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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

Rationales for (and Challenges to) Addressing Residential Segregation

The consequences of racial segregation, the rationales for public policies to address those consequences, and the priorities for action are the central focus of three papers we released today as part of a new series of papers and blogs on A Shared Future: Fostering Communities of Inclusion in an Era of Inequality.

The newly released papers are:

Sheryll Cashin
Georgetown University

Integration as a Means of Restoring Democracy and Opportunity, by Sheryll Cashin, examines the role physical segregation plays in undermining race relations, democracy, and opportunity in the United States. The paper argues that segregation and supremacy must be dismantled with the same level of concerted effort and intention with which they were cultivated. While Cashin notes that the enduring effectiveness of divide-and-conquer, dog-whistling politics makes it unlikely that this work will be carried out by class-based coalition of people of all colors, she is optimistic about the possibilities for creating ascending coalitions of culturally dexterous whites and progressive people of color that could fight together for integration and equity in the regions where they live.


Nancy McArdle &
Dolores Acevdo-Garcia,
Brandeis University

Consequences of Segregation for Children’s Opportunity and Wellbeing, by Nancy McArdle and Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, notes that mounting research evidence increasingly reveals the cost of segregation in terms of children’s health, education, and long-term economic success. The paper argues for concentrated efforts to promote integrated, diverse education, which has been shown to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills, the development of cross-racial trust, and the ability to navigate cultural differences. Given the close connection between residential patterns and school assignments, the policies that encourage neighborhood integration, including affirmatively furthering fair housing, enforcing anti-discrimination laws, providing incentives for affordable housing construction in higher opportunity areas, and inclusionary zoning, would likely also reduce segregation in schools, as well as provide more equitable access to other neighborhood assets that are beneficial to child wellbeing. However, they warn that since new policy directions regarding taxes and entitlements, fair housing, and school choice, to name a few, all have great potential to exacerbate economic and racial/ethnic segregation, the present is an especially significant moment to understand the extent and costs of segregation for children.


 Jennifer Hochschild
& Shanna Weitz
Harvard University

Challenging Group-Based Segregation and Isolation: Whether and Why, by Jennifer Hochschild and Shanna Weitz, explores two fundamental contradictions in liberal norms that make it challenging to effectively intervene to reduce the disadvantages of isolated or segregated communities. The first challenge involves the tension between the desire to end segregation and isolation and the fact that, in some situations, liberal ideals permit, and in some circumstances encourage, group isolation and separation. The second is that, while there are well-established ways to address racial and ethnic isolation, the US lacks a parallel set of norms, laws, practices, and advocates for lessening class isolation. The authors conclude by noting that liberal polities have never sorted out the tension between individual rights and group autonomy and probably never will. However, they add, that is no excuse for failing to take the steps toward freedom of choice and exciting opportunities to flourish that any liberal should embrace.


In combination with a previously released framing paper, which summarized existing evidence on patterns, causes, and consequences of residential segregation in the United States, the three papers help set the stage for other papers from the project. Those papers, which will be released monthly over the next half year, will focus on the question of “what would it take” to create and carry out policies to address a range of housing-related issues including integration, gentrification, and education. The papers, which will also be collected into an edited volume to be published in 2018, initially were presented at a two-day symposium that was convened by the Joint Center in April 2017.