Is Westchester County racially segregated? Thats the premise of the landmark legal settlement that, if approved by the Board of Legislators, will have the county build some 750 units of affordable housing in high-income areas. In endorsing the deal, federal Housing and Urban Development deputy secretary, Ronald Sims, called it “consistent with the presidents desire to see a fully integrated society.” But an analysis of census data shows that its wrong to call Westchester segregated. And research commissioned by HUD itself suggests that relocating low-income households to high-income areas - to receive what Sims calls “the fruits and benefits of an established neighborhood” - isnt likely to lead to social or economic improvement.
Westchester boasts a significant black and Hispanic population. Its 131,000 blacks represent 14.2 percent of its total population, and its 144,000 Hispanics, 15.6 percent - both mirroring almost exactly the population of the nation as a whole. Westchesters minority population isnt evenly distributed throughout the county, however, but concentrated in its southern cities, including Yonkers, New Rochelle and White Plains.
Those who accuse the county of segregation dont merely argue that southern Westchester has more minority families than northern - an argument that could be easily countered by pointing out that southern Westchester serves today, as it once did for Italians and Jews, as a stop on the path of upward mobility for families leaving behind the Bronx. Rather, they point to income.
In key testimony in the court case that led to the settlement, Queens College sociologist Andrew Beveridge claimed that “income level has very little impact on the degree of residential racial segregation experienced by African-Americans,” leading to what he called increased “racial isolation.” Put another way: minority-group members are not living in the places where their incomes would predict they should be living. Theyre living in ghettoes, even though they could afford better, and this is a sign that segregation exists in Westchester.
There are at least two problems with this line of reasoning. First, even in the super-wealthy parts of Westchester, blacks are only slightly underrepresented, based on what their incomes would predict. As of the 2000 census, Scarsdale was 1.5 percent black; Pound Ridge, 1.2 percent; Harrison, 1.4 percent. The numbers may sound low, but there simply arent many very affluent blacks in the entire county. Only 2 percent of black households in Westchester earned more than $200,000 in 2000 - a total of 911 families - compared with 12.6 percent of white households. Small wonder that there arent many blacks in the countys richest locales.
Probably more important, however, is that if Beveridges claim were true, youd expect Westchester to be full of higher-income blacks who, prevented from moving into the more affluent areas that their incomes would predict, were stuck living near lower-income whites. But census data shows that this isnt the case. Blacks in Westchester generally have lower incomes than their white neighbors do. According to the 2000 census, for instance, blacks in New Rochelle had a median family income of $55,000; whites, $72,000. In Tarrytown, the figures were $50,000 and $82,000; in Hartsdale, $79,000 and $100,000. In Westchester as a whole, black household income in 2000 stood at 51 percent that of whites, and Hispanic income at 44 percent. Though lower black household incomes arent, of course, anything to celebrate on their own, in this case they do demonstrate that Beveridge-style segregation doesnt exist in Westchester.
The place to be
In fact, Westchester isnt a bad place to be a member of a minority group. Thats because the taxes of the rich support a disproportionate share of the services provided by the county for all its residents, including minority households. The 17,823 residents of Scarsdale, for instance, pay the county more in property taxes ($33 million) than the 68,381 residents of Mount Vernon do ($23 million). Residents of tony Pound Ridge pay an average of $1,575 per person in county taxes - compared with just $629 in New Rochelle and $746 in Yonkers. And these county taxes (not to be confused with the local property taxes that support schools, among other things) support a wide array of county social services, many of which are clearly not designed with rich white people foremost in mind: an extensive county bus system; offices of African-American and Hispanic affairs; a county Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action; a Youth Bureau, which notes that it sent “more than 100 disadvantaged kids from Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow to camp” this summer; and “affordable” housing, some 600 units of which have already been built for those of low and moderate income throughout the county. In short, Westchester should be known not for segregation but for redistribution.
A failed experiment
Finally, theres little reason to believe the justification that Sims offers for the settlement: that moving lower-income, often minority families to higher-income, often-white neighborhoods will prove uplifting. Beginning in 1994, an experimental five-city program called Moving to Opportunity started doing exactly what Sims endorses: shifting public-housing tenants to private apartments in better zip codes. The results for the subjects were pitiful. In a 2006 paper, Lisa Sanbonmatsu of the National Bureau of Economic Research (and three co-authors) wrote: “We did not find evidence of improvements in reading scores, math scores, behavior or social problems, or school engagement, overall or for any age group.” This finding followed an August 2004 paper about the same program, in which Jeffrey Kling and three co-authors reported, “We find no significant overall effects on adult employment, earnings or public assistance receipt.” The paper also reported no improvements in the subjects physical health. So much for the “fruits of established neighborhoods.”
Westchester may be forced to sign the settlement, but it has already been pursuing a far better policy: using federal funds to upgrade poorer neighborhoods and build subsidized housing in areas where beneficiaries will have incomes and education similar to their neighbors. Before calling for a radically different approach, HUD should take a closer look.
The foregoing was adapted from a forthcoming article in City Journal. The writer, a contributing editor of the publication, is vice president for policy research at the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, and also director of its Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. He is the author of “The Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy.“
Original Source: http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009908300309