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August 4, 2016

Shared Challenges: Separate-and-Not-Equal Housing Segregation

Racially restrictive covenants may no longer be legal, but Virginia as a whole, and its largest metro areas, continue to have high levels of segregation. The “index of dissimilarity” is one way to measure this, examining how people are distributed across a region compared to the distribution of another group of people. Comparing where Black, Asian, and Hispanic Virginians live to where white Virginians live shows the highest levels of separation for Black Virginians. But it shows some degree of segregation for Asian and Hispanic Virginians, too.

As with employment, discrimination on the part of landlords, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders contributes to residential segregation. Matched-pair tests, a type of experiment where similarly qualified applicants of different races apply seeking the same opportunities and record their experiences, show adverse treatment on the basis of race against both Blacks and Latinos in the rental and sales markets. And Black and Hispanic home buyers face higher rejection rates and less favorable mortgage terms than white applicants with similar credit characteristics. While Black and Latino Americans face discrimination when they look for housing, the choices white families make may also contribute to housing segregation. White Americans are more likely than members of other racial groups to want to avoid living in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are of a different group than themselves.

Adult immigrant Virginians feel the burdens of residential segregation on a daily basis. Half of Virginians who commute to work have trips that typically take 20 minutes or less. But immigrant Virginians typically face slightly longer commutes, with half of them 25 minutes or longer.

Their children directly feel the effects as well. Too often, residential segregation by race means, for Black and Latino students, segregation into schools that are struggling with high numbers of high-need students and too few resources.

To fight against explicit residential segregation, Virginia should make sure families and real estate professionals understand Virginia’s fair housing laws. And the state needs to conduct thorough investigations and take enforcement actions when violations occur. Too often, people don’t know the law and their rights when they face discrimination. And the state can strengthen its fair housing laws to include banning discrimination against renters who use Housing Choice vouchers to pay for their housing. Banning that type of discrimination would open up more communities of opportunity to low-income Virginians, many of whom are people of color.

To explore this issue in more depth, read our full report, We’re in This Together.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts based on The Commonwealth Institute’s new report, We’re In This Together: African-American and Immigrant Communities Share Challenges, Policy Solutions. During July and August we are highlighting analysis and policy ideas from each section of the report. For more information about this report and its findings, please contact Laura Goren at


Laura Goren

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