Affordable Housing and McKinney, Texas

Let’s get this out of the way: the police response to the McKinney pool party worked from the (false, it turns out) assumption that black teens were intruders in a middle-class neighborhood, to be repelled by force and intimidation, and an in-the-field decision that assault on one of those teens by a white adult was of no concern to the police. It’s wrong, regardless of whether the music being played offended the sensibilities of the other poolgoers. Regardless of whether some teens climbed a fence. Regardless of whether the party was permitted. Regardless of whether all of the attendees were residents of the development. And there’s certainly much to say about the interaction between the teens and the police (and one middle-aged white dude who managed to insert himself into the situation and physically restrain a teenaged girl without either being cussed out by the cops, manhandled, or having a gun pointed at him).

Larry Wilmore’s got that on The Nightly Show:

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But, of course, there is are two significant historical elements to this incident that should cause us to look at it as more than simply a reflection of present-day racism. The genesis of the conflict–presumptions about who belongs where, backed by police force–speaks to conflicts over recreational spaces that are described by Yoni Appelbaum on The Atlantic, as well as by Victoria Wolcott in Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters (among other works on the color line in recreational spaces) and Kevin Kruse in White Flight (which describes how whites in Atlanta closed some public swimming facilities and created new private alternatives to avoid mandates to integrate in the 1950s). As Appelbaum writes,

The decisions of other communities were rarely so transparent, but the trend was unmistakable. Before 1950, Americans went swimming as often as they went to the movies, but they did so in public pools. There were relatively few club pools, and private pools were markers of extraordinary wealth. Over the next half-century, though, the number of private in-ground pools increased from roughly 2,500 to more than four million. The declining cost of pool construction, improved technology, and suburbanization all played important roles. But then, so did desegregation.

The pool in McKinney was operated by such a private entity, a homeowners association in the Craig Ranch development.  Here, following Clarissa Rile Hayward’s explanation in How Americans Make Race, publicly desirable goods (to wit, a swimming pool on a 90 degree Texas day) are effectively privatized by means of residence. Hayward describes this in terms of “public” education being privatized by unequal local funding and residency requirements, but it works for recreation as well. And, this privatization extends beyond the legal right of use that stems from residence; the stories that residents of “good” or “safe” or “middle class” neighborhoods (terms, Hayward points out, that are generally associated with whiteness) tell about their communities become institutionalized, and create a script for discerning who belongs and who doesn’t.

This sneaky privatization is where McKinney’s own history, and the history of suburban diversity and housing access, emerges as the key contextual element for understanding the day’s events as a white and police riot in defense of suburban territory. As witnesses have corroborated, the precipitating incident for police involvement and teen anger was not the presence of unruly black teens from outside the residential association boundaries, but racial insults from an adult white woman toward black teen partygoers. Although subsequent investigation has shown that the party’s organizers, and many, if not most, of the attendees lived in Craig Ranch, the instigator’s remarks were aimed at telling the teens to leave a neighborhood where they were perceived as unwelcome.

And, as if McKinney weren’t already receiving sufficient attention, it’s worth mentioning that the city is intimately involved in a lawsuit that is heading for hearing by the United States Supreme Court that could potentially destroy the disparate impact standard for equal housing. The events precipitating this suit, in turn, have emerged out of the privatization of housing policy and the adoption of market-based practices–Section VIII rent subsidies and tax credits–for the construction of low-income housing. These programs have allowed municipalities like McKinney to respond to vague mandates for affluent suburban communities to promote economic inclusion in housing (that followed the 1975 Mount Laurel decision) in ways that have limited and isolated affordable housing, facilitated the exclusionary zoning that Mount Laurel nominally prohibited, and encouraged racial segregation. See this ProPublica report, for example.

