Thursday, September 27, 2007

Racism in Housing: our history

Here are a few questions that absolutely fascinate me and that for the life of me I cannot fully find the answer to:

  • How does urban sprawl so perfectly move from the city center outward?
  • How has suburbia come to be what it is today?
  • Why do people willingly segregate themselves?
  • What are people most afraid of in their communities?
  • What does it take to make a difference in our cities?
  • What will happen to all the poor people as the rich flock back to the urban centers from the suburbs and tear down their houses?
So this week I've done quite a bit of thinking about typical North American cities and communities. Today I had the privilege of viewing a movie in my Cultural Diversity class about the construction of post-WWII cities. It had a great deal to offer in the field of racism and class status that influenced where new housing was being established during this time to accommodate such a large influx of primarily white families. Because the new home market was booming, the most logical place to plan neighborhoods was on the outskirts of town. What a great day for everyone. Families could purchase a cheap note on a house and pay it off with reasonable credit for up to 30 years, right?

Unfortunately what we didn't get taught in history class was that during this time, the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) intentionally adopted a racist policy in its official documents that prevented anyone of color from being eligible for such home loans. Therefore, there was virtually no way that African Americans could purchase a home anywhere remotely close to the new, white "suburbs" that were coming to exist.

What was the justification for such discriminatory policy?

From the FHA underwriting manual of 1934: "if a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes." Blacks were forced into remaining mainly in concentrated public housing projects in the inner cities to prevent "problems" for the white neighborhoods.

It was all good business according to the Realtors. People wanted the luxuries of a new home, and were willing to pay for them. It wasn't so much that the common person was a racist, it was that there was a governmental protection on the current state of economic growth that no one wanted to halt by throwing in racial diversity.

It gets worse...

What makes the year 1968 significant? This was the year that The Fair Housing Act was enacted that prohibited discrimination based on the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and familial status. This is very interesting to me because of my own family history.

My dad and his family were raised in Pleasant Grove, which if you know Dallas, is just outside of Loop 12, the first loop in the strategically planned highway system of many Texas cities. My dad's family, along with about 6 other families living on the same street suddenly decided that it was time to move to Garland, which is just outside the city's second loop, Interstate 635. This was the case all over the nation.

Want to take a guess as to what year this occurred?

1969. The year after the Fair Housing Act was put into place.

As soon as it was suspected that blacks might be moving close, masses of people put their houses on the market. As soon as one person "sold out" it was a neighborhood wide-turned nationwide domino effect. Property values went down when African Americans moved in, as people protected their dearest asset, their home, and moved away.

I was born and raised in Garland not far from where they moved to, though there are two other loops outside this location. My family is a product of what occurred in the racist housing market of the 1950's and 1960's. My dad's not afraid to tell me of how his family left when "they started busing blacks in and letting them move next door."

It's so strange that as I would not consider myself a racist, I reap the benefits a racist past of white privilege in this society where whiteness means power.

People continue to move further and further away from what used to be considered the suburbs. People run in fear of what they do not understand. It's likely that the rich, the white are more fearful of what is coming from our neighbors to the South. It looks like this cycle will continue as many of my friends were raised farther than me from the center of Big D where the newer developments are.

You might be surprised to know that the newest development north of Dallas (where most economic growth occurs) is actually closer to the Oklahoma/Texas line than it is to downtown Dallas. And yes, people are commuting from there.

What will it take to change? When will segregation actually be part of the history and not part of the present?

Now is there any doubt as to why there are "ghettos" or "bad parts of town"?


Jen said...

Very interesting, cousin! I love learning about history and I remember learning about urban sprawl and was fascinated by it. Like you, I'm curious to see what the future holds!

Anonymous said...

dang man mad props, it makes me real happy when I see anybody looking critically at history in attempts to answer legitimate questions like 'why are ghettos so commonly packed with minority peoples'. Not many people want to face the truth. Keep at it