Last month, concluding a four-year investigation of Dallas’s housing practices, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that the city had discriminated against minorities and furthered segregation. In response, HUD threatened to cut the funds it gives to cities like Dallas if they remain indifferent or hostile to minorities' housing needs. The Dallas case is one of the agency's most important moves since its 2009 settlement with Westchester County to enforce municipalities' obligation to affirmatively promote fair housing.
For as long as the Fair Housing Act has existed, its battles have been fought on the predominately white fringes of metropolitan areas, largely because the demographic legacy of white flight and urban disinvestment have concentrated focus on integrating the suburbs. In the archetypal case, a suburb enacts zoning restrictions that make it impossible to construct affordable housing for low-income minorities within its jurisdiction.
But the Dallas case represents something new. The initial complaint was made by a frustrated developer whose plan to build affordable housing in Dallas's central business district was thwarted by the city’s refusal to grant him the government subsidies that he and other urban developers have come to expect and rely upon—subsidies city officials have used to accelerate and secure gentrification in the city center.
Dallas's opposition to affordable housing is part of a larger development strategy that has dramatically changed the demographics of its downtown in the last two decades. The following maps show the racial makeup of the area in 1990 and 2010, with red census tracts being majority non-white, and blue census tracts being majority white. These maps show a large influx of white residents and a complete shift in the racial composition of Dallas's downtown over the past twenty years. The red dot represents 1600 Pacific, the planned site of the failed development project that spurred the HUD investigation. In the census tract where 1600 Pacific was set to be built, the white population has almost doubled since 1990, while the black population has decreased from 1,702 to just 281—a reduction of 83 percent.
Downtown Dallas 1990
Downtown Dallas 2010
Dallas is not unique; similar stories exist in the downtowns of America's other large cities. You can see for yourself by looking at the maps at mixedmetro.us, where geography departments from Dartmouth, University of Georgia, and University of Washington have collaborated to map the progress of residential integration for America's 53 largest municipalities.
Gentrification is often considered a phenomenon tied to the ebbs and flows of the real estate market, but the Dallas case shows it to be shaped just as much by public funds and policy. It also shows how city officials can accelerate gentrification by taking affirmative measures to keep out poor and minority residents.