Sustaining Racial Integration in Housing in Columbia: Exploring the Model of Oak Park, Illinois

Highlights

Full Video Presentation

To view the slide presentation, click here

As executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, Rob Breymaier is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on fair housing.

Oak Park, an Illinois community of more than 50,000 people, is located just west of Chicago and is home to the nation’s most successful effort to intentionally promote integration and the affirmative furthering of fair housing in the private housing market.

While Columbia, Maryland, was founded on the principles of integration and diversity, Oak Park needed 15 to 20 years to work intentionally to become racially integrated, according to Breymaier. And today, the emphasis is on sustaining racial integration.

Breymaier spoke about Oak Park’s success and continued mission on Oct. 4 as part of Columbia Association’s Community Building Speakers Series, which brings thought-provoking speakers on topics that stimulate us to discuss, engage and build our sense of community in Columbia.

“Integration was built into the fabric of Columbia,” said Jane Dembner, director CA’s Department of Planning and Community Affairs, which organized the presentation. “It’s in Columbia’s DNA, and people have passed the diversity gene from one generation to the other. We celebrate that heritage, but how do we sustain it?”

More than 100 people came to hear Breymaier, who has published articles and opinion pieces and has been interviewed on a variety of media outlets, including Marketplace, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR and the Chicago Tribune.

Breymaier opened his presentation with some brief thoughts about Columbia after spending a little time here.

“You can feel the intention here in the way the community was built,” Breymaier said. “That’s really wonderful to me. In other communities, it’s fighting an uphill battle, but it’s nice to see a community where there’s camaraderie.”

The presentation covered the many ways that segregation in communities happens. He said apartment seekers in Oak Park often have thoughts about where in the city they should live, informed by race and other factors — that community members can often segregate themselves along racial lines, which in turn changes the value of homes.

“Segregation doesn’t just disadvantage people of color — it disadvantages all of us,” he said. “We all know how it disadvantages people of color, but what we don’t sometimes think about is because white people are not ever looking in those communities, the housing they’re looking at costs more.”

Essentially, when people avoid neighborhoods based on their racial makeup, it limits the amount of available housing, and therefore the costs of those houses rise.

“Diversity becomes an asset when you integrate it into your thinking,” he said. “You start to do things together, and see a common destiny for one another.”

Video of Breymaier’s presentation is above; his presentation slides are available to view here.

April Cropper, a Columbia resident who attended the presentation, said the mix of housing types and residents from all walks of life in Columbia and in Oak Park creates a strong sense of community and neighborliness that’s often missing in other communities — and is something Columbia should strive to keep.

“Diversity and inclusiveness is really important,” she said. “I agree that people who moved here moved here intentionally, and I think that’s something that we should be careful to hold on to.”