Inequalities in American real estate
A look into the discriminatory nature of the US housing market.
This is a stanza from Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem, from which Lorraine Hansberry borrowed the title for her play Raisin in the Sun.
I know personally for myself I’m bringing up PTSD from Mr. Andreassi’s 9th grade english class but please bear with me.
If you haven’t read it, Raisin in the Sun revolves around an African American family from South Side, Chicago, and their struggle to rise out of poverty.
The family buys a house in a predominantly white suburban neighborhood but is soon opposed by a someone in the neighborhood who offers to buy them out--an early sign of the exclusionary, racist tactics that have been a key feature of America since its inception.
Long story short, the family refuses to take the money and moves into their new suburban home.
But black families all across America can share similar tales of exclusion.
In fact, the history of black homeownership in the US can be summarized like this: following slavery, African Americans had little to no material wealth. White Americans, who were still thoroughly racist, held all the power (industries, real estate, political influence, etc.). So when black people reasonably tried to get some of this power by moving into areas with more jobs and better social services, they were rejected and pushed into ghettos, which held little opportunity or chance to enter the broader American society.
Because of this legacy, congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968 to prohibit discrimination in sale, rental or house-related transactions on the basis of race, sex or familial status.
While Raisin in the Sun may have had its happy ending, housing discrimination is a “sore that still festers.”
How is this done?
Discrimination from realtors and landlords
No offense to Honest Abe, but we no longer live in the days where you find a chill spot in the woods, cut down a couple a trees and build your log cabin.
If you want to find a place to live you will have to use a third party agent such as a realtor or landlord.
However, these people tend to have their own opinions of how a neighborhood should look and who should live where.
According to an article in the New York Times, a study conducted in 2013 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, compared the amount of properties whites were shown to nonwhites.
These were the results:
When shown an apartment:
- Blacks were shown 11% fewer properties
- Hispanics were shown 12% fewer properties
- Asians were shown 15% fewer properties
When shown a home:
- Blacks were shown 17% fewer homes
- Asians 15% fewer homes
- Hispanics were shown roughly the same number of homes as whites.
In this study, whites were also shown to be offered lower rents, deposits or had their home quoted at a lower price.
Racial isolation through affordable housing
After the end of slavery in 1865, African Americans made the exodus from their slave shacks on the plantation to just plain shacks in the ghetto.
This funneling of minority groups into inner city ghettos with appalling public services is a pillar of US society and has been the subject of debate and the source of spectacular soul songs such as “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye and “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder.
By law state governments are mandated to create low income housing units. In the past, the federal government didn’t interfere with where states placed these buildings.
Consequently, cities and states generally placed such projects in the most economically deprived areas, which greatly exacerbated the consequences of segregation.
The Supreme Court recently oversaw a case in Dallas,Texas, where affordable income housing, which would contain a majority of black residents, was to be built in the inner city.
The court voted to uphold the Fair Housing Act, arguing that the law does not allow cities and states to further ostracize low-income citizens by putting them far away from jobs, schools, etc. Consequently, the housing had to be built in the suburbs.
Blockbusting a.k.a “white flight”
Blockbusting is when African American homeowners are introduced into predominately white neighborhoods.
A black family moves into a predominantly white neighborhood and families racistly see this as a threat to their property values and to the values of the community. They then leave in droves, stripping the community of its tax base and the associated public services.
As more African Americans moved into a neighborhood, more whites move out.
The white owners would their homes for lower-than-retail value, which drives down the property values of the neighborhood.
This then locks African American homeowners in depreciated housing no one wants to live in.
So what’s the obsession with the ‘burbs?
Well, these neighborhoods are typically located in the best school districts, have the best businesses and are very reputable in nature.
It’s important to remember that the idea of owning a home in the suburbs is part of the “American Dream” that people work vigorously to attain.
A place to call home that can be passed on to our sons and daughters, which they would pass on to theirs.
However like Hughes’ poem, the “American Dream” for some is very much “A dream deferred.”
If you want to see reduced inequality in our time TAKE ACTION NOW and tell world leaders to support the Global Goals.