New Jersey has made great progress in realizing racial diversity in its suburbs in the last two decades, but dozens of communities face the threat of resegregation due to ongoing discrimination and disinvestment, according to Myron Orfield, Director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School. Orfield highlighted these trends in a presentation to the NJTPA Board on July 8.
His presentation, “The Challenges and Opportunities of Growing Racial Diversity in the Suburbs of Northern New Jersey,” was part of NJTPA’s ongoing series of speakers, forums and events in preparation for updating its long range transportation plan from 2045 to 2050.
Communities that are racially diverse (where minorities compose 20 to 60 percent of the population) have better school achievement, more upward mobility and more positive attitudes about racial differences, Orfield said. Nationwide, such communities are growing. By 2040, he said, the nation will be fully multi-racial, with no race having a majority.
In New Jersey, diversity has grown dramatically. In 2000, 41 percent of the state’s population lived in predominately white suburbs. That number dropped to 17 percent in 2017.
Despite the progress, he said, suburban areas tend not to stay integrated for long. New Jersey leads the nation in the rate at which suburban communities are losing their diversity, as whites shift to “whiter enclaves” In other suburbs or center cities.
The reason he says is “relentless driving discrimination,” in which some real estate brokers steer buyers to areas based on race, some mortgage lenders hamper minority homeownership and zoning policies undermine affordable housing. The result are communities that lose their “tax capacity” and suffer declining schools along with their ability to attract and retain residents and businesses.
Unless the situation is addressed, said Orfield, once thriving suburbs will become “disinvested places” that developers and investors will “write off” for future projects.
One of the key solutions is affordable housing. New Jersey’s Mt. Laurel court decision, which required each town to build an equitable share of affordable housing, was not fully implemented in the state. But it has become the model, he said, for at least 10 other states, such as Minnesota, Washington and Oregon, that are stabilizing diversity through affordable housing.
Creating networks of magnet schools in and around cities such as Louisville based on a metropolitan-wide approach to governance, he said, has also helped counteract resegregation.
He predicted that emerging court challenges to school segregation in New Jersey will soon lead to other opportunities for the state to foster diversity. The state, he said, must rise to the challenge. “It’s a hard thing to work on but important thing in a multi-racial, metropolitan nation.”
View the video of his presentation
above. Presentation slides can be downloaded here