Economic opportunity is not distributed equally across places. The COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests for racial justice have drawn attention to the stark gaps between Black and white communities in healthlife expectancyjob qualityhomeownership, and wealth, among many metrics of well-being. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that where children grow up profoundly impacts their lifetime outcomes.

For most of U.S. history, Black families faced explicit barriers to where they could live, including restrictive covenants, racial discrimination in mortgage lending, and “steering” by real estate agents. Such forms of overt discrimination are illegal today (although not entirely gone), replaced with more subtle barriers: especially zoning laws that block construction of apartments and other moderately-priced housing. Persistent disparities in income and wealth, combined with excessively strict zoning, limit Black households’ access to many high-opportunity communities. Put simply, high housing costs in exclusive neighborhoods are a major obstacle to racial integration and economic mobility.


Much of the policy debate over housing affordability focuses on differences between metro areas. But housing costs vary just as much within metro areas as between them. Even in metro areas with moderately priced housing by national standards, some local jurisdictions are effectively priced out of reach to middle-income households—especially typical renter households.

Read the rest of Jenny Schuetz’s article here at Brookings Institution