Segregated Housing Undercuts Educational Equity

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Key New NEPC Brief Takeaway: Policymakers have research-based options that address the harms of housing segregation.

Educational opportunities, and therefore life chances, have long been tied to family wealth and to housing, with more advantaged communities providing richer opportunities. Recognizing the key role of housing in this system, equity-minded reformers have proposed five types of interventions: (a) school improvement policies; (b) school choice policies; (c) school desegregation policies; (d) wealth-focused policies; and (e) housing-focused policies.

In a new brief released today, Housing Policy, Kevin Welner and William Mathis discuss each of these interventions, with an emphasis on housing-focused policies.

The authors point out that housing segregation did not happen by accident. Policy choices, often grounded in discrimination, resulted in inequitable zoning, the splitting of towns by interstate highways, dense public housing located away from more affluent areas, rationed Section 8 (rent subsidy) vouchers that provide very limited access, the red-lining of properties and the unavailability in Black neighborhoods of Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages—all of which created an absence of affordable and accessible housing.

School improvement policies, the authors explain, can help mitigate the harms of segregated housing. Similarly, school desegregation policies, if more widely used, could drive more integrated schools. Government programs that address wealth inequality can and do make a difference, but they will have to move beyond tepid measures such as a low minimum wage if they are to seriously address wealth inequality and thus drive changes in housing segregation.

Policies that directly address housing supply and affordability also can be beneficial. One example is inclusionary zoning, which uses incentives to encourage developers to build affordable housing in otherwise high-cost neighborhoods. In addition, we now have a golden opportunity to establish stable, integrated neighborhoods because of a “great inversion,” where more affluent buyers move into economically depressed urban areas while boundaries around the city center are becoming more porous, with families moving into the suburbs. In both locations, the result is greater integration—at least temporarily. Welner and Mathis point to policies that can stabilize these communities through proactive measures to sustain racially and ethnically diverse school districts and their educational benefits.

These sorts of housing integration efforts, as well as school improvement and school desegregation efforts and policies that address wealth inequality, do not present a mutually exclusive choice. In order to seriously address the harms of housing segregation, sustained efforts in all these areas will have to be pursued.

Welner is Director and Mathis is Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. This brief is one in a series of concise publications, Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, that address important policy issues and identify policies supported by research. Each focuses on a different issue, with recommendations to policymakers based on sound scholarship.

Find Kevin Welner and William Mathis’s brief on the NEPC website at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

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William J. Mathis

Kevin Welner
National Education Policy Center
(303) 492-8370
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