By Elizabeth DeBray, Kara S. Finnigan, Andrew J. Greenlee, & Heidi Kurniawan (click here for the PDF)
Housing and School Segregation
As inter-district racial disparities have increased over the past decades (Owens et al., 2016), fragmentation of multiple school districts in metropolitan areas hindered coordination of broader policies aimed at reducing the racial isolation of students (Holme & Finnigan, 2018). Even in metropolitan areas with cross-sector planning councils, education is rarely included, and local politics usually thwarts willingness to collaborate and cede the advantages of affluent districts (Holme & Finnigan, 2018, p. 74). In many communities, the negative segregative effects of test-based accountability and realtors’ reliance on these in marketing schools to parents worsen racially segregative patterns (Wells, 2015). On the other hand, attendance at racially desegregated schools and higher per-pupil spending have been found to reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Johnson, 2019).
The enduring impacts of housing and school segregation continue to undermine the democratic nature of our public education system. Segregation does not just create a racialized hierarchy, but limits access to opportunity for people of color in terms of the combined access to health, housing, employment, transportation, childcare, education, and so on, resulting in negative consequences and outcomes (Johnson, 2019). While many studies focus on the harms of segregation on people of color because of the inequitable power and resources, research also suggests harm to racially isolated White students, from limiting their capacity to develop a sense of self and others, to reifying false notions of superiority and limiting their ability to work in racially diverse settings (Wilson, 2021).
Scholars of spatial inequality point to the racialized geographic structure of opportunity that extends beyond education to other aspects of health care, housing, and employment (Tate, 2008; Drier, 2014). More recent work by Green (2015) considers not just the problems resulting from racial isolation and concentrated poverty in low-opportunity areas but also the assets in these areas (including faith-based organizations, grocery stores, local businesses, and community-based organizations), many of which are culturally significant to people of color living in these communities, that can be leveraged to improve school and community outcomes. To achieve spatial justice, we must both understand the unequal geographic distribution of resources, such as access to affordable housing or well-resourced schools, and address decisions that are made over the use and design of spaces (Soja, 2010). In most locales, public policy and private actors have created racialized spaces that undercut the kinds of coalitions and regional solutions necessary to create equitable distribution of resources and result in more equitable outcomes (Holme & Finnigan, 2018, p. 78). As a result, policy tools at the state or federal level can be a useful strategy to incentivize local policy change.
The Obama administration’s rule concerning the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) component of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 represented a policy tool to explicitly address some of the barriers to structural and institutional dimensions of inequity, of which schools are still a major one (Bostic & Acolin, 2018; Goetz, 2018; O’Regan, 2019). The affirmatively furthering mandate of the Act requires the recipients of federal funds to do more than simply not discriminate – they must go deeper to address segregation and other more systemic and spatial issues driving housing inequity.
The Obama administration recognized the housing-education policy linkage as part of its larger push for interagency efforts to enhance integration (U.S. Departments of Housing, Transportation, and Education, 2016). AFFH was designed to encourage local conversations and collaborations around solving major structural problems. Of the types of government entities potentially involved in AFHs, school systems represent one such system of spatially mediated opportunity; schools have historically been used to perpetuate inequalities associated with residential segregation and have also been part of the remedy for longstanding patterns of spatial difference. In addition, because of the education system’s roles in both perpetuating inequality and in mutually reinforcing residential segregation, “Access to proficient schools” was one of the factors that HUD grantees were required to assess in their AFH plans (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2015, p. 153).
Our Study of AFH Plans
Our study of the first year of implementation of the AFFH rule focused on 15 locales (out of 22 for jurisdiction year 2016) that included education issues in the goal sections of their plans and were HUD-approved. Our examination focused on whether the plans targeted improving access to schools, quality of schools, school integration, and/or the deconcentration of poverty. We were interested in: what the local government was planning to do to address the goals; the measures that would be used to evaluate progress; whether funding was discussed; what were delineated as the criterion for linking schools and housing; and institutional and governmental partners referenced in the plans. We highlight the ways that different locales discuss the geographic and racial disparities in education and housing.
