Figure 1: The Opportunity to Learn Campaign produced this info graphic, illustrating the theme of school closures in the country. Visit their site for alternative policy to use in lieu of closures.
When a school closes in a city, we know it means students traveling further to more crowded, under-resourced classrooms. Who are these students enrolling in a new school this fall? On average, they are black, Latino, and regardless of race, are even more likely to come from a family whose annual income is below the poverty line. In Chicago, our shifting population and Chicago Public School (CPS) closures means a change in school for almost 50,000 children this September – the largest school closure by an urban city in history.
Through pioneering innovative strategies to achieve balanced integration in this city of neighborhoods, Chicago still has areas with a high level of housing segregation. Neighborhoods and its schools can be composed of students of mostly one race.
As we see from the Opportunity to Learn Campaign info graphic above, black children are currently 43% of CPS classrooms, and 88% of students whose schools are closing. Low-income children of all races make up 94% of the children effected in these closures.
As African Americans move into the suburbs, out of traditional neighborhoods, the population of these neighborhoods decline. So by this theory, the closures are disproportionally effecting black children because black children attend CPS schools and their families are moving to new neighborhoods at disproportionate rates compared to white children. Overall, there are less children of all races in the city, with the population of 5- to 14-year-olds decreasing about 22 percent since 2000.
Make demographic sense? Sure.
Even if children’s school closures are supported by population data, the fact remains that 50,000 children will have the challenge of a new school and a choice not made by them or their parents.
Systematic racism is sometimes the byproduct not of direct hatred but of outdated policy that reinforces segregation; lack of reevaluation that perpetrates discrimination. Schools are anchor institutions – they unify groups, providing communities with structure and consistency, allowing for social events, volunteer opportunities, a pillar that stands the test of time, remaining in the community as businesses and residents ebb and flow through the neighborhood. The impact of their closures on a community cannot be measured strictly by a bottom line.
Especially not a bottom line not able to be quantified. CPS says the closures will mean savings in the budget- though no finite numbers are agreed on, as renovation costs, teacher lay-off savings, and building resale value are all in flux.
CPS cites the reason for the closings – a decline in attendance at those schools, the population decrease, and under-performance. The mention of under-performance immediately begs the question of underfunded. Mayor Emanuel’s office has stated that the closures will mean more efficient and stronger academic programs.
Where do we go from here?
When schools close, families usually have few options other than the public school absorbing their closing public school. Some students whose schools are closing are put into a lottery, and if selected are enrolled in that school – generally a higher-performing school than their former classroom. For the children who aren’t pulled in that lottery, they make a further walk or bus ride to another school. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid from a low-income family who probably hasn’t even started algebra yet. A new school not only means an emotional and psychological change in their lives, but the walk to school can now look different; longer on a cold Chicago February morning, past a vacant building, or across gang lines. The city has responded with the safe passage program, designed to recruit community members and crossing guards along the new routes to school.
Hopefully the schools of the future will improve and support the students throughout their whole journey of their education.
By Christina Scordia, Housing and Communications Research Assistant
Wilcox County, a blue collar farming town 160 miles south of Atlanta, integrated their classrooms thirty years ago, with Georgia state legislation stalling their implementation of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Since Wilcox County High School integrated, there has been no school-sponsored prom. Though integrated classrooms are now the norm, some extracurricular activities are still operating under the banner of separate but equal. For over forty years, tradition has gone like this- white parents and students organize a private, whites-only prom. Black parents and students organize a private, blacks-only prom. Homecoming dances, too.
Residents and alumni have noticed, of course. School officials say they have no control over the proms since they are private events. Some say its just old habit, or a matter of preference – does the DJ spin hip-hop or country tracks? (Maybe LL Cool J’s and Brad Paisley’s current collaboration, “Accidental Racist” can bridge that musical dilemma.) Others say its just the culture, tradition. “If there’s something that you’re born into,” says a black Wilcox County HS alumna, “you think it’s normal.”
Culture or discrimination
Throughout the county, preserving cultural traditions is a keystone of our human experience. Through culture we orient ourselves in the world and relate to our community and beyond. When traditions uphold an agenda that limits another human being’s freedom to enjoy the world, the cultural tradition could benefit from a reexamination. The way something has always been done does not justify maintaining it as the way it should still be done. Modifying an individual’s viewpoint to embrace a healthier acceptance of the whole can begin with an external change – opening a classroom to black and white children, hiring a woman to be railroad worker, installing a wheelchair accessible ramp. Our country has seen these opportunities in our past, and last month, in Wilcox County, Georgia, students saw an opportunity in their present.
