Journalism in the Public Interest

Mapping Segregation in Westchester

ProPublica decided to evaluate race and income data for Westchester County to determine whether income alone accounts for the high degree of racial segregation experienced by African Americans there.


It is one of the most common arguments used to justify federal inaction in pushing communities that get government housing dollars to become more racially diverse: Class, not race, determines where people live, the argument goes. African Americans and Latinos are poorer than white Americans, and therefore, cannot afford to live in whiter, wealthier areas.

ProPublica evaluated race and income data for Westchester County – the affluent New York City suburb under a federal desegregation order – to determine whether income alone accounts for the high degree of racial segregation experienced by African Americans there.

In one half of the split map, we show the current distribution of African Americans in Westchester. In the other, we show the expected distribution of African Americans if black households lived in areas with white households of the same income.

The differences are striking. If income were the only determinant, and black residents settled wherever they could afford, Westchester would look dramatically different. Areas such as Yonkers and Mount Vernon where African Americans are heavily concentrated would be a lot less black. More affluent places such as Eastchester, Scarsdale and Bronxville, now overwhelmingly white, would be significantly more diverse -- even if the county did not build a single unit of affordable housing.

Some of Westchester’s living patterns likely reflect preferences among African Americans to live among other African Americans, but scholars warn against overestimating the effect of choice.

“When African Americans and Latinos end up living in segregated communities, those communities are poorer, and have worse schools and higher crime rates. They are really paying a price for that segregation,” said John Logan, a Brown University sociologist and segregation expert. Black segregation isn’t “because they prefer to live with their own people, just as whites do. I think it is because they have limited choice in the housing market.”

This might sound naive, but does Logan have statistical breakdowns for why this happens or know affluent families of color who have looked for housing and ended up in an ethnic neighborhood?  It seems like there’s a huge gap in his statement by not providing any guidance other than “segregation is bad.”

I mean, without knowing the causes, the only path to solving the problem is a little bit illegal:  Forcibly relocate families into ethnically-different neighborhoods.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nov. 13, 2012, 4:50 p.m.

Hi John. Various studies and fair housing tests conducted around the country show that African Americans and Latinos are steered away from white neighborhoods (the most recent HUD study found that 87 percent of real estate transactions tested involved racial steering) and also face systemic discrimination in the housing market.

Thanks, Nikole.  I figured that might be the case, but that just seemed so…archaic, I guess.  I was under the impression that the legal risks of running a realty business that way outweighed any outdated ideas of racial purity.

The communities of hyper concentration are all incorporated cities & as such have more responsibilities under state law. Looking across LI Sound, there’s the ridiculousness of the Nassau-Suffolk Metropolitan Statistical Area, a federal designation with over 2.75 million people & no central central cities. Nassau has the only such designees, Glen Cove & the now hurricane besotted Long Beach, but not being employment hubs, they are not central cities. Nassau also has the anomaly of the nation’s largest town, Hempstead, with over 700,000 souls. The two counties, which get to call themselves Long Island akin to Europe as pretend continent. (The actual land body includes Brooklyn & Queens). They are very segregated, not subject to the federal Voting Rights Act & tend to loath the great high income commuter job generator to the west. Westchester & its NJ cousin, Bergen, are less NYC-phobic. That doesn’t resolve the problem of segregation (or forgotten beneficiaries of the Great Society like Jews & Italians). So maybe as has been suggested, the real estate industry, banks & insurers included (as the latter can still legally redline) should not be allowed to append Equal Opportunity quickly to their advertising copy without proof. We hope the products we buy bearing
Certified Organic &/or Fair Trade, aren’t just for show. Why, still 4-1/2
decades out do we so tolerate (a word of physics about stress ‘til failure)?

Very interesting writeup.  But not news to many of us.  I grew up in Florida, went to a diverse public school approximately 25% black, but lived in a mostly white working class neighborhood.  Segregation continues today by choice.  Choice of African Americans to stick together, and choice by whites to flee black areas at the first available opportunity - even if it means taking a loss on their home that has now declined in value after the neighborhood became more diverse.  If you want a real answer, then talk to a realtor in an unguarded moment.  White people - many of whom consider themselves very liberal and open minded - do not want to live in a black neighborhood and put their family what they consider “at risk” to crime and decay that exists even more today than 30 years ago.  That is for “some other family”, to pioneer, not theirs.  Its a sad state of affairs today, but it does reflect the reality.  We are becoming a more segregated society.  Government has been trying to force “diversity” in neighborhoods for 4 decades, but the public is resistant. At some point, the public’s right to choose where they want to live-and by whom overrides all of this.

I know of an incident of a nanny living in Memphis in what had been nice apartments and now section 8 is leaving due to multiculturalism,breakins, abusive behavior and fear for safety.

whites are resistant because we do not want to live around crime

Scott E Page Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics, The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor teaches an online course on Modeling.  He provides an interesting lecture on Schelling’s Segregation Model.

Choice proves to be a greater factor than you suspect.

The primary aspect that drives segregation is the resistance of the upwardly mobile segments of society to accept changes to their culture. These changes become apparent after the introduction of less affluent families to their communities reach a tipping point. Aspects of the new culture are rejected by the more affluent citizens and a natural resistance occurs. The cultural changes that occur are not of themselves a function of race, but are the result of cultural mores that form when segments of society are separated over time. Differences occur in the cultures of all minorities. Some of the more evident undesirable differences are: lack of reverence for education, inability to maintain real estate to desirable standards, the prevalence of crime, reluctance to maintain neighborhoods that are free of trash and litter, the lack of a strong family unit, the ethic for hard work.
Until the minority segments of this nation address these issues, there will be resistance their inclusion to mainstream society. When minorities become an asset to our culture and not a detriment, then they will be no longer be separated from the mainstream.

Thank you for this. I grew up in Westchester (Ossining and White Plains) in the 60s and 70s.  In those days, it was common knowledge that people from certain ethnic groups could not buy houses or rent apartments in certain neighborhoods.  My parents (I am African American) were one of two couples to threaten a court battle to move into our apartment in a predominantly white development in Ossining. Neighborhoods were also commonly segregated by religon and ethnicity.  Jewish familes were not shown homes in certain communities as well, as well as many of Westchester’s pool and golf clubs in those years.

Old habits die hard, so I am not surprised by the map in the story. Realtors are the driving force behind a great deal of Weshchester’s segregation.

Sheree C. Lane

Nov. 29, 2012, 10:49 a.m.

Thank you for this. I grew up in Ossining and White Plains in Westchester County in the 60s and 70s. My African American family was one of two to threaten a court case to move into a white housing development in those years.  Jewish families were also often banned from some communities, as well as many area pool and golf clubs, as late as 1974.

Old habits die hard, so I am not surprised by the data in the map here.  Realtors and mortgage lenders worked very hard to maintain segregation in many neighborhoods.  It’s sad to see so little has changed.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Segregation Now

Segregation Now: Investigating America's Racial Divide

Investigating America’s racial divide in education, housing and beyond.

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