The New Housing Segregation: The Jim Crow Effects of Crime-Free Housing Ordinances

62 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2019 Last revised: 23 Jan 2020

Date Written: February 10, 2019


America is profoundly segregated along racial lines. We attend separate schools, live in separate neighborhoods, attend different churches, and shop at different stores. This rigid racial segregation results in social, economic, and resource inequality, with White communities of opportunity on the one hand, and many communities of color without access to quality schools, jobs, transportation, or health care on the other. Many people view this as an unfortunate fact of life, or as a relic of legal systems long-since overturned, and beyond the reach of current legal process. But this is not true. On the contrary, the law continues to play a profound role in creating and legitimizing patterns of racial segregation all across America. Crime-free housing ordinances are one of the most salient examples of the role law plays in producing and sustaining racial segregation today. They are, in this respect, a critical mechanism for effectuating the new housing segregation.

Crime-free housing ordinances are local laws that either encourage or require private landlords to evict or exclude tenants who have had varying levels of contact with the criminal legal system. Though formally race neutral, these laws facilitate racial segregation in a number of significant ways. This is the first law review article to explain precisely how they do so. The Article contends that crime-free housing ordinances enable racial segregation by importing the racial biases, racial logics, and racial disparities of the criminal legal system into private housing markets. While scholars have examined the important role local laws played in effectuating racial inequality, they have not paid attention to crime-free housing ordinances. In addition to foregrounding how crime-free housing ordinances reinforce and perpetuate racially segregated communities, this Article proposes an intervention: a “segregative effects” claim, an underutilized cause of action under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, to challenge this segregative impact. While this intervention would not end the pervasive nature of housing segregation across the United States, it could eliminate at least one of the causes of this persistent problem: a body of law whose formal race neutrality has obscured its racially segregative effects.

Keywords: segregation, housing, race, crime-free

Suggested Citation

Archer, Deborah N., The New Housing Segregation: The Jim Crow Effects of Crime-Free Housing Ordinances (February 10, 2019). 118 Michigan Law Review 173 (2019), NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 19-15, Available at SSRN: or

Deborah N. Archer (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States


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