Economic Opportunity Segregation & Housing

Embracing consciously inclusive communities makes economic sense: A look at recent publications

This week, For the Sake of All Director Dr. Jason Purnell argued in an editorial in the St. Louis American that we continue to live in a deeply segregated America that has not met the great expectations envisioned in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech delivered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Purnell alludes to “over a century of housing policies consciously and intentionally designed to exclude African Americans from access to opportunity, not just in terms of housing, but also education, employment, and ultimately, life and health.”

Among those pervasive policies were restrictive racial covenants that, in St. Louis, derailed financially capable African Americans from buying homes and building equity in both the City of St. Louis and in the suburbs of St. Louis County.

“But what if we turned the notion of restrictive covenants on its head and had ‘inclusive covenants’ instead?” Dr. Purnell asks readers. “What if neighbors came together not to keep people out but to welcome them in?”

What if we acted to create “consciously inclusive communities” to combat a history of exclusivity in our region? What if we viewed inclusion as an asset to be nurtured, celebrated, and even marketed to buyers and renters in our local communities? What benefits could such inclusion reap for the sake of all residents in our region?

In a new study, the Urban Institute essentially finds that fostering such inclusion has considerable economic benefit. The report suggests that cities in the United States more readily bounced back from the Great Recession if they demonstrated stronger inclusion of people of color and lower-income residents in their recovery strategies. Indeed, economically healthy cities tend to be more inclusive of socio-economic, racial, and ethnic groups than distressed ones, the report said.

The Urban Institute’s report was released on April 25, the very same day that For the Sake of All and six regional partners released Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide, a 115-page report on the region’s history of segregation, its divided present, and its potential future. The report concludes with recommendations to begin dismantling our debilitating divides.

Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide presents a unique “index of exclusivity” that ranks 41 out of more than 90 local towns and areas on housing inaccessibility to African Americans and/or low-income families. Many of those 41 towns and areas of exclusivity in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County are marked by significant household wealth, stronger schools, easy health care access, and greater employment access.

And yet, the report explains through personal stories of residents dealing with these divides that those resources are highly inaccessible to people who may need them the most.

In its report, the Urban Institute further presented its own index of inclusion on a national scale by ranking urban areas on inclusion of both people of color and low-income residents during the economic recovery. In it, St. Louis ranked 238 out of 274 cities nationwide. The rank put St. Louis among the 15 percent of cities throughout the country found to be “least inclusive.”

The index of exclusivity presented by Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide and the index of inclusion presented by the Urban Institute are not necessarily reciprocal due to differences in methodologies, purposes, and data. Yet, examined together, they do they suggest that St. Louis as a whole is greatly hobbled by its inequity and exclusivity. Because it has yet to dismantle its divides, St. Louis is missing out on critical economic growth relative to other cities that are more inclusive of all their residents.

The Urban Institute report argues that the availability of affordable, high-quality, and well-located housing is a crucial factor in fostering inclusive communities. This argument is echoed repeatedly in Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide. The latter report concluded with 11 local policy recommendations – including fostering consciously inclusive communities.

In his op-ed in the American, Dr. Purnell says, “There is a chance to finally redraw the boundaries of opportunity to include everyone. Doing so will not be easy, and it will not be without costs and conflict.”

The Urban Institute report suggests our entire region is already paying dearly by failing to include everyone.

Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide was release April 25 by For the Sake of All in partnership with ArchCity Defenders, Ascend STL, Empower Missouri, the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council of Metropolitan St. Louis (EHOC), Invest STL, and Team TIF. Please use our media toolkit to help spread the word about the findings of the report and its recommendations.

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