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Katherine M. O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development Message from the Assistant Secretary

As HUD’s new Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research (PD&R), I find it particularly fitting that my debut message appears in this, the 11th edition of Evidence Matters, which examines fair housing issues and racial segregation. These issues, the focus of much of my own research, are essential to HUD’s core mission.

PD&R has a long history of research into housing discrimination and fair housing issues. As our Research Spotlight article discusses, the national Housing Discrimination Studies that PD&R funds, along with associated evaluations that investigate more specific types of discrimination, are among the largest and most important assessments of discrimination in U.S. housing markets available.

Those studies find that, although the incidence of more overt forms of housing discrimination has declined over the years, more subtle types of discrimination persist. Such tactics raise the cost of the housing search process for minorities and may help preserve patterns of segregation that limit opportunity.

Research shows that one critical strategy for reducing housing discrimination is education. Although PD&R research showed encouraging increases in public support for fair housing laws from 2001 to 2005, it also revealed that the public still lacks knowledge about what discriminatory behaviors are prohibited by federal law. Because subtle forms of discrimination are harder to detect, they may pose a challenge both in raising public awareness of their existence and in enforcement. Subtle forms of discrimination may go undetected by those who are affected, preventing victims from seeking a remedy through the established complaint process.

Fair housing, however, is about much more than eliminating current acts of discrimination. Legacies of discrimination, public policies old and new, socioeconomic differences among racial and ethnic groups, along with existing or perceived prejudices — all of these factors may contribute to existing patterns of residential segregation. As a society, and particularly here at HUD, we should be concerned about segregation regardless of its cause because where we live has a profound effect on the life chances of children and households. Considerable evidence shows that even after controlling for income and education, large disparities exist in the quality of neighborhoods between white and minority households; the places and resources that households with otherwise similar means can access differ substantially by race.

In our previous research, Jorge De la Roca, Ingrid Gould Ellen, and I found that racial disparities in neighborhood poverty levels, quality of nearby schools, and exposure to violent crime are higher in more segregated areas. Although minorities might generally live in neighborhoods with fewer opportunities than do whites, that gap is much larger in more segregated metropolitan areas. Decreasing segregation, whatever its cause, may lower racial disparities in those key neighborhood attributes — racial disparities that may perpetuate differences in income and wealth, which in turn reinforce residential segregation.

A key goal of fair housing efforts is to decrease segregation and create meaningful choice for all. As we work toward this goal, we also need to continue another fight: to break the strong correlation between neighborhood quality and the presence of minorities. We need strategic investments in disadvantaged neighborhoods to ensure that those who reside there (by choice or through constrained options) also have opportunities. Achieving the charge of fair housing and opportunity for all requires doing both.

— Katherine M. O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research


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