Housing segregation didn’t just happen by accident. It was the result of local, state and national laws that violated the 5th, 13th and 14th constitutional amendments — and these policies that affect our neighborhoods to this day. This is the premise of Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
This past week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Rothstein, a distinguished fellow of The Economic Policy Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
As I read Rothstein’s book, I was shocked to learn about the systematic racism and actions by our government that perpetuated housing inequality. In the book, he talks about how a lot of this began during FDR’s administration and the New Deal. The full video is above, but here are a few main takeaways from the conversation.
In this interview, we discussed:
- The first public housing policy from FDR’s administration and the New Deal.
- How the white working class was suburbanized.
- How FHA and VA loans were granted to whites only, which means since then, whites have gained equity over generations. This equity has turned into generational wealth used for emergencies, to send their kids to college, to bequeath it to their children so they could put a down payment on a home, etc. African Americans were prohibited from taking part in these loans.
- There is an enormous wealth gap — that we have to this day.
- The misconceptions around public housing.
Rothstein also discussed his thoughts around the Fair Housing Act that was passed in 1968 and the Realtor Code of Ethics. He feels the Fair Housing Act is not powerful enough. Its power is in preventing ongoing discrimination because it doesn’t take into account so many of the homes that African Americans were not allowed to buy.
Now, so many of these places, especially in the suburbs, are not affordable because African Americans don’t have equity. The wealth gap is a real issue on so many levels. In addition, African Americans have a shorter life expectancy due to the areas they live, lack of access to healthcare, asthma health issues and police brutality.
The National Association of Realtors’ Code of Ethics was adopted in 1913. But in 1924, the code added a warning that “a realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood … members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”
Rothstein also addressed a common issue in the real estate industry around schools, test scores and what’s taught in textbooks. Test scores that are reported are not the indicator of the school; they’re an indicator of the parents of the community.
What can we do now?
- Creating a fund to permit African Americans to move to neighborhoods today — if their parents or grandparents were excluded from those neighborhoods.
- What’s missing is a new Civil Rights Act — watch the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble.
- Federal government should buy up homes in areas where people were unconstitutionally disallowed from buying homes. They should buy these homes and sell them to Blacks at deep discounts.
- Examine textbooks in schools, and make sure that it tells the real history. According to Rothstein, one thing everybody can do is “mobilize to insist that their local school districts teach this history accurately.” This factor should be used to evaluate the quality of the school.
Here are some additional resources that we discussed during the interview:
- Order a copy of The Color of Law.
- Read this New York Times article that dives deep into the issue of residential desegregation.
- See the 17-minute animated film, Segregated by Design.
- Take a look at this high school curriculum unit that teaches this history.
Katie Lance is the author of #GetSocialSmart and founder and CEO of Katie Lance Consulting, a social media strategy firm and founder of the #GetSocialSmart Academy. She’s been recognized by Inman News as one of the 100 most influential people in real estate and is a featured keynote speaker at many industry events. Katie is also is the author of the best-selling book, #GetSocialSmart