Community Development / Community Organizing / History / Urban Planning

We Can’t Come Together While Living Apart

Tonight’s episode of “This American Life” features a special project by ProPublica on the 1968 Fair Housing Act. I was surprised to learn that George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father) was the federal government’s leading advocate for furthering fair housing and integrating racially segregated neighborhoods across the U.S. (Unfortunately Mitt did not inherit his father’s political courage, as seen in his comments about “the 47%” during his Presidential bid.)

Click here to read the story about how Romney’s efforts were thwarted, and how the Fair Housing Act remains to be fully enforced even today. Listen to the episode of This American Life by visiting the radio archive: here.

The vision of integrated neighborhoods and equal housing opportunity for all has not yet been realized in the U.S. In fact, some communities have only recently begun to embark on the journey towards achieving these aims. That is certainly the case here in Cincinnati, where neighborhood segregation is only slightly less entrenched than ever, if even at all. The plight of our low-income African American neighborhoods endures – but this is not for lack of dedicated and courageous work by our local non-profit housing organizations to address the issue. There is only so much we can do at the grassroots level without the necessary political will and public discourse to support enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

It is becoming more and more obvious to me that the current Congressional gridlock and the resulting political impotence is a manifestation of this problem. The fact that our communities are still so segregated has strengthened divisions between black / white, rich / poor, Republican / Democrat. This serves to widen the gap between “haves” and “have-nots” and has made economic opportunity an increasingly distant aspiration for many of us. Meanwhile, voting rights are being attacked and Congressional districts re-drawn in nonsensical shapes and sizes.

So, while most Americans say that Congress needs to resolve difference and work in a bipartisan manner to “get things done” – it seems nearly impossible today for this nation to solve any single catastrophic problem. Yet I hear a deafening silence in the public discourse regarding the desire to integrate our neighborhoods or the need to enforce fair housing policy. Until we, the American People, get our priorities straight I don’t see much hope for any of our elected officials to begin working together. And, until they start working together, this country will continue down this dark and treacherous path towards the point of no return. I hope this conversation will be taking place at family dinner tables this Thanksgiving holiday.

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