The Suburban Racial Dilemma: Housing and Neighborhoods, by W. Dennis Keating, 1994 Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 288 pp $49.95 cloth, $22.95 paper
Reviewed by Donald L. DeMarco
All across America, racial segregation in housing is the rule, interracial living is the exception. Moreover, mixed-race housing is often transitory where it is found. Community development by local government and nonprofits is organized largely on territorial bases reflecting separate and unequal residential patterns. When operating on a race-neutral basis, segregation is maintained and extended with inner-ring suburbs joining the predominantly black cities. These are then surrounded by the further-out white suburbs.
Keating, a Cleveland State University urbanologist, writes of multiracial suburbs that have decided, or been pushed to decide, not to let segregative momentum go unchallenged. These are exceptional communities because they are multiracial, and, more so, because they race-consciously seek to create long-term, racially inclusive housing demand in and beyond their borders. Some of them have gone well beyond enforcing the fair housing laws enacted to protect an individual’s rights, and remedy wrongs based on race. They address themselves, as then-Senator Walter Mondale said in 1968 in sponsoring the National Fair Housing Act, to affirmatively furthering “the replacement of ghettos [i.e. one-race housing markets and neighborhoods] with integrated and balanced living patterns.”
Keating provides well-researched, concise histories of the race and residence policies and practices of selected suburbs of Cleveland, OH, including East Cleveland, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, Parma and Euclid. Greater Cleveland is one of our nation’s most racially segregated metropolitan areas. Yet, it has some of the most pro-integrative suburbs in the country.
Chicago, Detroit, and New York suburban case examples are reviewed briefly. Keating also provides background on several nonprofits that have been organized or appreciably influenced by these suburbs.
The costs and benefits of both segregation and integration are considered mostly from local political perspectives rather than economically. In addition to citing funding, significant role players and statistics on racial proportions and housing prices, Keating describes a variety of pro-integrative programs. These include pro-integrative housing location services, low interest-rate loans for persons moving into areas where their races are underrepresented (compared to their metropolitan proportion), equity assurance, and a variety of marketing, advertising and public relations initiatives designed to “expand homeseekers’ options” beyond racially traditional areas.
Some initiatives are done cooperatively; others are independent. Some are funded and controlled by directly affected, integration-valuing suburbs. Others directly impact white suburbs whose residents and leaders would just as soon not have any carpetbaggers fix what, for them, is not broken.
Keating then goes on to relate his own attitudinal research findings about pro-integrative movers, both whites and people of color. People of all races whose neighborhoods are affected by these programs are surveyed.
His findings will not surprise those familiar with much of the past decade’s literature on race and attitudes. However, those who rely on the popular press’ misleading suggestions that integration and pro-integrative efforts are increasingly opposed now by blacks as well as whites will be quite surprised.
Keating finds that his respondents – movers and non-movers, people of color and whites – favor racially integrated living and even governmental action to encourage it. European Americans favor integration and African Americans favor it more so. Of course, they all favor it more in the abstract than is evidenced by the actions of individuals. This is quite similar to the usual disparities between stated values and behavior. Further, favoring integration does not mean that it is a high enough priority to be acted on in the face of prevailing segregative pressures. Indeed, minority and non-minority respondents are shown to favor different racial balances. European Americans tend to favor mixed-race neighborhoods that house and attract the races in numbers reflective of their presence in the metropolitan area (i.e. European American majority), and African Americans favor “50/50” neighborhoods. Instability results from such differences in preferences for integration. Anticipatory and reactive moves result in unwanted segregation and bitterness about the elusiveness of stable racial diversity.
Some readers may find Keating too ready to accept the inevitability of prevailing resistance to more broadly successful pro-integration efforts. This reader’s minor pet peeve is the deference and uncritical respect that Keating gives to black segregationists who give aid and comfort to white segregationists.
Keating neglects to address the issue of unintended segregative effects of current race-neutral federal and state governmental and quasi-governmental programs. An example of this is special needs housing investment organized territorially and funded on the basis of income. The resulting segregation by race and income has been mitigated in a few places with extraordinary political will as well as human and capital resources. Former President Bush, if he were to value interracial living, would term these exceptions “points of light.”
