Linking Housing and School Desegregation

In 2016, the Community Education Council in Manhattan’s District 3 approved a controversial school rezoning aimed in part at integrating schools. (Photo by Christina Veiga via Chalkbeat)

Sociologists have long studied the intimate links between housing, neighborhoods and education. Now, New York is taking two small steps to address the “twin challenges of integrating where children live and learn,” writes Christina Veiga in Chalkbeat.

The first: State education leaders who are working with local districts to craft school integration plans are also inviting housing officials to the table early on — and plan to include them throughout the process.

The second: In New York City, housing officials have launched a tiny pilot program to help low-income renters move into neighborhoods that offer more opportunities, defined partly by school performance. The initiative isn’t meant to tackle school segregation directly, but if it grows, it could result in more diverse classrooms.

Both are small and unconnected, involving officials from different agencies. Details about both the state and city efforts are scant, for now. But taken together, they suggest a new energy toward tackling housing issues that are often a barrier to more integrated schools.

“There have been some ripples of hope out there,” said Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center. “But we still have a long ways to go.”

The new pilot program was first profiled by The Wall Street Journal. During its first phase 45 families are getting assistance searching for a new home — including rent vouchers that are worth more in wealthier neighborhoods, financial counseling to help them afford a move, and support navigating the intimidating New York City housing market. Chalkbeat adds:

“The mayor’s education and housing plans take dead aim at achievement and economic gaps decades in the making,” Jaclyn Rothenberg, a city spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “All students benefit from diverse classrooms. Neighborhoods benefit from a diverse community.”

The pilot is striking given what Mayor Bill de Blasio has said about housing in the city in the past. When asked how he plans to tackle school segregation, he has often argued that the city’s power is limited because schools reflect entrenched housing patterns and private choices by families about where to live. “We cannot change the basic reality of housing in New York City,” he said in 2017.

Go to Chalkbeat to read about some of the special circumstances in New York City which make desegregation of the school system especially difficult, in spite of such new initiatives.

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