Banner image for Fair Housing: A Look Back and Forward at Racial Equity in Atlanta (and the Southeast)


Where a person lives matters—a ZIP code can provide a shockingly accurate prediction of a person's likely economic, health, education, and life outcomes. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, officially known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, made it illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, including against individuals seeking a mortgage or housing assistance or in other housing-related activities, based on a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Yet 50 years after the passage of this landmark legislation, housing remains segregated by race and income in many neighborhoods across the United States. Racial minorities and people with lower incomes disproportionately live in neighborhoods that lack basic amenities and pathways to economic mobility, what many people think of as the American dream.

To recognize the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, discuss its legacy, and explore solutions to the racial equity challenges that persist today, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta hosted a day-long conversation, Fair Housing: A Look Back and Forward at Racial Equity in Atlanta (and the Southeast), in partnership with Georgia ACT, the Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University, the National Fair Housing Alliance, Metro Fair Housing Services, and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society on November 16, 2018.

Recent data-driven research by Harvard economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and colleagues confirmed the critical role neighborhoods play in a person's ability to build a stable foundation and have the chance to move up economically. Their research has led to the creation of the organization Opportunity Insights to work with local stakeholders to develop policy solutions to empower families to move out of poverty. Its website hosts the Opportunity Atlas—a publicly available online data and mapping tool—that lets users look at any neighborhood in the United States and see how likely it is for a lower-income child born there to move up economically. Atlanta and much of the Southeast appear in dark red on the map—children in these parts of the country born in poverty, and often African American, have a very low chance of achieving upward mobility.

Why is this the case? Why do neighborhoods of racially concentrated poverty persist? Many people believe that today's residential patterns are inevitable. They posit that this "de facto segregation" reflects private market forces and personal choices at play, not something intentional or nefarious. However, in his recent 2017 publication, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, author Richard Rothstein provides extensive and compelling evidence to the contrary. His rigorous analysis leads him to conclude that the residential segregation that persists today is the direct result of decades of explicit government policies designed to target African Americans specifically.

The event brought together a diverse group of approximately 90 people from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to learn and discuss why fair housing issues persist, and how they can work toward solutions. Rothstein opened the event with a keynote based on the research and findings from his book. Dan Immergluck Adobe PDF file format of Georgia State University and Lisa Rice  Adobe PDF file format of the National Fair Housing Alliance presented on the state of fair housing regionally and nationally, respectively. Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic delivered remarks on the importance of fair housing to helping people build a foundation so they can achieve their full economic potential. Local and national experts from multiple sectors led panels that explored racial equity in the rental and ownership markets, and the roles of the private and nonprofit sectors in overcoming housing segregation. The group concluded with roundtable discussions focused on how to move forward to address racial equity and fair housing.

For additional information, please contact Ann Carpenter or Patrick Pontius.