Our review found that more than half of the plans explicitly discussed goals related to K-12 education, whether it was to aim to “expand educational attainment” (Philadelphia) or “to address inequities to access to proficient schools…and to provide resources for low-income families in public housing to improve educational outcomes” (Seattle). But, our study also found that most locales had very little to no attention to issues discussed as far as educational inequities that were regional in nature when articulating the goals of their plans. For example, the AFH for El Paso County, Colorado, noted disparities in access to proficient schools, citing limited public transportation and barriers given the open enrollment time frame. The authors write that “families who want to get their children into a better school district must be both lucky and financially equipped to provide transportation.” HUD specifically required jurisdictions to set goals to address significant contributing factors, but since so many did not do this, it is clearly a planning and implementation gap.
When they did discuss education, they focused on narrow measures of school quality. Perhaps not surprising given how quality was defined (by fourth-grade test scores), these were quite broad sweeping and somewhat generic goals. A small number of plans discussed goals related to improving access to schools but did not provide any details as to how they would improve access, e.g., through school assignment policies or what measure(s) would be used.
Missed Opportunity to Disrupt Systems of Inequity Through Cross-Sector Solutions
Our review of AFHs revealed that while many plans described the presence of both housing and school segregation and inequity in their communities, the policy goals and approaches outlined a) lacked an articulation for how to address these issues jointly; and b) in many cases, laid out goals that insulated these issues within either school or housing systems but not as interdependent issues. Of the plans that we reviewed, only two described residential and school segregation as interconnected problems. One additional plan mentioned poverty reduction as an overall goal. No plans clearly pointed to solutions for addressing spatial unevenness and segregation or poverty through cross-sector engagement or collaboration.
Furthermore, we note that amongst the plans that we reviewed that none listed local educational entities as collaborators or partners.
Evidence from the plans we reviewed illustrates how the gap between the regulatory intent and authority creates a missed opportunity to disrupt existing systems via cross-sector engagement. Defining and pointing to interrelationships between fair housing planning and educational institutions is an important initial step, but problem identification must lead to meaningful collaboration across the scales at which housing and school planning occur. System disruption without an expansive mandate requires a substantial intrinsic commitment to change on the part of local entities.
Looking beyond the issue of regulatory authority, we see several additional reasons for this lack of evidence for collaboration around housing and schools in AFHs. First, this lack of cross-institution engagement is reflective of the rationale for HUD’s AFFH rule – to develop stronger grounds for collaborative goal setting around fair housing, environmental justice, and schools within local and regional planning processes. Second, the lack of coordination within these plans likely reflects dependencies within the local politics ecosystem – the political landscape for decision-making around schools and housing are interconnected but also contain different sets of actors, different spatial scales, and different path dependencies.
It has been reported that the Biden Administration plans to reinstate a new AFFH rule (the prior rule was suspended, then effectively eliminated by the Trump Administration). In the reissued rule for local jurisdictions, public housing authorities, and states, we recommend very clear prompts to identify data, policies, and practices that implicate the housing-education relationship, explicit requirements for consultation and collaboration with educational agencies, and a menu of meaningful goals and actions that participants may consider adopting. For example:
> Data points: The AFFH process should continue to provide for standardized, publicly available data relating to education. The Department of Education should make available to HUD for inclusion in its AFFH data and mapping tool all relevant education data that bear on fair housing, including school district lines; NCES data on racial and economic segregation across school district lines and across school assignment zones within a jurisdiction, PHA area of operation, or state. The HUD tool should specifically correlate the distribution of subsidized housing units with school demographics across school districts and schools (Gould Ellen & Horn, 2018) redefine “proficient” schools as “high-performing” schools, and add “access to low-poverty schools” as an additional metric.
> Definitions: The rule should include a clearer definition of “areas of opportunity” that includes “access to low-poverty, high-performing schools” as one of the listed elements.
