Today, the Supreme Court ruled in a pivotal case that upholds the key principle of fair housing, but the ruling, if misused, may wrongly pit poor urban communities against affluent suburbs. In the face of growing economic inequality, concentrated poverty, and racial segregation that threaten the American dream, it would be an injustice if state officials use this decision to abandon cities in favor of surrounding towns. We need housing policies and investments that create opportunities in both places.
I am proud to lead The Community Builders, Inc., a national nonprofit housing developer that builds and sustains strong communities where people of all incomes can achieve their full potential. Over the past 50 years in Boston and 30 other metropolitan regions, we’ve helped transform blighted urban areas into vibrant neighborhoods, while also creating affordable apartment communities in sought-after suburbs.
The affordable housing we’ve built in the Boston suburb of Lincoln, Mass., gives working parents a chance to raise their kids in a safe community with some of the best public schools in the country.
Our affordable housing work in Boston’s South End allowed hundreds of low-income families to stay in the neighborhood as it transformed from a dangerous, broken place in the 1960s to one that is now thriving. The South End’s recent history shows that opportunity changes in places over time.
Growing up in poverty too often means lower-quality schools, more crime and violence, less access to jobs, and, worst of all, fewer ways to create a life different from the one you experienced as a child. These negative impacts of poverty fall disproportionately on families of color. But, poverty is not synonymous with cities, nor is opportunity exclusive to suburban areas. More than half the nation’s poor live in suburbs or rural areas and the greatest job growth right now is in our largest cities.
Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968 with an understanding of this relationship between people, place, and opportunity. The law protects against housing policies or practices that purposefully or unintentionally discriminate, so-called disparate impact. In the case of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) v. Inclusive Communities Project (ICP)—the court wisely upheld the use of disparate impact to address housing discrimination.
While the positive impact of the decision likely means more poor families will have broader access to safe suburbs with good schools, the ruling if misapplied by states could starve underserved inner-city communities of critical housing resources.
If we are going to eradicate economic inequality and racial segregation, the purpose of the Fair Housing Act, America needs both cities and suburbs where low-income families can thrive. We must hold elected officials accountable in Congress, the state House, and every town hall to ensure fair funding and fair access for housing in all communities, before the American dream slips even further out of reach.