Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2016


The problem of neighborhood deterioration is keenly visible in Detroit today, but Detroit’s housing struggles are not unique. Like most of America, the Detroit metropolitan area is racially fragmented, and minority neighborhoods are the most likely to be impoverished and failing. Detroit’s problems of housing abandonment and neighborhood decay are both caused and exacerbated by decades of housing segregation and inequality. The “American Dream” has always been one of equal opportunity, but there can be no equality of opportunity when there is such stark inequality among home environments. Detroit’s neighborhood decline is a symptom of the city’s population loss and its mounting fiscal crisis that recently culminated in bankruptcy. Although the city’s bankruptcy raises numerous financial issues to be resolved, Detroit can only create a sustainable future by addressing its regional housing inequities as well. In addition, as a recipient of federal housing funds, Detroit shares in the legal mandate to “affirmatively further fair housing.” The Fair Housing Act created this obligation nearly fifty years ago, but in 2015, the Supreme Court’s Inclusive Communities decision and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (“AFFH”) Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) has breathed new life into this mandate. It is therefore not only pragmatic, but also requisite, that the city and state governments deliberately attempt to racially integrate housing as they simultaneously try to address the thousands of vacant and abandoned homes in and around Detroit.

As a first step to affirmatively furthering fair housing, the city and state governments should aggressively root out and remove all legal and economic barriers to racial housing integration, including zoning and restrictive covenants that make it difficult for minority residents to live in “high opportunity” neighborhoods. In a related vein, governments must reverse the trend of concentrating low-income housing in predominantly minority communities. The city must also ensure that its revitalization efforts in the city’s core and its treatment of abandoned properties are designed to significantly decrease housing segregation. Affirmatively furthering fair housing will require local control of zoning, housing, and development to give way to the regional, state and national interests in creating a sustainable, equitable, and integrated future for Detroit.

Prioritizing de-segregation while still addressing the problem of numerous abandoned properties can allow Detroit to find a silver lining in the gray cloud of its current vacancy crisis in that vacant properties could present an opportunity to address the city’s persistent and destructive racial housing inequality. Not only could affirmative integration efforts in Detroit create a revitalized and more stable metropolitan area, but also, if successful, Detroit could provide a case study example for other highly segregated cities around the country. Deliberately creating diverse communities is the key not only to regional economic stability, but also to national racial social harmony.

This article discusses the causes and effects of racially segregated housing and the role of local control in the context of Detroit’s past decline and hoped-for revitalization. This article also explores the fair housing implications of government efforts to address neighborhood decline and to encourage revitalization.



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