When the Department of Housing and Urban Development first began to systemically study housing discrimination in the United States in the 1970s, the most blatant forms of it were still common. Blacks were denied appointments to meet with real estate brokers or rental agencies to tour homes that had been publicly advertised. Or they were told those homes were no longer available, a lie that helped perpetuate the racial divides between whole neighborhoods.
Today, illegal incidents like these rarely occur (although they have not disappeared entirely). Discrimination, though, persists in a much subtler form. [People of color] in search of a home today typically get to meet the agent and see the property. But they’re less likely than whites to then learn about the full range of housing options available to them – to be told “I have another two-bedroom you might like to see,” or “let me show you one more house.”
"It’s very subtle," says Margery Turner, a senior vice president with the Urban Institute. "It’s pretty much impossible for the victim to detect that this is happening to him or her."
We know, however, that this kind of discrimination takes place across the country based on the results of a sweeping new study released today by HUD and conducted by the Urban Institute. The research is the fourth in a series of HUD-sponsored studies of housing discrimination in America that have taken place roughly once a decade since 1977.
In this latest study, 8,000 pairs of matched testers – one white, one minority, both equally qualified for the home in question – responded to ads for a variety of housing in 28 nationally representative metropolitan areas. Blacks in the market to own a home, for example, were then shown 17 percent fewer properties than whites.
In effect, this practice still constrains housing opportunities available to [people of color].
"It still matters," Turner says. "It still really makes a difference. Not only is it fundamentally unfair that somebody doesn’t find out about available housing because of the color of their skin, but it also really raises the cost of searching for housing for minorities, or it restricts their choices."
This may mean that [people of color] don’t find the most affordable housing or the housing located in neighborhoods with the best schools or parks or proximity to jobs.
Hello! My name is March of Tigers and to help get the word out on projects and initiatives done by Queer People of Color (QPoC), I’m doing a series of Summer Spotlights. Summer Spotlights are exactly that: Spotlights on several QPoC projects over the course of this summer! Hopefully my attempts at raising awareness will help these projects get along faster!
The first Project being talked about today is Project Fierce Chicago! Their goal is “Putting the community back in community housing”.
Project Fierce Chicago is a grassroots group of youth service providers, housing advocates and radical social workers. Motivated by the need for additional housing resources available for LGBTQ young folks, we came together and decided that instead of waiting for institutional support from the city or state, we will work to address this issue ourselves through a community-driven project!
That being said, I wanted to do my part to help, so I decided to interview them in order in ask “what do you need” in detail. They were happy to respond, and they’ve got a lot of detailed, resourceful responses for all of us to read and share!What got you started on this idea for a shelter?
This shelter was actually the brain child of one of our Leadership Team, Cassandra Avenatti. Her experiences working with many of the LGBTQ homeless youth in Chicago made her realize how much of a need there was. She then contacted several other youth service providers and housing advocates who were frustrated by the lack of housing resources available for the LGBTQ young folks.
We came together and decided that we didn’t need to wait for institutional support from the city or state, but could utilize our skills and resources to address this issue ourselves! And then Project Fierce Chicago was born!
Last Thursday, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams joined other community members in East Flatbush to announce a push to get New York City landmark status for 5224 Tilden Ave.: the house that Jackie Robinson lived in.
Joined by the current owners of the property and by a class of fifth-grade students from nearby P.S. 244, Williams spoke on Robinson’s legacy and what it would mean to the neighborhood for the city to recognize it as a landmark.
“Heroes like Jackie Robinson come from East Flatbush, and we need to treasure and preserve that history,” said Williams. “This house is proof of the rich culture that exists south of Eastern Parkway. Jackie had an impact on the lives of every member of this community through his bravery on and off the field. We must protect that legacy for future generations to learn from and appreciate.”
Robinson lived at the address in East Flatbush from 1947 to 1949. During that time, he won the Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Valuable Player Award while breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Williams believes that achieving city landmark status for the property would help keep the house’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage and increase local pride in a neighborhood still reeling from the shooting death of Kimani Gray.
Prince George’s County became emblematic of a long-delayed advance toward equality: the growth of black wealth in America. For three centuries, structural racism had prevented black families from building wealth. School systems, hiring practices, red-lining, and discriminatory lending practices all combined to deny the opportunities that white Americans, whether immigrant or native born, saw as their birthright. In the South, especially, there were more direct means of holding back black economic advancement: Violence was often directed toward black men and women who owned businesses or farms and toward those who fought for their right to work for fair wages. But in the 1980s, helped by laws that encouraged homeownership among minorities, African American families were at last able not only to earn higher incomes but to buy homes and build wealth.
