Killeen, Texas is a small city just 40 miles north of Austin. Originally established around a new stretch of railway, Killeen served as a small hub of agricultural trade. In the 1940s, the major military training base Fort Hood was established (Elvis Presley was once stationed here) and Killeen grew into a military town. Since then, Killeen has had a modest but steadily growing population. Between 1980 and 2010, the city’s population grew from 46,296 people to 127,921 people, an almost 38 percent growth rate per year on average. Killeen is also quite diverse: It is 23 percent Latino of any race (versus 18 percent in the US), 34 percent white (versus 60 percent in the US) and 32 percent Black (versus 12 percent in US). But unlike many metropolitan areas that are diverse and segregated, Killeen is one of the most integrated places in the country.
What does this look like for the residents of Killeen? “To me, I’m on top of the world,” says Killeen metro resident David Michael Jones when describing his home. Jones, 68, retired with a full pension and benefits from a long career in the military. Killeen has a very affordable housing market, the median cost of a home is only 68 percent of median home costs in the US. Jones obtained mortgage financing through the Veterans Administration and is excused from paying property taxes as a disabled veteran in Texas. And Jones is not alone: the government sector accounts for 26 percent of jobs in the Killeen Metro Area, and Fort Hood (a military base) is the single largest employer.
US military bases have long been integrated. With benefits including a housing allowance, zero down payment and below-market interest rates, veterans and active military personnel are able to overcome barriers to homeownership that plague much of the US. In 1960, racial discrimination in the housing market was legal, and the Black-white gap in homeownership was 27 percent. Though progress was made after the Fair Housing act of 1968, we have regressed significantly, and the gap is even greater today at 30 percent. Though no city in the US has closed the gap, Killeen comes the closest, with a 14.5 percent homeownership gap between Black and white residents. Mortgage loan discrimination persists against Black and Latino people throughout the US, but military benefits may serve as a buffer. “Lenders still scrutinize, but they know that if a person has that [VA] certificate, then they have the means to pay that monthly mortgage," says John Driver, a former operations director for Fort Hood’s housing division.
Residents credit the integration of Killeen to the relative economic parity in the city, and its effects go beyond housing. “It’s easy to find a black real estate broker or a black dentist, and the walls of the hospital are filled with portraits of black physicians. With few private schools, everyone's kids end up in the same classrooms…It's the only city I know where there isn't a 'white neighborhood' and a 'black neighborhood.”