A (Very Modest) Progress Report
Fifty-one years ago, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the United States passed the Fair Housing Act, promising to combat segregation. But five decades later, New York City remains sharply segregated: in our neighborhoods, our schools, our institutions.
One year ago, on the 50th anniversary, we issued Desegregating NYC: 12 Steps Toward a More Inclusive City, identifying concrete steps our city could take toward integration, to build a more inclusive, multiracial democracy. This is a (very modest) one-year progress report.
After 50 years of mostly ignoring the cancerous segregation of our neighborhoods and our schools, New York City has taken some first steps to start to reckon with it. The Where We Live NYC planning process on fair-housing, the School Diversity Advisory Group’s Making the Grade report, and the District 15 middle-school integration plan may be halting steps. And they do not yet have the level of leadership from City Hall that would be necessary for serious and broader implementation. Still, they represent more attention to integration in our city’s public policy than we have paid over the past five decades. If they allow us the illusion of progress, they are worthless. But if they give us courage to do much more, they could be a good start.
In recent weeks, our attention has rightly been called to the appalling fact that just seven black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School this year (out of 895 slots), and that black and Latinx students who make up 67% of NYC high-school students were offered fewer than 11% of the slots at the eight specialized high schools. These statistics put the lie to the idea that we take equality seriously.
We should not let the focus on the specialized high schools mask broader segregation that is pervasive across our city. Instead, we should use it as a hard push to more honestly confront the extreme levels of segregation that perpetuate racialized inequality — since residential mobility and high-quality public schools are primary avenues of social mobility — and then commit to take much bolder action.
Public policies in housing, education, and infrastructure helped to create a segregated New York City. If we are serious about equality, opportunity, and democracy, they must help to desegregate it.
New Council Report Outlines 12 Steps Toward Desegregating NYC
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, a report by Council Member Brad Lander (in partnership with 10 colleagues) sets out housing, education, and infrastructure policies to achieve a more integrated and inclusive New York City.
NEW YORK — Fifty years after passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (signed into law just a week after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed), New York City remains sharply segregated. To confront that reality, City Council Member Brad Lander today released Desegregating NYC: 12 Steps Toward a More Inclusive City (in partnership with Council Members Robert Cornegy, Laurie Cumbo, Stephen Levin, Carlos Menchaca, Keith Powers, Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Carlina Rivera, Ritchie Torres, and Jumaane Williams). The report outlines housing, education, and infrastructure policies to achieve a more integrated city.
Despite NYC’s diversity, we remain more segregated than most metropolitan areas in the U.S. While the average black-white “dissimilarity index” (the most common measure of residential segregation) fell from 73% to 59% between 1980 and 2010, New York City’s remained stagnant at 82%. In 2014, the UCLA Civil Rights Project found that New York’s schools are among the most segregated in the country, with 85 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latino students attending “intensely” segregated schools (schools that are less than 10 percent white).
Segregation is corrosive, for both opportunity and democracy. Extreme levels of segregation—like those we have in NYC today—perpetuate racialized inequality, since residential mobility and high-quality public schools are primary avenues of social mobility.
Public policies in housing, education, and infrastructure helped to create a segregated New York City. Fifty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, they must help to desegregate it. The report details 12 steps in that direction:
Desegregating our Neighborhoods
- Step 1: Make “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH) the law and ongoing practice of New York City.
- Step 2: Commit to inclusionary housing through neighborhood rezonings in “high opportunity neighborhoods,” not just in low-income communities of color.
- Step 3: Fight housing discrimination in co-ops (and rentals, too).
- Step 4: Strengthen rent regulations as a strategy for integration without displacement.
Desegregating our Schools
- Step 5: Reform high-school admissions policies (for specialized high schools, and the other 400 as well).
- Step 6: Adopt district-wide “controlled choice” approaches for middle schools in diverse but segregated community-school districts.
- Step 7: Pilot new approaches to integrate elementary schools.
- Step 8: Ensure equity and inclusion, through the “5Rs of real integration” (including culturally responsive education, equitable access to resources, restorative justice, and a diverse teaching staff).
Desegregating our Infrastructure
- Step 9: Fix NYC’s broken “fair-share” system to insure that every community gets and does their fair share.
- Step 10: Turn around NYC’s bus system to connect more New Yorkers to opportunity.
Strong City Oversight and Accountability
- Step 11: Establish a NYC Office of Integration to drive progress across agencies and systems.
- Step 12: Create a shared public dashboard on segregation in NYC, to hold agencies — and all us — accountable for progress.
The report was co-authored by Brad Lander and Annie Levers (Policy & Budget Director), and builds upon the work of many civil rights activists, students, parents, educators, researchers, and other elected officials, whose work is credited in the report.
