Housing Desegregation in the Era of Deregulation


  • Christopher Bonastia




This article examines federal housing–desegregation efforts during the four presidential administrations—the Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan administrations—that followed the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. The Nixon and Carter presidencies receive the closest attention, as hopes for a vigorous fair-housing enforcement effort were highest during these two periods (1969–1974 and 1977–1980). Although both presidents were unenthusiastic about spending political capital on such controversial efforts, the secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who served them—George Romney and Patricia Roberts Harris—worked to implement policies to encourage racial and economic desegregation in housing. Ultimately, however, neither succeeded in gaining sufficient traction to do so.
This study analyzes federal attempts to increase housing options for low- and moderate-income families. The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), enacted in 1975, and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), enacted in 1977, provided some potential leverage to achieve this goal. However, in the face of the congressional push toward federal deregulation, declining federal revenues, and the continued reluctance of localities to house the poor, the results were underwhelming.
In analyzing the significance of these policy trajectories, the article examines racial undercurrents in the political shift to lax enforcement of Civil Rights laws, disinvestment in cities, deregulation, and punitive crime policies. It concludes by discussing the possibilities for a reinvigorated fair-housing effort.