Racism in housing policies has excluded black Americans from generational wealth


I sometimes take night walks near my apartment in Denver’s Observatory Park neighborhood, which has large homes with beautifully manicured lawns, gorgeous flowers, and lovely shrubbery. It’s the kind of well-appointed, upper-middle-class neighborhood where dogs have a better life than some kids.

What for years was a nice walk in a quiet neighborhood became the catalyst for my growing anger at the generational wealth often found overwhelmingly in white communities. Sure, there may be a household or two with people of color dotted around, but they’re rare. In fact, 20 people in the entire census tract, including the blocks around Observatory Park, said they were black, while 4,002 people, or 82%, said they were “white.” only,” according to the 2020 census.

Many people in these neighborhoods have taken advantage of the intractable problem of American institutional racism, since the best way to get rich is to own where you live.

Miriam Webster defines institutional racism as the systemic oppression of one racial group for the social, economic, and political benefit of another, namely the white community.

Wikipedia explains it as a form of racism that is rooted in the laws and regulations of a society or organization and manifests itself in discrimination in areas such as criminal justice, employment, housing, care health, education and political representation.

It all depends on this power

What angers me most about our economic system, especially when it comes to housing, is that it is so firmly locked into the mechanisms of institutional racism that most attempts to increase black wealth are insignificant. And with today’s house prices on an upward spiral, a significant jump in unearned wealth will be passed on to white descendants in Colorado and across the country. Soaring home prices will also put homeownership out of reach for low-income Americans, especially people of color who don’t have equal access to finance.

The Colorado News Collaborative recently reported that the gap between black and white homeowners in our state continues to widen thanks to longstanding lending practices and concurrent rating systems.

The story revealed that “In Colorado, black mortgage applicants were turned down almost twice as often as white applicants. According to an analysis by Zillow, 15% of black mortgage applicants in Colorado were turned down in 2020, compared to 9% of white applicants.

The COLab report quoted the Brookings Institution as saying, “Across the country, owner-occupied homes in black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home, on average, representing $156 billion in losses. at national scale. When half of a neighborhood’s residents are black, homes are valued at about half the price of homes in neighborhoods with very few or no black residents.

COLab also noted that “the median white household has at least 10 times the wealth of the median black household”. Furthermore, being excluded from the possibility of owning a home remains a significant obstacle to the creation of wealth.

A Cure Gone Wrong

America missed opportunity after opportunity to make significant improvements to black homeownership, not the least of which was the Military Readjustment Act of 1944, aka The GI Bill. He could have started a long march towards the de facto and de jure rectification of housing discrimination. The federal loan guarantee program was supposed to help returning World War II veterans rebuild their lives through a combination of education opportunities and home loans.

But instead it was written in a blatantly discriminatory way so as not to overturn the Jim Crow laws so that President Franklin Roosevelt would get the support he needed to appease the Dixiecrats and push the legislation through the Congress. Black people got the hang of it again and the white community reaped the benefits.

Essentially, the vaunted New Deal president agreed to let state and local governments implement the bill in accordance with their customs and harmful beliefs. The result was getting low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans, and financial support to buy homes proved to be a pipe dream for deserving veterans of color, and not just in the south.

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Aerial view of the suburbs of Levittown, New York. The Lane Houses were originally built to provide affordable housing for World War II veterans.

The bill’s implementation also allowed bankers and other private players in the real estate game to engage in blatant discrimination in President Roosevelt’s home state. There is the oft-cited case of a large development called Levittown in the eastern New York suburb of Long Island that focused on providing modest homes for returning veterans.

Talk about blatant. The tenancy agreements stipulated that no house could be used or occupied by anyone other than members of the Caucasian race. The clause was written in capitals with bold type.

Federal officials had no problem that racial restrictions demanded by developers and redlining practices used by mortgage lenders would increase racial wealth disparities. Columbia University historian Ira Katznelson said the GI Bill amounted to affirmative action for white people.

Think about it. Eighty years ago could have been a turning point. It could have been the start of a revolutionary movement to slow the advance of poor and low-income areas based solely on race.

It’s hitting near me

My uncle, James Joseph, served honorably in the United States Navy during World War II. He and other black men and women who risked their lives for their country returned home to find that their service was not valued as much as their white counterparts because the GI Bill allowed discrimination to remain intact.

A group of Black US Marines sit on a break, drinking water, during the conflict on Iwo Jima, World War II, March 1945. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

A group of Black US Marines take a break on the island of Iwo Jima in March 1945 during World War II.

Take a moment to imagine what different American neighborhoods would look like if, in the aftermath of the war, black soldiers and sailors had been able to take full advantage of the government’s promise to give veterinarians a head start through education. and home ownership.

Not only would my uncle’s children and grandchildren have started amassing real estate wealth decades ago, but they would also have learned the importance of home ownership and seen people like them achieve the American dream. which could turn into lasting economic security.

Black people who came before me were openly denied equal opportunity to succeed, and many who come after me will still not be treated properly.

The fact that the hopes and dreams of generations of black people have been systematically shattered must be remembered and possibly rectified. I have no illusions that drastic improvements will be made in my lifetime or even in the next century, given that the white community is already halfway there.

Don’t you dare just speak the conversation

Now, before anyone gets confused, let me say that I don’t blame white people as individuals unless they are guilty of directly wielding power that perpetuates discrimination, such as bankers, policy makers, real estate companies, etc.

I don’t blame anyone for having the means to afford high-end homes. Good for you. But the question is how much of the position of wealthy Americans in life comes solely from their own hard work and how much can it be attributed to the privilege of white skin enjoyed by a line of ancestors?

In the current political climate, there is a tendency to not want him to recognize white privilege as a real thing and to attack those who talk about it as anti-white racists.

They will say, “I am white, and my family is poor and working class. We don’t live in a fancy house, drive a fancy car, or send our children to an expensive private school.

Some may counter that not all white Americans are shaken equally in our capitalist system. This is no small argument. Undoubtedly, unfortunate factors prevent many poor and working-class white brothers and sisters from achieving one of the greatest goals of the American Dream: home ownership.

Indeed, some white people have felt the sting of discrimination on the basis of intellectual disabilities, physical abilities, height, sexual preference, lack of education, gender, religion, ethnicity , political beliefs and other excuses by the powers that be.

But race is not one of them.

Skin color, first and foremost, would not have landed them at the bottom of the economic ladder like generation after generation after generation of black Americans.

It is time for members of the white community who believe in equality and fairness to realize that wealth inequality has been nurtured by them as the collective beneficiaries of an unjust system. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

I’m not mad at you at all. But I’m angry at those who don’t see, don’t want to see or, worst of all, adamantly refuse to see that they have acquired generational wealth through unearned assets fostered by a system of discrimination and injustice. in terms of housing.

Know that the lack of generational black wealth through home ownership is a problem that can be solved eventually if Americans understand the problem and stop traveling the road of complacency.

Recognize the damage done by institutional wealth and don’t wait another 80 years to clean up the mess.

Jo Ann Allen is the creator and host of the Been There Done That podcast. She began her journalism career in 1975 at The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, WI. She spent 18 years as a news anchor at WNYC/New York Public Radio, and also worked as an anchor at KPBS Radio in San Diego, WHYY Radio in Philadelphia, and Colorado Public Radio in Denver.

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