March 11, 2001

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) characterized recent research reporting increasing residential segregation of Hispanics in the U.S as "troubling."

Statement by NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre:

Over the past several weeks, a number of scholars have reported increased residential "isolation" of Hispanics; in this context, isolation means segregation. The National Council of La Raza is not surprised by this disturbing development. About a decade ago, research by the Urban Institute for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that more than half of all Hispanic home-seekers experienced some form of discrimination in their encounters with landlords and real estate agents. At that time, we commented that such discrimination would inevitably translate into increased housing segregation, with negative consequences not just for Latinos but for all Americans.

Growing residential segregation is disturbing on many levels. For one thing, it should be a wake up call for those who have convinced themselves that we have attained our goal of a "color blind" society. It is also troubling at a time of massive demographic change, when the need for Americans to communicate across racial and ethnic lines is greater than
ever before, that we are less likely than ever to live in diverse neighborhoods.

But perhaps the most dangerous implication of these developments is how residential segregation reinforces other societal inequalities to severely limit educational opportunity for Hispanics. Many commentators have noted how the concentration of Latinos and other minorities in predominantly low-income, inner-city school districts restricts educational opportunity.

It reduces the resource base available to support the schools, and too often results in deteriorated facilities, lack of access to technology and the Internet, larger class sizes, and less qualified teachers. For Latinos, it has other negative consequences as well. For example, the pace of English acquisition by Latino immigrant students has become a very high profile issue. Regardless of one's views on that subject, everyone should be able to understand that it is harder to learn English if there are few native English speakers in your school. Similarly, too often the most affluent and powerful in our society believe that they no longer have a stake in supporting educational opportunity for inner city children, with all-too-predictable consequences - less investment in education. For Hispanics, who are entering schools at higher numbers than ever before, this is an ominous development.

Fortunately, public policy can help reduce segregation in several ways.

First, we need to enforce vigorously the nation's fair housing laws. In this connection, recent increases in exclusionary zoning practices, particularly by so-called "inner ring" suburbs, merits greater attention.

Second, we need to work harder to preserve ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Here in Washington, D.C., for example, NCLR affiliates CARECEN and the Latino Economic Development Corporation are fighting to prevent gentrification-induced, widespread displacement of Latinos from the Columbia Heights neighborhood, which is among the most diverse in the city.
Third, we should provide greater support for community organizations and others involved in providing affordable housing opportunities for low-income families. While such policies do not always promote racial and ethnic integration, in most cities with very hot housing markets, it is virtually impossible to prevent or reduce segregation without supporting
affordable housing.

The recent Census has underscored that the nation's future economic prosperity increasingly is dependent on the productivity of Latino workers. Already, about 40% of new jobs are filled by Hispanic workers, and that percentage will accelerate rapidly over the next two decades. Now, more than ever, all Americans have a stake in improving the educational status of today's schoolchildren, who after all are tomorrow's workers. The research discussed today highlights that, for Hispanics, improving education also means reducing segregation. Reversing the trend toward growing residential separation along racial and ethnic lines should be a major national priority. In doing so, we can reinforce our commitment to equal opportunity in education and housing and also increase prospects for future economic growth. Perhaps most important, we will be one step closer to a society that embraces diversity as a fundamental value.

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