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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Fighting for housing fairness

Published Jul. 8, 2015

The effects of centuries of discrimination don't evaporate in mere decades. For nearly 50 years, the federal Fair Housing Act has banned outright racial discrimination in housing. But the patterns persist even where people may not knowingly discriminate anymore. With that reality in mind, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development announced new rules Wednesday intended to dismantle segregation by using big data. It's an important step in fulfilling the promise of the original act — and of creating more equal opportunity for all.

The new rules, announced in Chicago by HUD Secretary Julian Castro, require cities receiving federal money to track their housing for racial bias and periodically report the results publicly. The data will look at poverty, race and other demographics and study the overlap and show if poorer people and people of color have access to good housing, public transit and good schools, for example. This comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision that said the Fair Housing Act can ban housing policies that harm minorities if the pattern shows that's their effect, even if that's not the intention.

As these maps show, historical patterns have created many majority black, often poor, neighborhoods in both St. Petersburg and Tampa. "Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child's future," the HUD secretary said. Take schools, for example. Two of the elementary schools serving students from these neighborhoods in St. Petersburg were the worst in the state in student reading performance in 2014, and three others made the state's list of the 25 worst-performing on reading. While the Pinellas school district is devoting substantial attention and resources to these schools, HUD's initiative will encourage cities, school districts and other agencies to work together, thinking big to solve long-standing problems.

HUD's new idea, a top priority for civil rights groups, is simple. A problem cannot be solved until it is identified. Once identified, it becomes hard to ignore and easier to fix. Once the data are available to all to see, the issue can be seen in sharp relief, and solutions become possible.

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