Scholar warns of housing segregation Separation called cause of poverty

June 08, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Housing segregation is both a consequence and a cause of black poverty, a University of Chicago sociologist told fair-housing advocates yesterday.

Douglas S. Massey said in a forum at Morgan State University that segregation is a key cause of poverty because "where one lives determines much about the life chances one faces."

"Housing markets distribute not only a place to live, but they also distribute wealth in the form of home equity, education, the peer environment and exposure to crime," he said.

Dr. Massey is co-author of "American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass," a recent book that placed Baltimore among 16 large metropolitan areas marred by "hypersegregation."

"About 40 percent of all African-Americans in the U.S. live under conditions of hypersegregation," he said, defining the term as when blacks live in poor, densely packed neighborhoods near the declining core of cities and isolated from the white majority.

The researcher told the forum organized by the Greater Baltimore Community Housing Resource Board, a fair-housing group, that housing segregation in the United States is "created by white prejudice, actualized by discriminatory behavior and condoned, if not supported, by government."

Segregation exists, he said, because of a "fundamental conflict between principle and practice" among white Americans. Dr. Massey said whites overwhelmingly profess belief in the principle of open housing, but in practice most will avoid a neighborhood that is 30 percent or more black.

"For most white people, living in an integrated area means, 'Two blocks over there's a black brain surgeon,' " he said.

In contrast, blacks express a preference for a neighborhood that is half-black, half-white -- a level of integration that most whites won't abide.

Discrimination helps perpetuate segregation, Dr. Massey said. He cited federal studies showing that real estate agents often steer blacks away from white areas and vice versa -- acting in what they may think are their clients' best interests -- and that banks reject black mortgage applicants at twice the rate of whites with similar qualifications.

Dr. Massey said the federal government should routinely test for housing discrimination, put more pressure on banks to be evenhanded in lending and eliminate segregation in public housing by giving tenants vouchers to rent units in the private market.

Local housing activists expressed hope that segregation could be overcome.

Martin Dyer, associate director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., said, "[The] black core of Baltimore is more isolated than ever before, plagued by crime and drugs . . . hopeless and without reason for hope."

"The message has to get out to white Americans that there is no hiding place at all, that blacks are moving where you are moving, and that the problems of blacks are the problems of the entire society," Mr. Dyer said.

Vincent Quayle, executive director of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, said the corridor along Belair and Harford roads south of Northern Parkway, unlike areas of past racial change in Baltimore, is being integrated "in a salt and pepper fashion."

By preserving a high rate of homeownership, healthy commercial strips and thriving public and Catholic schools in the corridor, he said, "We can build a truly racially integrated community . . . that could be a model for the nation."

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