Just from 1995 to 2004, black homeownership rates nationwide rose 6.5 percentage points, reaching a height of 49 percent in 2005. But those gains were almost entirely erased as the Great Recession began in 2008, with black homeownership rates dipping to 45 percent last year and continuing to fall. Nowhere is that more dramatically illustrated than in the stretch of suburbia that straddles the Beltway. At the height of the crisis, in 2009, the foreclosure rate in Prince George’s County was 4.19 percent, compared to 1.87 percent in Maryland and 2.21 percent in the nation as a whole.
Even families who aren’t losing their homes have seen values drop, making it more difficult to get loans to finance their children’s education or their retirement. Mosi Harrington, the former executive director of the Housing Initiative Partnership, a Maryland nonprofit that helps people hold on to their homes, says declining home prices are particularly problematic for African Americans because they have inherited less than their white counterparts. “In your minority communities, wealth is not very deep,” she says. “There’s no family wealth to fall back on in hard times.” Most middle-class families hold all of their wealth in their homes, and that’s especially true for the median black family—the amount they hold in stocks is zero. That means the housing crisis has wiped out an entire generation of black wealth.
In general, African American families have few resources to tap for big-ticket items like college that are necessary for their children to remain middle-class. The gap between middle—class families and the top 1 percent is huge regardless of race, but the racial gaps are even larger. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s State of Working America report, black households had a median net wealth of just $4,900 in 2010, compared with $97,000 for white households. A third of black households had zero or negative wealth.
“There’s been a lot of attention brought to how much income inequality we’ve seen in this country, thanks to Occupy Wall Street,” says Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. “I think people kind of have a handle on the dramatic income inequality we have. But wealth inequality swamps anything we see in income equality.”
The story of Prince George’s County is, in many ways, the economic history of black Americans writ large. While its post–civil rights boom was a heartening sign of the slow but hopeful rise of a durable black middle class, its sharp downturn during the Great Recession is one more sign that the arc of history has yet to bend in the direction of economic equality or justice.
Funny how things work out, my friend said, as she changed the channel on her flat-screen TV. “The other day at the bodega I ran into these four white girls. I started talking to them. They said they were living right across the street in this dumpy building paying $800. I thought, Well, that’s all right. Then they say they’re paying $800 apiece! One of them is sleeping on the couch. Sleeping on the couch in their own house! I went back to my apartment, looked at my view, and thought, Maybe my elevator is pissy, but if that’s gentrification, who’s the joke on now?”
“I’ll know the projects are changing when the first hipster applies for admission,” said April Simpson-Taylor, as we sat together on a bench at the Queensbridge projects, where she has lived most of her life.
We got to talking about the future of the projects. I mentioned Howard Husock’s plan. Simpson-Taylor frowned. “They’re always talking about selling the projects. I don’t listen to it,” she said.
“But, if they did, how much do you think you could get for this place?”
“Yeah. How much do you think it’s worth?”
The idea had been roiling around for a couple of weeks. Husock mentioned selling the Ingersoll Houses, a twenty-building development tucked under the BQE in Fort Greene. But Queensbridge, 50 acres with all that river frontage, had to be way more valuable. Queensbridge Park, right by the water, was a beauty. The renovated F-train station right on the corner was a mere two stops from Manhattan.
A couple of phone calls to property assessors returned the following information: Despite the image of the teeming projects, the leafy QB is severely underbuilt. The buildings themselves take in 1.6 million square feet, but the area was zoned for a “buildable” total of 3.6 million square feet. With that 3.6 million feet currently going for $80 per, the site could be worth close to $300 million. “Selling Queensbridge,” Simpson-Taylor said mournfully. “You know how many times I’ve thought about moving away from here? Who wants to live their whole life in a project? But I keep coming back. You don’t always get to choose your home, but it is still home, and not just because I grew up here. It’s home because everybody’s here. What happens to everyone then?”
That was the question, the one Howard Husock’s modest proposals didn’t quite cover. He said the best way to pry the people out of the projects was “with carrots, not sticks.” The residents could be “bought out,” in the way landlords in the private sector give tenants money to empty a building. That way, the former residents would be free to move anywhere, Husock said.
Somehow I didn’t think it was going to work that way.