Cities in the US have become home to an increasing concentration of poor households, disproportionately composed of racial and ethnic minorities. In the US, poor and minority populations are overrepresented in public housing, mostly located in central cities. Racial and ethnic minorities in American public housing are, for the most part, composed of native-born households whereas in Europe they are more likely to be foreign-born. After a description of this concentration of poor and minority populations in public housing, we examine the effect of public housing on neighbourhood poverty rates in central cities. We construct a longitudinal database (1950-90) for four large cities-Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia—and examine the relationship between the location of public housing and changes in neighborhood poverty rates. We find that in each city, one or more of the variables relating to the existence of public housing is significantly related to increases in neighbourhood poverty rates in succeeding decades.