A Twelve-Step Plan to Desegregate NYC

City Council member Brad Lander and 10 other council members on April 10 released a report, “Desegregating NYC: 12 Steps Toward a More Inclusive City” which outlined a plan for addressing and beginning to reverse the segregation in neighborhoods, schools, and other parts of the city’s urban fabric. Despite a very diverse population, the city is highly segregated, more so than many other major cities which have become more integrated over the past three decades. For instance, the report notes that 80 percent of white or black New Yorkers would have to move to a different neighborhood in order for black and white residents to be evenly distributed across neighborhoods.

The report was co-authored by Brad Lander and Annie Levers, the council’s policy and budget director. Abigail Savitch-Lew, writing in City Limits, notes that the 34-page study’s “release comes a few weeks after the de Blasio administration announced that it would launch a process to assess the city’s compliance with the Fair Housing Act as required by an Obama-era rule, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to delay that process.”

The report is, however, critical of De Blasio for not making integration “a strong feature of his work to combat inequality and make NYC ‘the fairest big city in America.’”

It notes that while other cities have become more integrated since 1980, New York City’s integration levels have remained stagnant, with only 1 in 4 New Yorkers considered to live in integrated neighborhoods. Schools are even more segregated than neighborhoods, and school segregation has also worsened over time, with the number of schools that are intensely segregated increasing by 70 percent between 1989 and 2010, according to the report. A 2014 study found that New York State had the most segregated schools in the country.

Savitch-Lew points out that the report cautions that gentrification is not an antidote.

“There are real reasons that people of color are skeptical of traditional conversations about integration,” it says. “There’s no inherent benefit to living or learning around white people … There are very real concerns about racial animus and displacement. Our goal cannot be moving a few black kids into a white school, or displacing low- and moderate-income families through gentrification.”

To integrate neighborhoods, the report recommends that the City Council pass…

…a law legally mandating an annual assessment of fair housing, as well as a bill requiring the city to review affordable housing projects to make sure they further fair-housing goals. [The report] further calls for more investments in a program that fights housing discrimination. The “most important public policy step” to ensure low-income residents are not displaced as neighborhoods become more affluent will be strengthening rent regulations in Albany, it argues.

The report also calls for neighborhood upzonings in “high opportunity neighborhoods,” noting that all the approved neighborhood rezonings so far have been in low-income communities. The report says that an exception to this trend is the city’s current rezoning study of Gowanus, in Lander’s district, but it notes that rezoning will only be effective if it also ensures nearby public-housing developments are preserved and better connected to the neighborhood.

Proposals for better integrating schools include opening up specialized high schools to top achievers from all middle schools, piloting new approaches for integrating elementary schools and offering more culturally responsive instruction. The report also includes recommendations about infrastructure management and the bus system. Finally, the report urges that an “Office of Integration” spearhead action across city agencies, and that the city be held accountable for progress via a public dashboard that would monitor progress.

Read the summary at City Limits, or access the complete report at Council member Brad Lander’s home page.

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