Moving From the 'Hood: The Mixed Success of Integrating Suburbia

Saxophone player Bill Clinton and blues legend Luther Allison haven't conferred
on urban policy, but both are singing the same tune. In his new song, "Move
From the 'Hood," Allison wails:

I know some of you are doin' your best;

You want a good job, not a welfare check.

But you gotta move;

You gotta move from the 'hood.

As politicians and policy analysts revisited the thorny problems of urban
poverty in recent years, they seemed to be arriving at a rare consensus: Poor
people are hurt by their concentration in large, inner-city neighborhoods that
further social isolation and racial segregation. In this view, it would be
better to disperse poor people and minorities, putting them in closer proximity
to jobs, decent suburban schools, and safe communities. This idea of helping
individuals, rather than funneling aid to localities, came to be known as
helping "people, not places."

In principle, this approach enjoyed bipartisan support. As an instrument of
integration and community renewal, it entailed a far lower scale of "social
engineering" than massive school busing or subsidized housing construction. It
relied more heavily on private market forces, by inviting the poor to use
housing vouchers to move to better market-rate housing, or to commute to
suburban jobs. It was exactly the blend of conservative means and liberal goals
that appealed to, say, a Republican like Jack Kemp or a Democrat like Bill
Clinton. It seemed well suited to a moment when the goals of social policy
became incremental rather than grandiose.

But lately, this sort of benign alternative has been swamped by the tides of
extreme conservatism--the strictures on public spending, the
attack on government regulation, and the sidelining of the deferred agenda of
racial justice. In Congress, the deconcentration strategy is the victim both of
Republican budget-cutting and the resistance by many politicians, including
some Democrats, even to token measures to encourage integration of the suburbs.
And in suburbia itself, deeply entrenched racial practices lead to stubborn
resistance against even moderate integration, and to resegregation when black
migration occurs.

Today, residential segregation remains at the heart of the American dilemma.
Poverty alone does not explain why blacks (and to a lesser extent, Latinos)
live in ghettos and barrios. Studies show that while many of the white poor
live in mixed- income areas (including suburbs), the black poor are much more
highly concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. Discrimination by lenders,
landlords, and real estate brokers accounts for much of this
"hyper-segregation." Overall, about two-thirds of African Americans live in
segregated areas--a figure that has scarcely changed in three decades.
Deconcentration may seem a gentler, more marketlike remedy than earlier forms
of social engineering, but the resistance to it suggests just how deeply
segregation is still entrenched.


The strategy of giving the minority poor more choice in where they live
can be traced in part to the relative success of a plan in Chicago that grew
out of a 1966 lawsuit. Attorney Alexander Polikoff and residents of the Chicago
Housing Authority (CHA)--led by Dorothy Gautreaux--charged that the CHA
reinforced segregation by locating nearly all public housing in overwhelmingly
African American neighborhoods. In upholding their claim, Judge Richard Austin
ordered the CHA to build low-rise scattered-site housing throughout Chicago.
The CHAstrenuously resisted and little new housing was built.

In response to this resistance, the plaintiffs successfully sued to
force HUD and the CHA to fund a rent-subsidy voucher program throughout the
six-county Chicago area. The court appointed a nonprofit, open housing
advocate--the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities--to manage
the program. Since then, with the aid of the Gautreaux mobility program, about
5,700 CHA families have moved to largely white neighborhoods with relatively
few poor people, primarily in the suburbs.

Eligible CHA families scramble to get their names on a selection list each
year. The Leadership Council screens the candidates to eliminate those who lack
the credit history, housekeeping skills, and other attributes that make them
likely to succeed in finding a suburban apartment. They are then counseled on
how to search for a rental unit, even how to impress a potential new landlord,
but they then conduct the hunt for a suitable apartment on their own. (In the
early years the Leadership Council helped them find apartments.)

