Friday, April 03, 2009

Family Properties

The history and truth of housing discrimination offers some of the most revealing insight into the grass-roots effects of prejudice and institutionalized racism and anti-Semitism in America.

A recent segment on the Leonard Lopate show offered a fascinating glimpse into the complicated workings of housing discrimination in Chicago.

In an interview with, Beryl E. Satter, author of the new book "Family Properties: Race, Real Estate and the Plight of Black Families in America" some disturbing truths about housing discrimination in 20th century America are explored.

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book in which she untangles the intertwined web that is the legacy of housing discrimination in the United States.

An associate professor and Chair of the history department of Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, Satter speaks with authority and amazing insight and clarity on an issue that has been shrouded in falsehoods, misinformation and secrecy for decades.

The myths and assumptions have been repeated for so long in this country that many people accept them as a sociological truth and an indictment of African-American character: When blacks move in to nicer neighborhoods...they stop taking care of their property... the value of the surrounding homes begin to plummet and whites begin to move out...

Satter demonstrates that these myths were part of a much larger and more complex effort by banks, real estate agencies, business leaders to keep white neighborhoods segregated and keep blacks clustered in very specific areas.

According to Satter's book, as a matter of policy the FHA refused to back loans for African-American homeowners for decades because of an unwritten and widely-held assumption that any property purchased by blacks would decline in value.

The myths that have surrounded the "White Flight" syndrome are a critical part of the history of this nation and a fascinating look at the struggles African-Americans and other minorities have faced in the course of trying to purchase homes and property.

For example, Satter talks about the "Redlining" of communities in Chicago where blacks were forced to buy homes "On Contract" meaning home-owners were responsible for taxes, maintenance fees and monthly payments on the property, but black homeowners received NO actual equity until the balance was paid off.

Contract Selling meant the payments were so high, sometimes three times as high as the rates white were paying, that often blacks were forced to work two jobs, for if they missed one payment, they could lose the property and any equity they had paid into the home would be lost and the property would be turned back over to the selling agent.

The by-product of "Contract Selling" led to the myth of blacks not maintaining their property, because often simple home improvements like painting, fixing shutters or landscaping had to be put off so home owners could afford the higher rates they were paying.

Sadly, it sheds the light on a cooperative effort by the government, bankers, politicians and private citizens to keep people of color excluded from owning property in the larger urban areas of the United States.

Anyone who looks at the urban blight of ghetto projects like Cabrini Green and scratches their head, need look no further than Beryl Satter's book to understood who created these warehouses of humanity an why.

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