Keating could also do readers a service by relating macro–community development policy and micro–community development. Nonprofit housing providers, for example, could be empowered to generate stable integrated housing with the help of a more favorable federal policy.
Keating’s study concludes with the notion that a variety of affirmative, race-conscious programs are needed if the suburbs are to be racially and economically integrated on more than an exceptional basis. Broad accomplishment will require mandates or incentives that emanate from federal and state governments promoting metropolitan area action.
The dilemma that is at the heart of this book is that to get beyond racially separate and unequal housing and neighborhoods, race must be taken into consideration; race-neutral policies perpetuate the segregation engineered in prior years. To reverse segregative engineering is politically difficult as there is considerable investment in the segregated status quo, including among some minority interests, even though separate can never be equal.
Keating, a lawyer as well as a college professor and administrator, writes without unnecessary legal or academic jargon. His clear prose allows readers to easily comprehend complex ideas.
With case studies of local governments and nonprofits striving to lead the examined life and shape a robust, racially inclusive destiny, Keating illuminates the issues of race and residence. Anyone who is concerned about understanding these issues will benefit from reading his book.
Donald DeMarco is the Executive Director of Fund for an OPEN Society, a national, Philadelphia-based, nonprofit mortgage fund making financial incentive loans to promote and sustain racial integration. He previously served the governments of Shaker Heights, OH, and Park Forest, IL and was afforded the opportunity to review and comment on factual accuracy of several chapters of Mr. Keating’s book prior to publication.
Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets by John P. Kretzmann & John L. McKnight (Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University, paper) describes Asset Based Community Development, an alternative approach to revitalizing troubled communities. The authors contend that every community is full of untapped assets and capacities – human capital that can be identified and enhanced.
This book provides practical guidance in identifying individuals’ capacity, building networks, using local institutions, mobilizing the community and providing policies and guidelines for institutional support to rebuild a local economy. Kretzmann & McKnight suggest, for example, using a “capacity inventory” to document community members’ talents and skills. A sample checklist that practitioners can modify to their specific situations is provided. The book also gives short descriptions of tactics used by groups across the country to implement community-building strategies. For example, under the strategy of capturing resources, the authors briefly describe how people in various cities have used recycling campaigns to create jobs, plant trees, and decrease waste.
Building Communities is full of effective and practical ways to help the disenfranchised make meaningful contributions to their community. The book should help strengthen ties within communities, an important step in changing the course of many cities.
Interwoven Destinies: Cities and the Nation edited by HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros (W.W. Norton, hardcover). This new book includes valuable essays on the future of America’s cities. The view that in the global, post-industrial economy cities are now obsolete has led some to conclude that there is little hope for a Federal Marshall Plan to build our cities. The Cisneros volume – especially articles by Elliot Sclar and Walter Hook, Carol O’Cleireacain, Ernie Cortes and Paul Brophy – challenges that thinking, arguing that cities are still critical to the American economy.
Developing Affordable Housing: A Practical Guide for Nonprofit Organizations by Bennett L. Hecht (Wiley, hardcover). This 500 page book provides a step-by-step guide to the tools and strategies needed to produce affordable housing. The author is the Director of the Georgetown University Law Center’s National Center for Tenant Ownership. He examines the unique features of affordable housing development and explains the complete process, including putting together a development team, determining the feasibility of a project, planning the financing, dealing with construction and property management. This heavy book also comes with a heavy price, $95, but is offered on a 30-day free examination basis from the publisher. Call 1-800-879-4539.
And in periodicals…
Common Ground and the Social Control of Space: Insights from the Rent-Control Debate by Margot Kempers in Urban Affairs Quarterly, March 1994
What It Means to Fail. Editorial by David Dyssegaard Kallick in Social Policy, Winter 1993
The Rural Rebound by Sharon O’Malley in American Demographics, May 1994
The Poor are Fleeing Cities, Too by Jan Larson in American Demographics, May 1994