As the full implications gradually become better known, the federal investigative report released late last month accusing Dallas of segregation will shine a bright national light on the city. One housing policy watcher is already calling the case "Westchester on steroids," a reference to the last big case like this in a New York county, arguing that charges brought against Dallas by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development represent a major turnaround in national fair housing policy and enforcement -- and not just at HUD but in the behavior of every White House administration since passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. That makes the Dallas case a national story. If that's true, communities all over the country will watch Dallas to see what our case means for them.
Big elements of national housing law, things you would assume were worked out decades ago like the basic rules for fighting segregation, have never been worked out in the entire previous 45-year history of the law. Apparently those things are going to get worked out on our watch.
HUD has a lot of bad road behind it on these issues, some of which is already being cited as a defense of Dallas' own bad road. The city's hip-shot response right out the door to the HUD complaint was a statement last week from spokesman Frank Librio, echoed later in remarks by Mayor Mike Rawlings in a radio interview, to the effect that Dallas didn't do anything to segregate federally subsidized housing downtown that wasn't signed off on and approved by HUD.
The fact is that HUD has a horrendous record under Republican and Democratic presidents alike of looking the other way, signing off when it shouldn't and continuing to dole out billions in federal aid to communities it knows or should know are using HUD money to social-engineer the building of racial ghettos.
Last year Nikole Hannah-Jones, writing for the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, described HUD's long and sordid record of federally subsidizing segregation in violation of its own authorizing legislation. Her piece is sure to take on Biblical importance at Dallas City Hall in months ahead.
A tough critic of HUD quoted often in the ProPublica stories is Dallas' own Elizabeth Julian, who was President Bill Clinton's deputy assistant secretary of HUD over fair housing policy in the late 1990s. Julian was a lawyer for the plaintiffs in Dallas' landmark Walker housing segregation suit in the late '80s and early '90s.
Read one way, the articles by Hannah-Jones will be taken as a sort of vindication for Dallas. Why should Dallas be anybody's bull's eye, officials and politicians here will ask, given HUD's own dark record of complicity and the long string of instances where other communities have been let off the hook for things as bad or worse than whatever Dallas did?
One of Hannah-Jones' most piquant narratives is a piece she wrote last year about HUD's utter failure to do anything about blatant federally subsidized segregation in Westchester County north of New York City, where HUD quailed from action for years until a judge in a private lawsuit blistered the agency for failing to stick up for its own laws. What makes that article so fun is all the famous liberals who live in Westchester, the Clintons and Cuomos (Andrew Cuomo was Clinton's secretary of HUD), for example. The Clintons and Cuomos wouldn't even talk to PropPublica for its piece, reinforcing an impression left by their own lousy record in Washington on housing desegregation enforcement.
So, yeah, Dallas could say good for the goose, good for the gander, why are they picking on us? We could go that route and probably garner a lot of support from other communities around the country.
But, wait. Would Dallas really want to become a poster child for the defenders of housing segregation? We are not a city that tilts naturally toward segregation. One of the most interesting elements of the complaint against Dallas is a statistical study showing that, left to our own devices and before City Hall intervened, we were trending naturally toward desegregation. According to the study by deseg expert Andrew Beveridge, we were becoming a less segregated city from 1980 to 2000 -- a trend most of us could confirm simply from the evidence of our eyes.
It was only in 2000, when City Hall adopted an entire fabric of cheats to keep minorities out of newly renovated towers downtown, that our numbers reversed and Dallas began getting more segregated again. I will talk about this in my column in the paper this week.
Did I just say "cheats?" Well, HUD says we cheated. We took their money, which by law is supposed to be used to desegregate the city, and we used it in ways that increased segregation.
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All that stuff about HUD's past, HUD will say, will not work as a defense for us. They will say, "So what? That was the past. That sheriff done died."
But again, why would we as a city want to defend the behavior of our City Hall anyway in what sure looks like a long and clear record of racial discrimination? If anything in recent years, we've become a pretty cool city, fairly cosmopolitan, where lots of different kinds of people are at ease with each other. So why would we want to go with the uncool cities? Why on earth would we want to become their poster child?
The truth of the matter, when you look back over the entire history, is that few places have a good record on this. The Achilles heel of even the liberals is that they always want to desegregate somebody else's town, but everybody goes back indoors and draws the drapes when the marchers come to their own little refuge.
Maybe this is the opportunity Dallas needed to turn some things around at City Hall. Racial segregation enforced by government policy is not where we were headed or what we wanted until City Hall social engineered us back into it. Why would we defend that kind of City Hall? What we really need to do is send people packing for putting us in this picture.