Study highlights city segregation

Ethan Nelson

Minneapolis is one of the most segregated cities in the country, new research shows.

A study from University of Minnesota researchers suggests the city has more racially concentrated areas of affluence — or places where rich people of a specific race live — than areas of poverty. 
 
The researchers say few past studies have focused on this topic, and they hope the Metropolitan Council will take this into account this summer as it implements a 25-year housing policy.
 
The researchers mapped income levels and racial makeups in 15 cities. Racially concentrated areas of poverty occur when more than half of the population is made of minorities and the poverty rate tops 40 percent. Racially concentrated affluent areas include those where 90 percent or more of its population is white and the median income is at least four times the federal poverty level.
 
Minneapolis has 22 areas of racially segregated poverty where about 67,000 people live, the study found. But it has two and a half times more areas of affluence that house more than 240,000 people.
 
“Even though the metro tends to do well overall, there’s still a major question on who the metro does well for,” said Tony Damiano, a research specialist at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and co-author of the study. “We still have some of the largest racial disparities when it comes to income.”
 
While some areas, including central Minneapolis, have high levels of racial segregation and poverty, the researchers found that southwest Minneapolis is a racially concentrated area of affluence.
 
“It’s an embarrassing fact of the city,” said Ward 13 City Councilwoman Linea Palmisano, who represents southwest Minneapolis. “It’s sad but true that southwest Minneapolis is racially un-diverse.”
 
She said there’s not much the council can do to reduce segregation, though she said she’d advocate for more mixed-income housing in the area.
 
Palmisano said housing is a challenge in the area because there are few options for low-income residents.
 
“The homogeneity of housing types doesn’t help,” she said.
 
The Metropolitan Council’s 2040 Housing Policy Plan, which will govern the metro area’s housing strategy for the next 25 years, proposes to encourage local governments to develop mixed-income housing. The council will consider an amendment to the plan in July.
 
The council’s plan forecasts that the region will have more than 37,000 low- and moderate-income households in need of affordable housing between 2020 and 2030.
 
Libby Starling, the council’s manager of regional policy and research, said areas of high income aren’t typically seen as much of a problem compared to the lack of a variety of housing options throughout the metro area.
 
Over the past three years, the metro area has added more than 2,300 affordable housing units.
 
“[Supporting mixed-income housing] can be financially difficult, but it’s very politically popular,” Starling said. “So whatever we can do to work through the institutional challenges, we think that would be of great value to our region’s residents.”
 
Neeraj Mehta, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs’ director of community-based research, said Damiano’s research could turn housing policy on its head. The segregation of poor people is often seen as a problem, he said, but segregation of affluent white people generally isn’t recognized.
 
“I think the shift [that the research] could create in the narrative in the region, with good organizing work, could shift how policies are made,” he said.