As I've often noted over the years, the 2000 census places New York as America's third most racially segregated city, after Detroit and Milwaukee, judged by measures of the likelihood that two neighbors come from the same white, black or Latino group.
You can see maps of how New York compares to other cities at http://bit.ly/coRiiV. There's little reason to assume the just-completed 2010 census will be any different.
Segregated housing is the result of a thousand decisions — some of them subtle, many of them individual and personal — that allow brokers, bankers, appraisers and other real estate professionals to unlawfully steer white and black renters and buyers to different neighborhoods.
That's what happened in Brooklyn in 2004, when the Washington-based National Fair Housing Alliance, a civil rights organization, sent undercover black and white testers into Brooklyn Heights office of Corcoran's, the real estate company.
One Corcoran agent reportedly showed a white tester 13 different properties, but showed only one place to a black applicant who had a higher income and a better job. Another case involved a Corcoran agent who allegedly marked up a map of Brooklyn for a white possible homebuyer, indicating in red pen the places the tester should consider: the mostly-white neighborhoods of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Windsor Terrace.
That's not only illegal, it's unnecessary. "The real estate agents should stop presuming that whites don't want to live near blacks and vice versa," is what Shanna Smith, the president of the NFHA, told me. "You would have natural integration rather than block-by-block gentrification."
Corcoran's implemented a training program for its brokers without admitting liability, and the case was later dropped. But the incident underscored what many law-enforcement officials - including Attorney General and Gov.-Elect Andrew Cuomo - say are common practices.
"We don't want to admit that we discriminate," Cuomo said earlier this year at a press conference announcing enforcement actions against landlords who allegedly showed apartments to white testers sent by his agency but told black applicants there were no apartments, or that they'd have to fill out paperwork before seeing a unit. (Disclosure: My wife, Juanita Scarlett, works in the Attorney General's office.)
Cuomo, who has sent over 200 testers out to probe industry practices, says housing discrimination goes on daily. That makes him an exception to what legal scholar Derrick Bell calls "silent covenants" among political and business leaders to ignore segregation.