The Walls We Don’t See
The Social Cost of Economic and Class Discrimination
Richard D. Kahlenberg
Although the entrenched racial discrimination in the housing market that Richard Rothstein chronicled in The Color of Law has been declining over the past several decades, one of America’s most enduring systems of housing inequity – economic segregation—largely goes unremarked. From coast to coast, cities—many of them liberal bastions—have imposed laws and regulations that have locked inequality into the urban landscape.
In The Walls We Don’t See, Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation calls for us to pay attention to the myriad ways in which government has promoted economic segregation—most of it affecting people of color in urban settings. By implementing laws that ban the construction of less expensive and denser apartment buildings and other multifamily units like duplexes and triplexes, and by setting aside land that is restricted to single family dwellings, housing choice has been socially engineered to the benefit of the affluent.
Economic segregation matters. Where you live affects so much—your access to transportation, employment opportunities, decent health care, and good schools. Yet NIMBYism has meant that even the most moderate plans for building more housing have faced opposition. In response, The Walls We Don’t See proposes a new “economic fair housing act” to prohibit or discourage laws and practices that bar access to entire neighborhoods.
Rick also chronicles how, in cities like Minneapolis, things are beginning to shift. Writing in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo has ventured to hope that support for different housing practices might be growing. Partly in response to the housing crisis revealed by the pandemic, he suggested that “a pragmatic, humane and rational view toward housing, homelessness, inequality and other pressing urban problems may be dawning.”
In The Walls We Don’t See, Rick Kahlenberg brings economic segregation to light and in so doing offers a view of how things can and must change.