Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Federalism, Efficiency, and Civil Rights Enforcement

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Federalism, Efficiency, and Civil Rights Enforcement

Article excerpt


This article systematically compares the efficiency of federal, state, and local civil rights agencies in enforcing national fair housing policy over time, with special attention to the South. State and local agencies processed Fair Housing Act complaints more efficiently than the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), southern agencies outperformed HUD, and the probability that a racial discrimination complaint resulted in a favorable outcome for the alleged victim was the same for complaints originating within and outside the South. These findings suggest that the fair housing enforcement model may provide useful concepts for sharing power in other policy areas in the American federal system.


federalism, civil rights, housing discrimination, HUD

Race remains a prominent fault line in American politics. Since the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), political scientists have therefore devoted considerable attention to school desegregation policy and its implementation (Bullock and Rodgers 1976; Gatlin, Giles, and Cataldo 1978; Green and Cowden 1992; Rossell and Crain 1982). Yet far less attention has been paid to fair housing policy and its enforcement. This is peculiar since housing discrimination is an important issue, and the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 constituted one of the most critical civil rights breakthroughs of the 1960s. Housing segregation is also directly related to school segregation. Schools would not be segregated if housing were not segregated (Massey and Denton 1993; Orfield 1978).

Residential discrimination and segregation have been chronic problems in the United States (Lamb 2005; Massey and Denton 1993). Though modest progress has been made in combating them, they remain problems in the twentyfirst century (Briggs 2005; Crowder, South, and Chavez 2006; Logan, Stults, and Farley 2004). Moreover, the willingness and ability of states and localities to enact and enforce fair housing laws have long been in question, especially since the 1960s, when the issue of school desegregation loomed large in national politics (Carmines and Stimson 1989; Klarman 2004; Orfield 1978; Rosenberg 2008).

State and local governments have nevertheless played an increasing role in implementing national policies since the 1960s (Scheberle 2004; Walker 2000). Against this background, we examine their willingness and ability to enforce national fair housing standards. After describing the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (both known as Title VIII), we explore the enforcement performance of federal, state, and local civil rights agencies by relying on a large, unique database obtained from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which includes the entire universe of Title VIII complaints processed between 1989 and 2004 (HUD 2005). This is an unusual approach since research rarely compares how well federal, state, and local governments enforce the same policy over an extended period.

Specifically, we explore the efficiency of state and local fair housing enforcement relative to that of HUD. Before laying out our hypotheses and research design, we provide an overview of federal, state, and local enforcement of Title VIII. We then develop three measures of efficiency based on the length of time it takes each agency to resolve Title VIII complaints. In view of the history of civil rights policy and enforcement in the United States (Grofman, Handley, and Niemi 1992; Klarman 2004; Rosenberg 2008), we would expect HUD to carry out fair housing enforcement more efficiently than state and local civil rights agencies because of the federal government's concern for civil rights protections over the past half century. We would especially expect HUD to outperform state and local agencies in the South given past southern resistance to civil rights enforcement. …

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