Although the Gautreaux plans were originally remedies for racial segregation,
housing mobility also emerged as a potential weapon against poverty.
Northwestern University sociologist James Rosenbaum and his colleagues found
that the children of CHA families who moved to the suburbs--and to some extent
the parents themselves--fared better than those who moved out of public housing
but remained in the city. While 63.8 percent of suburban movers had a job after
moving, only 50.9 percent of city movers did. The jobs found by city and
suburban movers paid about the same hourly wages--in both cases about 20
percent higher than their previous jobs. Though the children of suburban movers
often had school troubles at first, eventually they were more likely to stay in
school and to attend college or land full-time, better-paying jobs than those
in the city. The new black suburbanites also reported that they felt safer and
that their children were more likely to interact socially with white kids than
if they had stayed in the ghetto.

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The results from the relatively small-scale Gautreaux mobility plan have
led enthusiasts, including the editorial writers of the New York Times
and the Washington Post, to compare the migration of urban poor to
the suburbs to the westward march of pioneers or even the underground railroad
from slavery.

This somewhat exaggerated enthusiasm reflects in part a disillusionment with
conventional federal efforts to rebuild the inner city, a view articulated by
journalist Nicholas Lemann in the New York Times Magazine last year.
Lemann's piece contended that much of the money was wasted because these
communities were economically and socially doomed. Urban renewal, Model Cities,
Urban Development Action Grants, revenue sharing, the Community Reinvestment
Act and the new federal empowerment zones all attempted to use public
investment to lure private capital into central cities. Despite some successes,
it is clear that other forces--including capital flight, technological change,
racial discrimination, and the much greater federal subsidies to the suburbs
through highways and mortgage deductions--have overwhelmed most of the public
urban initiatives of the past three decades. Of course, people-centered
policies, such as welfare payments or job training, have lost political support
as well.

A key instrument of the geographic dispersal strategy is housing vouchers,
which have been part of federal housing policy for two decades. In 1974 the
federal government began shifting the emphasis away from subsidizing
construction of low-income housing complexes. Instead, the government offered
vouchers to allow poor people to rent apartments on the private market.
Families who receive a housing certificate, under Section 8 of the Housing and
Community Development Act, pay 30 percent of their income and HUD picks up the
rest, up to a "fair market rent" ceiling. (Congressional Republicans recently
proposed raising the tenant share to 32 percent and lowering the fair market
rent, thus reducing the choice of housing available, especially in
middle-income suburbs.) There are currently about 1.4 million households with
Section 8 vouchers. These subsidies cost about $7 billion annually.

Though some inner-city black poor over the years used these certificates to
move to the suburbs, such migration alone has not guaranteed new or better
opportunities. Black suburbanites often end up living in resegregated
communities that can't provide adequate education or other public services and
may still be far from potential jobs. For example, in Chicago, more than 91
percent of Section 8 families are black. According to research by Paul Fischer
of Lake Forest College, more than half of the families live in seven suburban
communities, six of them in nearby south suburbs that are largely black and
increasingly stressed economically. Ironically, Polikoff may now sue to break
up these new suburban Section 8 ghettos. So Gautreaux-like programs are often
necessary if Section 8 is to work effectively as a dispersal strategy.


The Clinton administration, albeit minimally, has promoted policies that
target both places and people. Its place-oriented urban policies (empowerment
zones, tougher regulations against bank redlining, encouragement of community
development banks, and federal aid to hire police), have met fierce Republican
opposition. Under the influence of sociologists William Julius Wilson of the
University of Chicago and Douglas Massey of the University of Pennsylvania, HUD
Secretary Henry Cisneros became an enthusiastic supporter of the strategy of
breaking up inner-city high concentrations of poor minorities, to pursue racial
justice, fight poverty, and improve urban life. Toward that goal, the Clinton
administration has partly shifted in the direction of "people, not places." It
has selectively given local housing authorities the right to tear down central
city projects. It has also proposed privatizing federally subsidized housing
developments and giving current residents Section 8 vouchers to help them
afford apartments in the private market. In addition, the administration hopes
to expand successful "reverse commuting" pilot programs in Phila delphia,
Milwaukee, and Chicago that help inner-city residents get to suburban jobs, and
bring income back into poverty neighborhoods.