Students make the change
A group of Wilcox students said it didn’t make sense to them to not attend prom with their friends. These guys and girls shared laughs on sports fields and in classes during the week, and on weekends around town and at each other’s kitchen tables. They didn’t want to separate the proms because that’s the way its always been done. They didn’t want to celebrate their high school milestone without their friends because their friends had a different color skin. Last spring, a white girl and black guy, two seniors who’ve dated since their freshman year, couldn’t attend each other’s white and black proms. “Just bring someone else to your prom,” they were told. Someone white. Someone black.
This year, the students held a desegregated prom, or as they called it, an integrated prom – or just, prom. “We are all friends. That’s just kind of not right that we can’t go to prom together,” said one girl on the planning committee. Maybe in a few years, a “segregated prom” will be a tradition that exists only in history. The Wilcox County High School prom itinerary sounds like a traditional prom in American culture – a Parisian masquerade theme. Tuxedos, ball gowns, a catered buffet. The students added a new tradition to their celebration – a unity toast.
Get a reaction
This move by the students has seen overwhelming support, as the majority of citizens and media see this as a step forward for this rural Georgia town and our society. Republican and Democrat lawmakers in Georgia have voiced their support of the integrated prom. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has not, and seems to be focusing on the political aspect and not the human aspect of this matter. Deal has said he won’t publically endorse the prom as encouraged by NAACP and other advocacy and political groups, saying the prompting by these groups is for their own political agendas. Wilcox county school superintendent issued the following statement: “I fully support these ladies, and I consider it an embarrassment to our schools and community that these events have portrayed us as bigoted in any way.” This statement has since been removed from the school website and had been replaced by a statement about the school’s plans to consider hosting an official prom in 2014 school year. One of the students leading the prom planning committee says she plans to help next year’s graduating class keep the new tradition going, providing support so its easier for them.
The point of this story that resonates the most with me is where the change is coming from – not from the lawmakers, but from the students themselves. They observed a racist practice in their personal, everyday life and decided to make the change to correct it. Wise steps.
By Christina Scordia, Housing & Communications Research Assistant
Our basic discourse has come to accept the terms “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” when referencing migrants that are not authorized to live in the U.S. This is despite the fact that this language is highly inaccurate, pejorative, and cultivates fear. The use of these terms shape public opinion on immigration policy and distracts the attention from the disproportionate accessibility to full citizenship for certain populations, specifically those from Latin America.
Discontinuing the use of “illegal” when referring to unauthorized migrants allows us to have a conversation about how to move forward and fix immigration policy. People focus only on illegality instead of considering the people who came to the US in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Often we forget, or rather, ignore that immigrants deserve the same rights as everyone else. We also ignore the fact that most U.S. citizens are descendants of immigrants.
Having crossed the border without permission does not render a person necessarily an “illegal immigrant”. You can cross the border without permission, and later obtain legalization and even citizenship. The use of the adjective illegal dehumanizes immigrants and enables people to avoid feeling sympathy for this population, many of whom are separated from their children and loved ones when they are deported.
Further, the ‘I’ word lumps together individuals who are in the United States under vastly different circumstances. Some individuals are brought here against their will, such as victims of human trafficking. Others come here on valid visas but subsequently fall out of status. There are immigrants here under “temporary protected status” because of strife in their home country, but fall out of status when our government removes their protected status. To blanket all immigrants who are out of status as being “illegals” is overly simplistic.
Even replacing “illegal” with “undocumented immigrant” is inaccurate, as many people that live in the U.S. without authorization have documentation including birth certificates, passports, and consular cards. The term “undocumented immigrant” unconsciously promotes the idea that “illegal” people should be entitled to fewer rights and privileges.
So the question is what does one call those that many consider “illegal”?
How about people? Why not immigrants seeking citizenship? America is the Land of the Free yet we are quick to label and criminalize fellow human beings searching for civil liberties and opportunity.
The Fair housing Act protects the housing rights of this population, however many fail to observe the law since society labels persons seeking citizenship as criminals and illegal. The ‘I’ word weakens the authority of the Fair Housing Act by withholding the rights immigrants are entitled to. It important to acknowledge the connection between housing and immigration since housing provides a landscape for immigrants and citizens to interact with one another and can lead to a mutual understanding of potential immigration reform. Discontinuing the use of the ‘I’ word brings us one step closer to more just and realistic immigration policy.
