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Obama administration launches new plan to tackle segregation

The Obama administration announced new rules that are renewing a decades-old debate over racial segregation and federal power.

The Obama administration announced new rules Wednesday aimed at actively fostering integration in American communities. Under the new regulations, any city or town that receives federal housing aid will be required to prove that its housing policies and practices don’t promote racial segregation.

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will provide each municipality with publicly available data on the racial make-up, poverty rate, concentration of public housing, public transit availability and school quality of each community within its borders, according to The Washington Post. Municipalities will then need to demonstrate that their use of HUD funds would not further entrench the overlap between minority neighborhoods and concentrated poverty -- as the construction of a new public housing project in an area with no public transit and poor schools likely would.

“As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in a statement. “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 new regulations are consistent with a long neglected mandate of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which required recipients of HUD funding to reduce barriers to fair housing, so as to promote greater equality of opportunity. By providing municipalities with data tracking racial demographics and quality of public resources, HUD hopes to enable local leaders to identify and combat those barriers.

But some conservatives believe that the mandate is both outdated and overly intrusive. Republicans in Congress have already attempted to defund the new rules, and conservative advocacy groups are mobilizing in opposition.

Civil rights advocates see the new rules as an antidote to the heavy-handed social engineering of decades past, when the federal government actively encouraged residential segregation by systematically denying mortgage subsidies to communities with African-Americans. 

A study of 2010 census data conducted by Dartmouth, the University of Georgia and the University of Washington in 2012 found that in the nation’s largest cities, African-Americans remained concentrated in segregated neighborhoods, and that truly diverse residential communities were few and far between.