Housing Discrimination: Systemic Racism and the Shaping of American Cities

Housing discrimination has existed, and was allowed by law, at every level of American society. I don’t believe an honest discussion about how cities developed and why they developed the way they did, can take place without acknowledging the profound impact of biased mandates and practices.

One such practice was ‘redlining’ which refers to the color coding of neighborhoods by the Federal Housing Administration and later the Veterans Administration. Neighborhoods comprised mainly of Black Americans were color coded red. This meant that the inhabitants of that area were deemed too risky for mortgage insurance and therefore, could not be approved for a mortgage. This policy was laid out in the FHA’s Underwriting Manual, so it was not a secret. This manual also made it clear that neighborhoods should stay comprised of the same groups. Again, this was a widely acknowledged and followed federal guideline that prohibited many Black Americans from accumulating wealth and moving out of the inner city. (1,2,3) You can still see the impact of ‘redlining’ by looking at modern maps. (4, 5)

In addition, the National Association of Real Estate Boards forbade its members from selling to Black Americans and other people of color.  “A realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.” This was not profitable, however, so real estate agents practiced something called “blockbusting.” Where they would convince homeowners in white neighborhoods to sell because a Black home-buyer would soon be moving into the neighborhood. The homeowner would sell below market value, and the real estate agent could then sell to a Black American far above market value. (6,7)

After protracted legal battles and through the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (8,9), these practices were outlawed and oversight was put into place to protect the public from them (blockbusting actually continued into the 80s). A continuation of this oversight was a rule put in place by President Obama. In 2015, President Obama enacted a rule for the implantation of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, or AFFH, which was a part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The Obama rule made it so that areas that received federal money had to do an assessment of racial discrimination, and, if discovered, develop a plan to correct it. (10,11) This was meant to correct the historic wrong caused by discriminatory housing policies.

Yesterday, the Trump administration did away with this provision because, according to President Trump, it led to lower property values and crime. (12) There is absolutely no evidence that the AFFH led to increased crime or lowered property values. Unfortunately, the AFFH was never enforced by the Trump administration even after states and cities sued HUD and HUD Secretary Ben Carson for their unwillingness to enforce the mandate. (13, 14) It is consistent, however, with the Trump administration’s desire to ignore continued housing discrimination (15) and a continuance of President Trump’s own history of discriminatory practices in his businesses (16).

The AFFH was a rare occurrence in which the impact of systemic racism was acknowledged and some sort of a plan was put into place to try to overcome it. This by no means stopped housing discrimination (17), but it was a step in the right direction. Unless we acknowledge our past, even though uncomfortable, we cannot move forward in a manner consistent with our Constitution’s values of liberty and justice for all.  

1 – https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

2 – https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/19/498536077/interactive-redlining-map-zooms-in-on-americas-history-of-discrimination

3 – https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/the-racist-housing-policy-that-made-your-neighborhood/371439/

4 – https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=10/41.49/-82.007&city=cleveland-oh&area=D20

5 – https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=5ccb9580d7a9489c918d57ab04af7296

6 – https://www.thoughtco.com/blockbusting-definition-4771994

7 – https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-03/a-new-paper-examines-blockbusting-and-how-real-estate-brokers-can-benefit-from-stoking-racial-fears-in-white-neighborhoods

8 – https://web.archive.org/web/20130809022759/http://lamar.colostate.edu/~pr/redlining.pdf

9 – https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview

10 – https://www.housingwire.com/articles/hud-to-abolish-obama-era-affh-fair-housing-rule/

11 – https://www.housingwire.com/articles/pelosi-calls-out-trumps-repeal-of-obamas-fair-housing-rule/

12 – https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1288509568578777088

13 – https://www.housingwire.com/articles/43362-new-york-suing-hud-ben-carson-to-enforce-obama-fair-housing-rule/

14 – https://www.housingwire.com/articles/43624-coalition-of-states-cities-join-fight-to-force-hud-to-enforce-obama-fair-housing-rule/

15 – https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-financial-regulator-quietly-shelved-discrimination-probes-into-bank-of-america-and-other-lenders

16 – https://www.publicbooks.org/the-big-picture-americas-real-estate-developer-in-chief/ 17 – https://projects.newsday.com/long-island/real-estate-agents-investigation/

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