Helpful Hint for Julian Castro on How to Desegregate the Park Cities

So excited earlier this month. We read that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and his boss, the president, are not the pushovers on fair housing we thought they were. Not anymore. Apparently, now they’re tough.

Nine months ago it was looking pretty sad here. That’s when Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, was just taking the reins at HUD. Practically the first thing he did when he got into the office was gut a four-year federal housing investigation of Dallas.

After schmoozing with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Castro kicked the pins from under his own HUD fair housing staff. They thought they had compiled a bullet-proof case against Dallas for misusing HUD money over the span of a decade to fund a sub rosa program of deliberate racial segregation.

Nobody ever explained why a four-year probe and a tough letter of findings wound up in the circular file, but, anyway, who cares now? Castro and President Obama have unveiled a brand-new, get-tough, no-more-schmoozing, no more Mr. Nice Guy policy on fair housing. They say they will use super sophisticated new high-tech techniques to sleuth out racially segregated communities and then marshal various federal resources to work to overcome those patterns.

The thing about the HUD investigation of Dallas was that it didn’t really need a lot of satellite imagery and Sherlock sleuthing to find the patterns. Dallas City Hall had helpfully drawn a line across the map of Dallas and labeled one side of it “The Southern Hemisphere,” a term that might otherwise put you in mind of Christopher Columbus but in this case refers to the side of Dallas that is not white.

Secretary Castro took a pass on the Southern Hemisphere of Dallas, and we may never know why. In my experience, sometimes you tell people who aren’t from here things about Dallas that are absolutely true, and they just assume you’re joking. Maybe that was it. Whatever.

The thing to do now, it seems to me, is focus on the positive. For people like me who have never been big fans of racial segregation as a strategy for the future, it’s all good that Secretary Castro and President Obama now have decided to be against it. I wish I could help.

Well, in fact, I have an idea. Yes, it’s probably also true that I’m a little bit suspicious of this sudden declaration of war on segregation from the guy whose first act was to take a dive on what would have been HUD’s biggest de-seg action in history — forcing a major American city to forsake and compensate for a decade of conspiracy to promote segregation. So, yes, I’d like to test him out a little on it, and, yes, I think I can do that by offering him an easy but dramatic win.

Over a period of years I have used a huge variety of techniques in my search for local segregation. I don’t remember everything I did so I can’t exactly swear to all of it, but I may have used things like thermal imaging, sonograms, extremely low frequency electromagnetic radiation, extra-sensory perception and driving around in my pickup looking out the window.

Here’s what I have come up with. We have an area here in Dallas called “The Park Cities” that’s not just totally white: it’s almost completely blond, depending on how closely you examine people. Highland Park and University Park, twin municipalities surrounded by Dallas, proudly call themselves, in fact, “The Bubble,” sort of like “Boy in the Bubble,” only in this case it’s the white boy in the bubble.  I’m not going to tell Secretary Castro about the bubble thing when I write to him because of the joking problem.

The problem with using federal resources as leverage to encourage diversity in the Park Cities, I would assume, is that most of the available leverage, especially for HUD, depends on HUD’s ability to withhold federal funds. We can assume that the Park Cities have seen that one coming for at least a half century, since the bubble thing is pretty much their whole reason for being. Therefore we can assume they have at least tried not to let a single federal nickel cross into their town limits, ever.

But I have a trick. In my sleuthing I have discovered an esoteric archive known only to Sherlock Holmes-types like myself called “Google Maps.” By using this Google Maps, I have been able to locate a wonderful window of opportunity for Secretary Castro.

The purpose of fair housing law is not just to piss off rich white people but to put poor people, especially poor children, in “areas of opportunity” where they will be exposed to values and educational opportunities that were not available in their hemisphere of origin. More than anything, it’s about getting poor kids into good schools.

And guess what. The public school district serving the Park Cities — an excellent system called Highland Park Independent School District — is not entirely in the Park Cities. The borders of the school district are identical to the borders of the municipalities.

Sticking out beyond the northwest corner of University Park like a Dumbo ear, in fact, is an area of 20 city blocks — some of them big city blocks — entirely within the municipal boundaries of the City of Dallas. Spanning south from the corner of Northwest Highway and the Dallas North Tollway, this area offers rich and ample opportunities for the development of federally supported housing.

And has Dallas ever taken federal funds? Oh, please! Dallas has suckled at the federal breast long and loudly enough to get kicked out of restaurants for it. Our city’s inability to wean itself is practically a crime against nature. And not to harp on an old point but that was why the HUD action killed by Castro was so strong. All HUD had to do was start buttoning its blouse and Dallas went into a shrieking meltdown.

So here’s my idea. HUD uses all of its new high-tech techniques to see if what I am saying about the Park Cities is true. You and I know their racial Geiger counter is going to overheat and start smoking on them before they get to Beverly Drive.

Secretary Castro calls up his buddy, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. He says maybe, “Mike, you owe me one.” And he talks him into backing some supportive housing up in that corner of HPISD that’s in Dallas.

Or not. We’ll see. But if all these brave pronouncements about “affirmatively furthering fair housing” are anything more than campaign slogans, we ought to see at least something with a little heat on it. Right?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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