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Civil rights advocates have long recognized that housing segregation creates inequality in living conditions related to housing, like clean drinking water, the type and condition of homes, and exposure to pollution. Residential segregation also undermines equal access to education, public resources, and employment, and frustrates democracy at every level. Despite this understanding, most advocates address these issues piecemeal. Schools may desegregate for a time, but as segregated housing patterns persist they tend to resegregate. A community may successfully fight off one polluter but lack the political power to prevent the next. Few victories stay won.

One impediment to integration is an individualistic legal framework where civil rights are perceived as individual rights and racial discrimination as a personal experience. The opposite is true. Housing segregation operates at a neighborhood level. When a neighborhood is overwhelmingly one race, all of the residents face impacts of that segregation, regardless of their own race or circumstances. Individuals face other forms of racial discrimination individually, for example in employment or access to higher education, but even these types of discrimination are reinforced and perpetuated by segregated communities.

This report uses North Carolina as a case study of impacts tied to super-majority non-white neighborhoods called excluded communities. The term “excluded” is applied broadly to refer to any community excluded socially, politically, or economically from opportunities available to other residents. The report hypothesizes that super-majority non-white neighborhoods will face greater than average impacts of housing segregation suggestive of community exclusion based on race.

One particular form of exclusion this report analyzes is the phenomenon of municipal underbounding. Underbounding occurs where a municipality’s limits do not include a neighborhood that would otherwise be within the municipal limits based upon its location, density, and history. Underbounding is sometimes obvious; an African-American neighborhood may be completely surrounded by the municipal limits but not included, a doughnut hole. Other cases are not immediately apparent; a community may be near but not directly adjacent to a municipality, but still underbounded based upon the social and historical context.

Prior work considered community exclusion and underbounding primarily through case studies, through demographic analysis, or by examining one particular impact, often with only a limited assessment of the underlying causes. This report tests whether communities are excluded by examining whether they face disproportionate impacts in environmental justice, voting rights, housing, municipal services, and education. It further examines whether underbounding contributes to these impacts by comparing communities that may be underbounded because they are near municipalities but not incorporated with other excluded communities and with state and county averages.

The smallest geographic unit for which data is available is a census block, which is roughly equivalent to an urban city block, but is of no set area or population. Data in this report are based on every census block in North Carolina where at least 75% of the population self-identified as some race other than white only, or identified as Latino. Those census blocks were then grouped together into clusters comprising all immediately adjacent census blocks that met the 75% criteria. These clusters ranged from a single census block to dozens of blocks and were the best approximation for communities that we hypothesized would show manifestations of exclusion. Nearly 3,200 clusters were studied.

The goal is to provide communities, advocates, funders, and policy makers with an understanding of the shared causes of the overlapping challenges facing excluded communities, provide them with data on the seriousness of the issues, and to suggest where additional data is needed. While some of the results are startling, especially with respect to educational disparities and environmental justice issues, ultimately this report may raise more questions than provide answers. The Inclusion Project of the UNC Center for Civil Rights will continue this work not only with further research into individual counties and communities but through continued direct representation. Our sincere hope is that this report will enable and inspire others to do the same.

About the Author

Peter H. Gilbert is an Equal Justice Works Fellow Sponsored by the Norflet Progress Fund hosted by the UNC Center for Civil Rights. He was graduated from Yale University in 2003. After college, Peter began a graduate program in physics at North Carolina State University, where he met his partner Elena. Upon graduation from the UNC School of Law in 2009, Peter served as law clerk to the Honorable Judge William Osteen Jr. in the Middle District of North Carolina. He was a summer intern with the Center in 2007 and was invited to rejoin the Center as the 2010-2012 Community Inclusion Attorney Fellow.

323 West Barbee Chapel Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
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UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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