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New report: Virginia's zoning laws have perpetuated racial segregation

New Housing in Loudoun County
Harry Hamburg
In this photo taken Sept. 18, 2016, pallets of pre-fabricated sections of new townhouses await assembly in the South Riding section of Aldie in Loudoun County, Va.

A new report says Virginia's zoning laws have sustained racial segregation in Virginia. And, the authors also make suggestions for fixing the problem.

From the very beginning of zoning laws in Virginia, the point was racial segregation — starting in Richmond and Ashland, where white people and Black people were required to live in separate areas. James Dyke at McGuireWoods Consulting says that's one of the reasons why Black wealth is one eighth of white wealth.

"The two main ways to build wealth in this country have been through education and through homeownership," Dyke says. "And Virginia's history in both those areas has been, shall we say, miserable to be honest with you."

Dyke was part of a team at McGuireWoods that took a hard look at the racist origins of zoning laws in Virginia and came up with some suggestions for making things better. Jonathan Rak is a land-use attorney at the firm who says one of the chief recommendations is for local governments to include housing equality in their comprehensive plan.

"So that they begin to measure the economic and racial segregation in their communities so that they can begin adopting policies and measuring the success of those policies to try to reduce the levels of segregation," Rak explains.

The report points to Roanoke as a case study of a local government that has successfully acknowledged its racist past and built language into its comprehensive plan to break the cycle of poverty.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.