Inspired by Chicago's Gautreaux experience, congressional Democrats in 1992
inserted into HUD's budget a new pilot program to encourage inner-city public
housing residents to move to the suburbs, called "Moving To Opportunity" (MTO).
Although it was strongly embraced by Bush's HUD Secretary, Jack Kemp, Cisneros
implemented MTO and became its champion. The MTO initiative provides $164
million to five cities--Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles
won the grant competition--to work with local nonprofit groups to implement
small-scale, metropolitan-wide "housing mobility" programs. HUD also is funding
research to see how the 1,305 families who moved fare compared to those who
remain in the projects. Smaller Gautreaux-like programs already operate in
Cincinnati, Memphis, Dallas, Milwaukee, and Hartford.

On the surface, with its reliance on markets and choice, MTO should
appeal to Republicans, as it did to Kemp and others at the end of Bush's
administration. But congressional Republicans are now largely hostile to any
housing and urban aid and see MTO as a Democratic program that can be race
baited. MTO and Gautreaux can be seen as reducing inefficiencies, prejudices,
and consumer ignorance to make housing markets more fair, effective, and
efficient. But conservatives in Congress and in the pages of right-wing
publications like National Review and American Spectator have
attacked MTO as a new version of school busing, assailing the hardly new or
radical idea of mixed-income communities as denying middle- or
upper-middle-class residents the right to choose to live in an exclusive
community. Clearly, race as much as income motivated the attack.

In Baltimore, Louis De Pazzo, a conservative Democratic candidate for County
Council in the hard-pressed blue-collar and white areas of eastern Baltimore
county, seized on MTO as an issue in early 1994. His opponent was the president
of the nonprofit group selected to help Baltimore's public housing agency
implement MTO. DePazzo encouraged opponents to organize protests; some
Republican candidates joined the chorus; and near-panic swept some white
neighborhoods. Already anxious about the loss of industrial jobs and decaying
public infrastructure and services, they thought Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke's
call for razing some public housing projects meant that MTO would lead to a
flood of poor blacks into their communities. Ironically, no MTO participants
would have gone to many of these neighborhoods because the neighborhoods didn't
meet program requirements. (Their poverty rates already exceeded 10 percent.)
In any case, MTO provided enough money to move only 285 families, many of whom
would probably stay in Baltimore or disperse to more affluent suburbs.

But with one exception, no prominent Maryland politician defended MTO. In the
midst of the controversy, Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, a
liberal populist, killed the planned expansion of MTO in her role as chair of
the subcommittee overseeing HUD. Ironically, within a few months of the
election, the controversy had died down, the plan was being implemented
smoothly, and several of the politicians opposed to MTO were in deep political
trouble on other issues.

When the MTO extension was killed, most of the money was redirected into a
broader, less focused housing mobility program, "Choice In Residency." Under
this HUD plan, nonprofit agencies in selected cities will provide counseling on
housing choices to any Section 8 voucher recipient who wants it. But it will
not require recipients to move out of the central city or poverty areas. Nor
will it provide HUD with funds to evaluate whether the counseling program helps
participants find better housing or jobs. Though the plan is still going
forward, Republican-mandated cutbacks in the Section 8 program, increasing the
tenant share of rent payments and limiting the total rent that can be paid,
will limit the plan's effectiveness by making middle-income communities more
out of reach.

The success of the Clinton administration's plan to help the poor move out of
urban concentrations depends on overcoming suburban resistance and assuring
that there is adequate affordable rental housing in the suburbs. Both premises
are now in doubt. Housing shortages limit the scale of any residential mobility
strategy. Fewer than 30 percent of the nation's 13 million low-income renter
families eligible for vouchers or subsidized housing receive any aid. In many
cities, both regular Section 8 and special vouchers under Gautreaux-like
programs go unused because renters can't find suitable housing outside the
ghettos. The result is like giving people food stamps when grocery shelves are
empty. Construction of affordable rental housing plummeted under the Reagan and
Bush administrations as subsidies were cut. Developers have even found it
difficult to build market-rate rental apartments, partly because suburbs have
increasingly imposed "snob zoning" restrictions that effectively keep out
multifamily residences and, hence, low-income people.

