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White Residents Have Better Access to City Services, Mayors Say in New Survey

Most mayors said people of color experienced worse treatment by police and the courts and had worse access to education, housing and health care.

Findlay, Ohio, Mayor Lydia Mihalik and other mayors gathered at this year's South by Southwest conference in Austin.
(David Kidd)
Governing is reporting from the mayor's track at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. Find all our coverage at

Mayors recognize that their white residents have better access to a wide range of public services than their residents of color, according to a new survey.

The National League of Cities and the Boston University Initiative on Cities surveyed 115 mayors about their views on racial inequities. They will release a two-page brief of major findings this afternoon at a South by Southwest panel in Austin.

Most mayors in the survey said people of color experienced worse treatment by police and the courts and had worse access to education, housing and health care.


(Boston University/Menino Survey of Mayors)

The survey, which had a response rate of about 25 percent, sought the opinions of mayors of cities with at least 75,000 residents. It is part of an ongoing project by Boston University to collect data on the beliefs and actions of mayors.

The brief echoes a similar report last year by Governing and Living Cities, which found that most local government officials believed their immigrant and minority communities did not trust local government; the same report found that government officials thought their services ought to be provided in a more equitable manner.

The full report from the National League of Cities and Boston University, which is scheduled for release later in March, found that mayors believe transgender, immigrant, black, and Muslim residents experience more discrimination than other groups, such as white, Christian and elderly residents.

“What it reinforced is that this is a priority for a number of our mayors across the country,” says Leon Andrews, director of the Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative at the National League of Cities. “Just hearing that voice and perspective of mayors is significant. We haven’t had the chance to gauge the perspective of our elected officials, particularly from these larger cities.”

The initiative helps cities that want to address institutional and structural racism through trainings, webinars, profiles of best practices and even a step-by-step guide. In a new set of profiles released today, the National League of Cities noted that Austin, host of South by Southwest, was recently called the most economically segregated metro area in the country.

But the city is taking steps to shed that distinction.

For example, in 2016 it formed a task force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities that produced more than 200 recommendations, such as creating a housing development fund and an incentive program for businesses that tutor low-income students.

“Our goal is to practically describe leadership where cities are,” says Andrews, “while also acknowledging that no one city has figured this out yet.”

More from South by Southwest 2018 at

Zach Patton -- Executive Editor. Zach joined GOVERNING as a staff writer in 2004. He received the 2011 Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Journalism
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