Monday, July 3, 2017

Program to Spur Low-Income Housing Is Keeping Cities Segregated - The New York Times


The history of "white flight" and suburban segregation.

THE COLOR OF LAW A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
By Richard Rothstein
Illustrated. 345 pp. Liveright Publishing. $27.95.
Reviewed by David Oshinsky
In the summer of 1950, with Americans reeling from the news of North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s ever expanding “Red hunt” in Washington, Time magazine ran a disarmingly cheerful cover story about the nation’s housing boom, titled: “For Sale: A New Way of Life.” Featuring the builder William Levitt, who had recently transformed some Long Island potato fields into a sprawling complex of starter homes — two bedrooms, one bath and an extension attic for $7,990 — it spoke reverentially of the development’s parks and playgrounds and many rules. “Fences are not allowed,” Time noted. “The plot of grass around each house must be cut at least once a week,” and laundry couldn’t be hung outside “on weekends and holidays.”
One rule, however, was conveniently absent from the piece. Homeowners in Levittown were forbidden to rent or sell to persons “other than members of the Caucasian race.” Asked about this so-called “racial covenant,” Levitt blamed society at large. “As a Jew, I have no room in my mind or heart for racial prejudice,” he said. “But I have come to know that if we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 or 95 percent of our white customers will not buy into the community. This is their attitude, not ours. As a company, our position is simply this: We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem, but we cannot combine the two.”
At first glance, Levittown stands as a prime example of de facto segregation, which results from private activity, as opposed to de jure segregation, which derives from government policy or law. Levitt, after all, appeared to be an independent businessman responding to the prejudices of the home buyers he hoped to attract. In truth, it wasn’t that simple. As Richard Rothstein contends in “The Color of Law,” a powerful and disturbing history of residential segregation in America, the government at all levels and in all branches abetted this injustice. “We have created a caste system in this country, with African-Americans kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies,” he writes. “Although most of these policies are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure.”
Levittown reflected this dynamic. Popular with World War II veterans and their families, its 17,500 houses required no down payment. The federal government guaranteed low-interest bank loans for Levitt to build them, and low-interest mortgages for veterans to buy them. The government also made clear that developers receiving these incentives must sell to whites only.
It didn’t stop there. In the 1950s, following a Supreme Court decision that restricted the scope of racial covenants, an African-American veteran bought a house in a second Levitt development outside Philadelphia. A white mob formed, the house was pelted with rocks and crosses were burned on the lawn. Amazingly, the black family held out for several years before moving back to a segregated neighborhood. Rothstein sees this incident, and dozens like it, as an insidious form of de jure segregation — the failure of racially biased police and public officials to protect African-Americans from unlawful intimidation
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Program to Spur Low-Income Housing Is Keeping Cities Segregated - The New York Times 

by 

HOUSTON — A mural on the wall of an elementary school here proclaimed, “All the world is all of us,” but the hundreds of people packing the auditorium one night were determined to stop a low-income housing project from coming to their upscale neighborhood.

The proposed 233-unit building, which was to be funded with federal tax credits, would burden their already overcrowded elementary school with new children, many people argued during a lively meeting last year. Some urged the Houston Housing Authority to pursue cheaper sites elsewhere.

As cheers rang out over nearly three hours for every objection raised, Chrishelle Palay, a fair-housing advocate, confronted the mostly white crowd.

“It’s time to face your fears,” Ms. Palay said as boos rang out. “Stop succumbing to misleading rhetoric, and begin practicing the inclusive lifestyles that many of you claim to lead.”

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RETRO REPORT
Housing Bias and the Roots of Segregation September 2016

Advocates of Fair Housing Face a Tough Four Years - January 2017