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For Decades, HUD Actively Engaged In Discrimination, Author Says


We wanted to dig into this a little more, so we called Sheryll Cashin, who has thought a lot about this. She is a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, and she's author of the book "Place, Not Race: A New Vision For Opportunity In America." She was kind of to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Professor Cashin, thanks so much for joining us.

SHERYLL CASHIN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We just heard from Walter Mondale, a co-author of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and he says that this law has never been fully enforced. Is that true?

CASHIN: It is absolutely true. George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, the secretary of HUD did try to put pressure on the HUD grantees to implement the legal obligation to affirmatively further integration, and he got rebuffed by his boss, Richard Nixon. And it's only in 2015 with the Obama administration that a HUD secretary finally issued a rule that put serious pressure on HUD grantees to promote integration. That was revolutionary, but that was done against a backdrop of decades of HUD actively promoting segregation.

MARTIN: So you're saying that HUD is not just a passive player in this. At one point, the federal government actively was engaging in discriminating.

CASHIN: For decades. For decades. You know, and that's the backdrop against which the Fair Housing Act is passed. So the federal government created and taught redlining to the lending industry for decades. The FHA-backed mortgage would only be made available to homogeneous communities. They would not invest in and they discouraged the creation of integrated communities. The interstate highway program, the largest public works program in the history of the world when it was first done, was intentionally laid in a way to create Chinese firewalls between the so-called bad black side of town and the white side of town. So all of these policies had a cumulative effect in creating concentrated black poverty for the first time.

MARTIN: Let's take it as a given that the federal government at one point was actively engaged in segregating communities and tolerated private discrimination. The question that a lot of people have is those are no longer practices, so why does this still matter?

CASHIN: Because the structures of segregation still exist. It still is the case that 6 out of 10 black people would have to move in order to be integrated in this country. Levels of segregation are rising for Asian-Americans and Latinos. We've had an increase in economic segregation. We're much more now a country where affluent people are used to living only among affluent people. And here's the moral dimension. If you are - the accident of being born into a low-opportunity, setting you get so much less on every dimension. And that doesn't live up to our American values about equality.

MARTIN: Do you agree with Walter Mondale that the legacy of that discrimination persists?

CASHIN: Absolutely. We passed a law that said you can't discriminate in private markets. And it said HUD and the federal government is required to affirmatively promote integration. To this day, that law has been largely ignored and sometimes openly resisted. And here we have a HUD secretary who is essentially flouting what the law says by we're going to put this off. You know, Obama HUD administration approached it in a cooperative spirit and said we're going to offer you technical assistance. We're going to offer you data. We're going to offer you help in how you can deal with this very difficult problem.

And a lot of communities welcomed this law. Here's our plan for how we're going to promote integration or community. And the HUD department under President Trump said, don't submit that plan. We don't want to see it. So to say that, you know, a law that says you're supposed to fight segregation and promote integration, we've never actually done it. We have not done the hard work of dismantling segregation in housing.

MARTIN: That's Sheryll Cashin. She's a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. She's author of the book "Place, Not Race: A New Vision For Opportunity In America." Her latest book is "Loving: Interracial Intimacy And The Threat To White Supremacy." She was kind of to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Professor Cashin, thanks so much for joining us.

CASHIN: Thank you for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.