It was recently nationally reported that “New York schools (public and charter) suffer from worse racial segregation than in any other U.S. state.” Throughout New York City schools, all classes get dismal marks for diversity. It was surprising to many that most Black and Latino children in New York attend schools with almost no white classmates.
How can this be true as we now celebrate the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision prohibiting segregation in public schools? The answer is obvious: It is more often the housing strategies that direct children to local schools. Far too often, low-income and affordable housing equate with segregated schools.
School attendance traditionally follows local residential patterns. Residential housing patterns follow economic affordability. Economic affordability follows racial patterns. Racial patterns follow poverty. Poverty always causes segregation, thereby creating poor services in its wake.
Educated professionals and talented and employed persons traditionally flee from poorly served areas, and poorly served areas inevitably attract crime and despair.
A major way to reverse this trend of economic segregation is to seek to not only increase the desperately needed affordable housing stock, but also to simultaneously create a balance of mixed economic income housing within the urban affordable housing strategy. Case studies demonstrate that racial segregation make socio-economic integration hard to achieve. We must also encourage the creation of market rate units, upper income units and private housing in our neighborhoods to have a more balanced economic community, which would then also provide quality housing for local professionals and encourage them to live closer to where they work.
If doctors and nurses live in neighborhoods, the neighborhoods are healthier. If teachers and principals live in neighborhoods, the neighborhoods are smarter. If law enforcement officials or fire fighters live in neighborhoods, the neighborhoods are safer. If business owners and business managers live in neighborhoods, more local jobs are created, local business is done and more local businesses are created. If employees from both the public and private sectors live in the neighborhood, then there is a greater local retention of their disposable income, creating more local jobs and supporting neighborhood businesses. Educated consumers demand service, quality, diversity, respect and to be included in local decision-making, particularly at schools. These traits are now sorely lacking in most New York schools.
Creating greater economic diversity in our neighborhoods will empower all parents. It will also allow for parents, some who are more informed, more knowledgeable and have more time to visit schools during the normal work day, to participate in extracurricular activities.
Therefore, when planning for the development and creation of housing in our communities, we must think broader and see our neighborhoods to be “small cities within our cities.” We cannot continue to focus on only building low-income housing in urban areas, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poor education, poor health services, unemployment, limited or non-existing cultural and recreational opportunities and poverty. As one adage goes, “Programs earmarked for the poor oft times become poor programs.”
Let’s come together to create diverse economic and improved educational opportunities, along with better housing, private and public services and cultural diversity if the Harlems of New York City and beyond are to survive. With that in mind, the Greater
Harlem Chamber of Commerce recommends that New York City’s housing development and renovation strategies should be balanced. We approximate that this balance might include one-third affordable units, one-sixth low-income units, one-third market units and one-sixth home ownership. Our Chamber is committed to working with community boards, elected officials and local businesses, as well as corporate, cultural, educational, civic and religious sectors to accomplish these or similar goals.
Our goals have been publicly vetted and strongly supported by our community board, our council member, our assembly member, our congressman, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the New York City Planning Commission and all major community-based business, civic and cultural organizations within the impacted neighborhood.
We must all work with other affected and interested parties to support, build and save our neighborhoods. It is our view that neighborhoods that develop only low-income housing cannot survive.
We will continue, with your support, to advance this strategy because it is our community—we reside here as residential renters and owners; we work here; our children attend school here; we own businesses in here. We have suffered too long at the mercy of others who purport to know what we need better than we do. Hopefully, those days are over. Let us plan together for our future. Please join us in this quest.