Racial segregation declining but still present in region

Black and white residential patterns are the most segregated

While the central Puget Sound is less segregated than other major metro areas across the U.S., analysis using 2020 Census data shows that segregation continues to impact people of color and access to opportunity.

One common way to understand segregation is with the dissimilarity index.

Based on guidelines drafted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an index value of 0.40 or below indicates “low” levels of segregation, a value between 0.41 and 0.54 indicates “moderate” levels of segregation, and a value of 0.50 or above indicates “high” levels of segregation.

Consistent with national trends, levels of segregation have declined modestly over the last two decades for Black and Hispanic or Latinx populations.

However, the region’s Black population continues to experience substantially higher levels of segregation than people of color in general. Additionally, segregation levels have not changed for Native American or Asian populations since 2000.

Causes of segregation

There are many factors contributing to racially segregated patterns of residential settlement, which can be classified three ways:

  1. Self-segregation refers to the dynamic in which people co-locate with others of similar racial or ethnic backgrounds based on personal preferences and cultural affinities. This can include, for example, neighborhoods established by immigrant and other people of color populations that serve as cultural hubs for local businesses, civic institutions, shared language, and community. Evidence suggests, however, that decisions to co-locate are shaped by additional factors that limit available housing choices for people of color.
  2. Active segregation refers to discriminatory policies and practices that produce and reinforce racial segregation across neighborhoods. Examples include restrictive residential deed covenants and redlining, which were common mid-20th-century ownership restrictions, and lending rules that prohibited people of color from living in particular neighborhoods. Contemporary bias in real estate and lending practices persist, which perpetuates racial disparities created by these historical discriminatory policies.
  3. Structural segregation describes the racial sorting that results from structural inequalities in society. The correlation between race and income translates to spatial segregation as people of color are concentrated in neighborhoods, in part, because of lower incomes. High-priced neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods with limited rental housing fail to provide feasible or welcoming housing choices for low- and-moderate income households who are disproportionately people of color.

The combined impact of these varied factors and the resulting segregation are visible in this series of maps illustrating the distinct residential settlement patterns of the region’s population by race and Hispanic/Latinx origin:

Segregation and the geography of opportunity

Residential segregation is a leading driver of racial inequities in education, employment, income and wealth, health outcomes, and more.

PSRC’s Opportunity Mapping tool investigates the dynamics of opportunity within the metropolitan region.

The mapping tool is based on an “opportunity index” developed using multiple neighborhood-level data sources selected to represent opportunity and life outcomes in five key areas: education, economic health, housing and neighborhood quality, mobility and transportation, and health and environment.

The data are combined into a single composite index that tells us where each neighborhood lies on the regional spectrum of opportunity. The index values have been classified into five opportunity categories: “very high,” “high,” “moderate,” “low” and “very low.”

Neighborhoods that are disproportionately white or Asian compared to the regional average generally correspond with higher access to opportunity, while neighborhoods that are disproportionately Black, Hispanic or Latinx, and Native American correspond with lower access to opportunity.

Note that the Asian population represents an extremely diverse demographic category. The 2021 Central Puget Sound Demographic Profile observes that while the Asian population as a whole has a relatively low poverty rate and the highest median household income across all racial and ethnic origin groups, there is considerable variation within this race category depending on country of origin and length of time in the U.S.

Lower-income Asian groups including immigrant populations are likely to experience housing barriers, segregation and limited access to opportunity at levels similar to other impacted people of color populations.

VISION 2050 and the Regional Housing Strategy

The region’s long-range plan, VISION 2050, and the draft Regional Housing Strategy recognize that providing fair and equal access to affordable, accessible, healthy and safe housing opportunities in communities throughout the region is fundamental to achieving regional equity goals.

In response to the increasing difficulty faced by people—especially lower- and moderate-income and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) residents—to find and remain in housing that is affordable, the Regional Housing Strategy calls for three areas of action:

  1. Supply: Build more housing of different types. To meet the region’s vision for a more livable, prosperous, and equitable future, more housing is needed of different types, costs, and with access to jobs, transit and services.
  2. Stability: Provide opportunities for residents to live in housing that meets their needs. As the region grows and becomes a more expensive place to live, many households are at a serious threat of being displaced from their communities. More housing options and strategies are needed to help people have the option to stay in their neighborhoods, with an emphasis on lower-income communities and BIPOC communities that have been systemically excluded from homeownership opportunities.
  3. Subsidy: Create and sustain long-term funding sources to create and preserve housing for very low-income households and unhoused residents. At the lowest income levels, the market is not capable of building housing at a cost that is affordable. Eliminating cost burden for households will require a major increase in funding to subsidize housing costs and to build more housing affordable to households earning less than $50,000 per year.

Key strategies that can help to address residential segregation and disparate access to opportunity include:

  • Allowing for more affordable and diverse housing choices throughout the region, including single-family zones, to provide greater housing choice and less costly ownership options.
  • Expanding and strengthening tenant assistance and protections and their enforcement to provide opportunities for renters to continue to live in their communities.
  • Increasing access to home ownership, with an emphasis on BIPOC homeownership.
  • Increasing services and amenities to provide access to opportunity in low opportunity areas experiencing housing growth.
  • Leveraging growth near transit and higher opportunity areas to incentivize and/or require the creation and preservation of long-term affordable housing.
  • Identifying public, private, and philanthropic funding to increase affordable housing and access to housing for lower-income families.

To support the adoption and implementation of these strategies, PSRC is working to develop additional data analysis, resources, and guidance. Keep an eye out for more to come.

To learn more about the Regional Housing Strategy, visit https://www.psrc.org/regional-housing-strategy.