Austin is often cited as one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation. Some researchers say that divide has major social and economic implications.
Researchers with the Urban Institute studied the effects of segregation on the country's 100 most populated regions and found that no one racial group benefits from the divide. The study looked specifically at income, education, homicide rates and life expectancy.
"Just to ask the question: Are the more segregated metropolitan areas coming out with worse metropolitan outcomes in all these four things?” Rolf Pendall, a fellow with the Urban Institute, said at an event this month hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and HousingWorks Austin. “And we found out that the answer is yes. Segregation does damage everybody in a metropolitan area.”
Families have access to different schools depending on where they can afford to live, for example.
The study also showed that integration had the opposite effect. It found, for example, that areas that are less economically segregated tend to have a higher median household income for African-American families. In areas where white and Latino communities had successfully integrated, the life expectancy was higher for everyone.
In Austin, it can be tough to find space to build affordable housing in wealthier neighborhoods. That type of housing is often placed on the outskirts.
Speaking at the same event, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said everyone in the region should be able to share in its prosperity. What constitutes "affordable" can vary widely.
"We have a very, very wealthy community in aggregate," she said. "So I don’t want to be looking at what’s affordable for those who are above the national average with regard to opportunities. We have communities of deep, deep need where families of four are living off of $30,000 a year.”
Eckhardt said she believes the housing market will solve a lot of its own affordability problems, but that local government should step in to fill the gaps. She said that includes providing incentives for developers to build new affordable housing in areas where they wouldn’t otherwise.