Nearly a quarter-century after the civil rights movement dismantled the legal barriers to integrated housing, Baltimore area residents still largely live apart, separated by skin color, according to an analysis of 1990 census data by The Sun.
The vast majority of blacks in Baltimore live in highly segregated areas while most whites in the metropolitan area's five suburban counties reside in neighborhoods where blacks are only a modest presence.
In Baltimore County, an increasing number of blacks -- more than one in three in 1990 -- live in majority-black areas, which may portend the coming of city-style segregation to some suburbs.
"Baltimore is still a city that has de facto segregation. It's really almost by habit at this point," said Ruth Crystal, executive director of the Maryland Low Income Housing Coalition.
More than four of five black city residents live in areas that are 70 percent or more black -- and nearly two of three live in areas that are 90 percent or more black.
By this measure, the extent of segregation is almost unchanged from 1980 and only slightly less than 1970.
The belt of almost all-black neighborhoods crosses much of the city's midsection, extends up the northwest corridor and covers a patch of South Baltimore -- 19.5 square miles in all, about a quarter of the city's area.
By that measure, the city is considerably more segregated than in 1970, when such areas covered 14.4 square miles.
If anything, the census data may understate the extent of segregation. The Sun studied census tracts -- which average 4,000 residents and often cross neighborhood lines.
Some tracts may mask pockets of segregation by lumping predominantly white and predominantly black areas together and making them appear integrated.
Yet significant change in racial housing patterns has also occurred over the past two decades, the data show. Among The Sun's findings:
* Enclaves that were virtually all white have steadily disappeared across the metro area as housing has been opened to blacks and other minorities. In 1970, more than 4 in 10 whites lived in areas that were less than 1 percent black. Now only one in seven does.
* Blacks and whites both have left Baltimore in large numbers, as the city's population declined sharply from 905,759 in 1970 to 736,014 in 1990 and changed from majority-white to majority-black.
* The black population of the five metropolitan counties -- Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard -- has grown by 152 percent since 1970, more than five times the rate of white population growth there. Still, more than 7 in 10 metro area blacks lived in the city. The suburban counties were 11 percent black in 1990.
"There has been a revolutionary change," said George Laurent, executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., a group that monitors housing bias. "Today I fully believe blacks could move to most parts of the area without significant trouble. The real estate industry may discriminate and steer, but if a black family wants to move to a particular area, if they're determined, they can move there."
Nevertheless, Mr. Laurent added, "We're still a pretty segregated society; there's no question about that."
A University of Chicago study, based on the 1980 census, showed that Baltimore was one of a half-dozen large metropolitan areas in the nation that suffered from "hypersegregation." The Sun's analysis indicates that it still does.
In a hypersegregated area, the researchers found, many blacks live in "small, densely settled, monoracial neighborhoods that are part of large agglomerations of contiguous tracts clustered tightly around the city center. . . . Blacks without jobs would rarely meet, and would be extremely unlikely to know, [a white] resident of the same metropolis."
The 1990 census data released so far don't include information about income, education and other factors that would help explain the Baltimore area's changing housing patterns.
The population count also is thought to have missed many city blacks. The Census Bureau estimates that 4.7 percent of Baltimore residents were uncounted. The U.S. secretary of commerce must decide by July 15 whether to make a national adjustment of the count.
But the figures do show that houses in nearly all-white areas are worth about three times as much as those in nearly all-black areas -- a hint of the huge gap in income between residents of the mostly white suburbs and the mostly black inner city.
The gap is not strictly racial: The homes of blacks living in nearly all-white areas are worth almost four times as much as those of blacks in nearly all-black areas.
The greater access to housing that has allowed middle-class blacks to seek better homes in areas formerly off-limits to them has also "left the inner city almost devastated by poverty," said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.