“These are not easy conversations,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “It is uncomfortable for many white New Yorkers to acknowledge the ways that segregated schools and neighborhoods amount to hoarding privilege. We will also need new tools: in a city that is two-thirds people-of-color, integration does not mean moving a few black kids into a white school, or displacing low- and moderate-income families through gentrification. Still, if we want a city of equal opportunity and inclusive democracy, we have no choice but to aim for purposeful integration. Segregated neighborhoods cannot offer our families equal access to opportunity. Segregated schools cannot teach our kids inclusive democracy.”
“We look forward to working with Speaker Johnson — the prime sponsor of the report’s first recommendation — with our colleagues, and with the de Blasio Administration to move forward on this agenda,” Lander continued. “The City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Education, and the Commission on Human Rights have begun to take steps in the right direction. But we need bolder leadership and a more coordinated agenda from City Hall, along with a shared commitment that includes a much wider set of New Yorkers, if we are going to live up to Dr. King’s dream.”
“For too long we have neglected communities of color and others who have suffered as a result of systemic bias,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy. “Our neglect has made New York one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, and has allowed it to remain this way for decades. It is critical we as a city find ways to address the lingering challenges associated with policies of the past. This report prioritizes an agenda that will do just that, helping us to create a more just and equitable New York City.”
“Even as diverse a place as New York City faces serious segregation issues,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “The 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act is the perfect moment to re-examine our housing, employment, education and public service policies. I’m proud the New York City Council has produced the new report, “Desegregating NYC: 12 Steps Toward a More Inclusive City,” it lists practical steps to build a more inclusive, just, and successful city.”
“New York City prides itself on our diversity. But despite being home to many cultures and languages, our city is deeply divided. We have a lot of work ahead to address segregation in our schools, housing, and transportation,” said Council Member Keith Powers. “This report provides a number of suggestions that the City Council and Mayor’s office should review. Thank you to Council Member Lander and my colleagues for leading the charge.”
“This report is a critically important step towards addressing the deep-rooted issue of segregation in the City of New York and I fully support the recommendations that Council Member Lander has put forth to tackle the problem,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “It is astounding that in 2018, 64 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, we are still struggling with severe segregation throughout our city. While many of the factors that contribute to segregation are the result of historic policies, the current administration has failed to take a proactive approach to ensure we are not exacerbating the problem. Minorities make up the majority of students in our public school system, yet account for only a fraction of students accepted into our specialized public high schools, depriving them of the best educational opportunities; rezonings are happening all over the City, but are concentrated almost exclusively in low-income communities of color, stifling residents’ access to high opportunity neighborhoods; trash is produced by every household, yet waste processing and its environmental hazards are shouldered by a handful of low-income black and brown communities. The status-quo is simply unacceptable. I look forward to working with Council Member Lander and the administration to begin implementing the recommendations in this report as we strive towards a fairer and more equitable city.”
“As we work to desegregate our schools, we must be mindful of the direct impact housing has on separating New Yorkers by race,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “While our trains, buses and workplaces are the most diverse in the world, our schools, homes and neighborhoods are the most divided,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “By creating a comprehensive plan, we can finally begin to address all of the systemic factors that have led to a lack of resources for schools, jobs and public amenities in communities of color across the City. Every child should get to experience the beauty and uniqueness of the hundreds of different cultures spread out across the five boroughs and learn the importance of valuing different races and ethnicities firsthand. I’d like to thank Council Member Lander for this new report and his dedication to equity across the City.”
“Fifty years after passage of the historic Fair Housing Act, New York City remains one of the most highly segregated cities in the U.S. This problem is reflected not just in our housing stock, but in our schools, our access to transportation, and our avenues to economic opportunity,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. “The report’s recommendations come from a public policy perspective, but it will be local stakeholders that help drive the message home as we work together to address these issues in our communities. In the Lower East Side, for example, parents, advocates, civic leaders and Community Education Council District 1 have led the conversation that balances choice and need with the shared goal of integrated schools. It is this kind of collaboration that will successfully make our city a more just and equitable one.”
“Misconception of segregation, is that it’s purely a product of housing patterns, when in fact it is due to a long history of intentional policies to systematically separate white communities from communities of color. And today, it is the product of a complete lack of political courage to implement smart, comprehensive policy change. This report from my colleague, Council Member Brad Lander, contains smart, comprehensive policy solutions. Now elected officials need the political courage to act,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.
“At this moment in history, in a world increasingly motivated by tribalism,” Lander and Levers write in the report, “New York City has a profound opportunity. We can show that it is possible to have a vibrant, creative, inclusive city where no one race or ethnicity is in the majority, where equal opportunity is meaningful, and where the diversity of our schools and neighborhoods truly reflects the diversity of our city. As James Baldwin wrote: ‘Not everything which is faced can be changes. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.’”