Some housing and civil rights advocates argue that the federal government
should work to eliminate exclusionary zoning by conditioning federal funds for
localities on strategies to encourage a mix of housing. Massachusetts,
California, and New Jersey have enacted laws against "snob zoning" that enable
developers of low-income housing to override local zoning restrictions. The
Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area has gone even further. State
Representative Myron Orfield, acting on behalf of the communities in the metro
area, sponsored legislation to create an elected metropolitan council with the
authority to establish "fair share" housing goals for each municipality. This
legislation gave the council the power to withhold sewer, highway,
infrastucture, and other state funds from communities that refuse to comply.
Orfield's legislative package also included a tax-base sharing plan to reduce
property tax disparities among municipalities in the region, so that inner-
ring suburbs and the two major cities had a stake in regional cooperation

A more proactive HUD could provide incentives to make Section 8 a
metropolitan-wide program run by regional agencies rather than local housing

A few black politicians and community leaders in Chicago have
criticized efforts to break up the concentration of black poor as a landgrab by
white politicians and real estate interests. Others see suburban mobility
programs as diluting black political power. Critics also say these initiatives
skim the most motivated and talented of the poor out of the city, although
initially what most distinguishes MTO applicants from their neighbors remaining
in public housing appears to be concern about crime. Clearly politicians have
their own agendas that contribute to cynicism: With Clinton administration aid,
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has begun tearing down projects near the site of
the 1996 Democratic Convention and building a less dense, more mixed-income

However, many black leaders--even those who want to encourage blacks to stay in
the city--also favor the creation of more mixed-income communities, even within
public housing projects. Deconcentration of the poor has widespread support in
principle, but there is far less agreement about where the poor should go.
There are also no clear answers about where they will find jobs, wherever they
end up living. Even the limited number of Gautreaux participants made only
marginal employment gains by moving to the suburbs; the biggest beneficiaries
were their children. Blacks continue to face dwindling job opportunities and
lingering employment discrimination, as several recent studies document. A move
to the suburbs will not quickly eliminate their problems in finding jobs.


The saga of the Gautreaux program and its progeny suggests that while
dispersal strategies have a place, they are no panacea. If there is no
disposition among white voters to pump massive resources into cities, neither
is there a welcome wagon for a mass minority exodus to suburbia. Moreover,
whatever its merits, the residential strategy accepts the trend toward
ever-expanding suburbanization, a trend that poses serious problems for
economic efficiency, environmental protection, and the livability of cities.

Since this sprawl is partly driven by flight from the problems of the cities,
it may be more productive to encourage greater city-suburban cooperation within
metropolitan areas to revive central cities rather than counting on the poor
finding their place in the flight from the center. Some suburban voters,
perhaps, can be wooed on the basis of conscience (helping the disadvantaged) or
fear (that urban problems will "spill over" to suburbs). A more productive
approach is to recognize the common ground between cities and suburbs. In
particular, older, inner-ring working-class suburbs now face many of the same
problems, ranging from traffic gridlock to unequal distribution of resources.
The common problem is that affluent suburbs contribute too little to the common
metropolitan tax base, get more than their share of public amenities, and
exclude nearly all of the poor. Several recent studies show that cities and
suburbs rise and fall together.

Even where deconcentration strategies enjoy modest success, the danger is that
politicians may see housing mobility programs as a cheap, easy alternative to
either the financial support and counseling that new suburban residents need,
or to strategies to help the vast majority of the poor who remain in the
central city. Even worse, "deconcentration" without a strategy to create
affordable housing outside the ghetto may be simply a way of driving the poor
away, to someone else's backyard.

Kale Williams, former director of the Leadership Council that carried out the
Gautreaux program, says that the program has achieved partial success because
"it hasn't been large enough to threaten anyone and hasn't been concentrated
enough to arouse apprehension." When Mayor Daley and the former chairman of the
Chicago Housing Authority Vince Lane proposed razing many CHA projects and
dispersing residents, there was a flurry of suburban mayoral opposition. That
subsided when it became clear that budgetary constraints would limit the
dispersal program to token numbers.

Dispersal programs can help end the de facto "apartheid" that urban blacks
continue to experience despite three decades of civil rights laws. It is sad,
however, that this approach seems to be acceptable to white society only when
it is limited and small-scale. In the end, residential mobility plans are only
a small part of the unfinished business of reviving old inner cities and
integrating America.

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