> Policies and practices (aka “contributing factors”): A new AFFH process should require a standardized analysis of policies and practices that impact fair housing, including those connecting to education, such as the relation of school assignment zones to the location of subsidized housing units, percentage of affordable units and presence of exclusionary land-use policies within school districts, etc.
> Consultation and collaboration: Explicitly mandate cross-agency meetings with school districts and education stakeholders, with suggested discussion prompts, and require a report out of agreed cross-agency areas of cooperation. The new rule should also ensure robust community stakeholder input, including outreach to local educational advocacy and parent organizing groups.
> Goals and actions: Include a specific list of housing-schools goals and actions for jurisdictions, PHAs, and states to consider adopting in the AFH. HUD guidance and technical assistance resources should include education-related commitments and follow-through by recipients.
By strengthening the planning process, we anticipate that there can be far greater prospects for progress in meaningful desegregation for both neighborhoods and schools. ▀
Elizabeth DeBray (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor at the Mary Frances Early College of Education and a Faculty Affiliate of the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia.
Kara S. Finnigan (email@example.com) is a Professor at the Warner School of Education and Distinguished Equity, Inclusion, and Social Transformation Fellow of the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the University of Rochester.
Andrew J. Greenlee (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Heidi Kurniawan (email@example.com) is a law student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
Note: For more details on this study see: Finnigan, K., DeBray, E., Greenlee, A., Haberle, M., & Kurniawan, H. (2021). Using fair housing planning as a tool to address schooling inequities. Education Law & Policy Review, 6, 73-89.
Bostic, R., and Acolic, A. (2018). Affirmatively furthering fair housing: The mandate to end segregation. In G. Squires (Ed.), The fight for fair housing: Causes, consequences, and future implications of the 1968 federal fair housing act (pp. 189-206). New York: Routledge Press.
Drier, P., Mollenkopf, J. Swanstrom, T. (2014). Place matters: Metropolitics for the twenty-first century (Third edition). Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas.
Goetz, E. (2018). One way street of integration: Fair housing and the pursuit of racial justice in American cities. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Green T.L. (2015) Places of Inequality, Places of Possibility: Mapping “Opportunity in Geography” Across Urban School-Communities. Urban Rev 47, 717–741 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-015-0331-z
Haberle, M. & Tegeler, P. (2019). Coordinated action on housing and school integration: The role of state government. University of Richmond Law Review 53: 949-976.
Holme, J. and Finnigan, K. (2018). Striving in common: A regional equity framework for urban schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Gould Ellen, I. & Horn, K. (2018). Housing and Educational Opportunity: Characteristics of Local Schools Near Families with Federal Housing Assistance (PRRAC, July 2018), available at http://www.prrac.org/pdf/HousingLocationSchools2018.pdf.
Johnson, R. (2019). Children of the dream: Why school integration works. New York: Basic Books.
O’Regan, K. (2019). The Fair Housing Act Today: Current Context and Challenges at 50, Housing Policy Debate, 29:5, 704-713, DOI: 10.1080/10511482.2018.1519907
Owens, A., Reardon, S., and Jencks, C. (2016). Income segregation between schools and districts. American Educational Research Journal, 53(4), 1159–1197.
Soja, E. W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice. University of Minnesota Press.
Tate, W. F. (2008). “Geography of opportunity”: Poverty, place, and educational outcomes. Educational Researcher, 37(7), 397-411. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X08326409
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (2015). AFFH Rule Guidebook 4, https://www.nhlp.org/wpcontent/uploads/HUD-AFFH-Rule-Guidebook-Dec.-2015.pdf.
United States Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development & Transportation (2016). Joint Letter on Schools and Communities, AFFH. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/06032016-dear-colleagues-letter.pdf?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=
Wells, A.S. (2015). Diverse housing, diverse schooling: How policy can stabilize racial demographic change in cities and suburbs. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/housing-school-nexus.
Wilson, E. K. (2021). Monopolizing whiteness. Harvard Law Review 34(1):2382-2448.