By Morgan P. Davis, Fair Housing Policy Director
Photo By Allan Grey
While many may believe we are living in a post-racial America, the socioeconomic gridlock found in James Karales’ photos are a reminder of our progress but also the importance of continuing to uphold the constitutional rights of all people—most importantly, those that are marginalized. Karales’ empathy revealed in his photos promote solidarity by adhering to universal themes: love, suffering, happiness, and anger. He diverges from merely portraying the individuality of people and capturing a person’s haecceity—uniqueness.
New York Times contributor, Maurice Berger, utilized visual journalism to capture Karales message of equality by using photography to pave a way for action and racial harmony. Go to his slideshow to see more of these iconic photos and for information about the man behind the camera.
By Stephanie Castillo, Fair Housing Intern
Recognizing the costs, burdens, and general stagnation associated with housing segregation can help lawmakers combat these practices by way of legislation. Communities not implementing fair housing practices may not only find their housing stock in an unbalanced crisis, but in a legal crisis as well.
HUD Applying Pressure
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is currently monitoring Westchester County, New York, on their efforts to affirmatively further fair housing. The county stands to lose federal dollars to the tune of $7.4 million if steps are not taken to support fair housing. HUD has already frozen these grants and the money will be returned to the Treasury Department if HUD does not distribute the funds soon – HUD will reallocate the dollars to municipalities whose integration policies are on point, if Westchester fails to comply with their recommendations. HUD gave Westchester instructions to build more affordable housing in communities that are predominantly white, remove instances of exclusionary zoning, and create source-of-income legislation, similar to that of Chicago’s. Further, Westchester needs to draft a thorough analysis of impediments to fair housing choice report. Previous attempts at this plan have been rejected by HUD. Some Westchester officials deny that exclusionary zoning exists in the county, however HUD disagrees. Strategies must be implemented to integrate people of color into the most demographically homogenous segments of the County.
Another focus of the current housing desegregation movement is the goal of incorporating mixed-income residences, particularly in communities where housing price point variety is lacking. Often, individuals work full-time jobs, but still cannot afford to secure quality housing close to their place of employment without their monthly housing expense exceeding 30% of their income. Municipalities can help balance their housing supply by ensuring their community has a fair amount of housing available across low, mid, and high-income ranges. Neighborhoods that embrace workforce housing are often more attractive to companies looking to invest. Access to a quality workforce produces a healthy mix; workers are employed, they contribute to local commerce, and businesses enjoy increased profits. This system’s success is contingent on a healthy workforce/housing match. Additionally, residents and municipalities reap benefits of reducing commute times for workers as there is less road, fuel, and transit usage.
City of Chicago ordinance
Chicago leads by example when it comes to creating legislation to support housing integration, and does not allow for discrimination against families that receive vouchers for subsidized housing. Advocates are working on the campaign to amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance to include Source of Income (SOI) Protection. This reform protects families with Housing Choice Vouchers against housing discrimination. Meaning that if a family has a Housing Choice Voucher as their source of income, a property manager or landlord must use the same application and screening requirements used for non-voucher holders. The presence of a Housing Choice Voucher cannot be reason alone to not rent an apartment to a family. This ordinance is important because it supports the concept of upward mobility, allowing voucher holders to self-integrate into neighborhoods of their choice. Opportunity neighborhoods are identified as communities with higher quality schools, employment, nutrition, and transit opportunities, as well as lower crime rates. This improvement in environment can be seen not only in the individual that makes a move to a community, but in future generations through better schools and socially enriching opportunities.
Removing discrimination by way of SOI is beneficial to all parties; municipalities benefit by having a diverse community, resulting in a balanced and fair environment in which to thrive. Residents enjoy access to institutions and resources that contribute to their quality of life, enabling them to be their best selves and contribute to society at the highest of each individual’s abilities. Municipal budgets and resources can be reallocated as the need for public assistance decreases and individuals are able to transition to self-sustaining lifestyles. In the residential leasing industry, vacancy and turnover are two issues property investors look to minimize in order to boost profits. Accepting housing vouchers supports this financial goal, as the bulk of the rental payment is coming from a regular, guaranteed source via monthly subsidy payment, and tax and financing incentives are available for buildings with integrated housing. In addition to the screening applied by the housing authority, a property owner is free to uphold the same income, background, and credit requirements used for non-voucher holders.
By ignoring segregation and not affirmatively furthering fair housing, municipalities are embracing de facto segregation, at the expense of their current residents and community vitality. This practice furthers pockets of low-income neighborhoods; clusters that create unhealthy issues for people living in and near these neighborhoods. As it is sometimes easy to forget, no human or neighborhood exists in an independent bubble – we are all connected, streets and taxes and environment links everyone, so what harms one, in fact harms all.
By Christina Scordia, Fair Housing Policy Research Assistant
Photo By June Marie