregated charter schools, a new, intentionally integrated charter school has been approved on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (see article). This news item is consistent with the Administration's new priority for school diversity in charter school funding announced last month. Some other well known, integrated charter schools include the Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn, the Capital City Charter School in Washington, DC, and Denver's School for Science and Technology. In spite of most charter schools' poor track record on this issue in the past, in many states, charter schools have a greater potential to achieve integration than regular public schools because they are not constrained by local school district boundaries. See the National Coalition on School Diversity's Policy Brief on this topic, and the Century Foundation's review of socioeconomically integrated charters.

In other news....

Civil Rights and Environmental Justice in Public Transportation: The California-based public interest law firm Public Advocates is leading a broad civil rights coalition seeking to improve Title VI rules and enforcement activity in the Federal Transit Administration. The coalition's goals are set out in a new White Paper (produced with Urban Habitat) and a March 2 coalition letter to Transportation Secretary LaHood.

Better protecting residents in the public housing redevelopment process: PRRAC has joined the Housing Justice Network (HJN) in recommending important changes to HUD rules for Public Housing Agencies that seek to demolish, redevelop, or restructure existing public housing. Read the HJN letter here.

Department of Education Announces Equity and Excellence Commission: The U.S. Department of Education announced 28 members of the Equity and Excellence Commission on February 17, 2011. The Commission will examine the intersection between school finance and educational opportunity by collecting information and soliciting public input. Ultimately, the Commission will offer recommendations to the Department on how state school finance systems can be restructured to be more equitable and increase student performance. The Commission is co-chaired by Berkeley Law School Dean Chris Edley and includes a number of leaders in the field of civil rights and educational equity. A list of Commission members can be found here.

Philip Tegeler

Saba Bireda

Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Washington, DC

(to review past PRRAC updates, click here)

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