McKinney settled a suit brought by the Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas-area advocacy group in 2009 that alleged the city concentrated low-income housing in the area east of US-75, while preserving the area to the west of the highway (where Craig Ranch is located) as a market-rate and mostly white set of neighborhoods. The legal justification for the suit was that, while McKinney’s actions nominally aimed to segregate low-income housing east of the highway, the implementation of the policy created a disparate impact owing to the higher proportion of prospective low-income residents who are Black or Latino. Thus, by purposefully concentrating housing for the poor away from more affluent areas, the city could effectively keep black residents out of those areas as well. Federal Judge Michael Schneider wrote in dismissing McKinney’s motion to dismiss in The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. v. City of McKinney, Texas

Here, ICP has pleaded facts that “permit the [C]ourt to infer that [ICP] is entitled to relief.” Id. (quoting Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2)). ICP alleges that the City and MHA are in violation of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 43 U.S.C. § 3604(a), for perpetuating racial segregation by making dwellings unavailable because of race. COMPLAINT at 2. ICP alleged that McKinney, Texas is racially segregated where East McKinney, east of U.S. Highway 75, is 49% white, while West McKinney, west of U.S. Highway 75, is 86% white. Id. at 4. According to ICP, all of the public housing and most of the landlords willing to accept Section 8 vouchers are located on the east side of McKinney. Id. ICP alleges that the population of housing procured through such programs is predominantly made up of racial minorities. Id. at 6. ICP argues that the City and MHA are in violation of the FHA because they are willing to negotiate for and provide low-income housing units in east McKinney, but not west McKinney, which amounts to illegal racial steering. Id. at 10.

This type of practice is not at all uncommon in the suburban United States, and not a legacy of backward bywater towns, either. McKinney is a fast-growing and affluent suburb in prime position to benefit from the northward sprawl of Dallas’s corporate growth.  So much so that Money magazine recently ranked it as the best place to live in the United States (ed: although the awesome Franconia Brewery tour is there, I think this is going overboard, and Money’s list is heavily skewed toward affluent outer suburbs.) And, if the Supreme Court follows a pattern established in its Voting Rights Act cases, the disparate impact standard will be thrown out and cities like McKinney will be legally able to practice this form of segregation.

The racial and class effects of the cities policies seem to be quite well understood by residents, and indeed have been woven into residents’ conceptions of quality of life and community in McKinney. When racial segregation is institutionalized, instances of racial integration, or of cross-racial interaction in public or semi-public space can seem to violate the social order in ways that disturb and frequently derange members of the dominant racial group. The adult white woman whose insults started the confrontation is alleged by multiple witnesses to have told black teens (who lived in Craig Ranch, for the most part) to “go back to Section VIII housing.” Her conception of McKinney as a city was clearly disturbed by the presence of Black teens in Craig Ranch; although we can and should decry her comments, she was not exactly wrong in assuming that the city would act to preserve socially and racially homogenous neighborhoods, since that’s clearly what it had been doing through its low-income housing programs. Why wouldn’t that kind of institutional prerogative be reflected in policing, too? As Olga Khazan writes:

Perhaps now that so many have come to McKinney to claim what they feel is theirs—a better job, a bigger house, a more private swimming pool—people feel more entitled than ever to push away anyone unlike themselves. Perhaps some cops believe they have an even bigger mandate to crack down on those who pester the well-heeled.


6 comments on “Affordable Housing and McKinney, Texas

  1. […] is why, as I wrote a week ago, we should be paying attention to the links between the Supreme Court’s pending decision on […]

  2. […] which the aggressive tactics of police and prosecutors have also been excluded–except, as recent events have shown, when such aggression targets perceived […]

  3. […] to determine violation of the federal Fair Housing Act by state housing authorities was upheld. As recent events in McKinney, Texas (one of the communities under scrutiny by the Inclusive Communities Project in […]

  4. […] and certainly consistent with the economistic tendency in contemporary academe to focus on the significance of property and the state’s role in maintaining the value of white property. Both in history and in […]

  5. […] perceived as “outsiders” can, by their presence in the community, trigger intense resentment and even repression by the […]

  6. […] this extensively in the last several years and I’ve made use of his reporting in several posts on the issue of fair housing. Essentially, if HUD guts disparate impact standards, it will be […]

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