Ten states have reported cases in 2019 alone.
There’s been a series of events that are shining a spotlight on an issue that typically doesn’t receive a lot of attention: housing. From the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, to a major Supreme Court decision, to David Simon’s new TV show “Show Me A Hero,” people are talking about why many of the country’s neighborhoods continue to be deeply segregated and what this means for minority communities and race relations. In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. Nearly half a century later, we discuss new questions about housing discrimination and the role of the government in addressing the problem.
- Sherrilyn Ifill President and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- Richard Rothstein Research associate, Economic Policy Institute
- Emily Badger Covers urban policy for The Washington Post's Wonkblog
- Ed Pinto Resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; former executive vice president and chief credit officer,Fannie Mae.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Over the summer, following the unrest in Ferguson, then Baltimore, the Obama administration announced new rules targeting housing segregation. Some legal scholars called it the first major event on the issue in 50 years. Here to discuss housing discrimination and racial segregation, Ed Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute, Emily Badger of The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Richard Rothstein of the Economy Policy Institute and by phone from New York City, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP legal defense and educational fund. I want to invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. EMILY BADGERIt's great to be here.
MR. ED PINTOA pleasure to be here.
MR. RICHARD ROTHSTEINThank you.
REHMAnd it seems to me, Emily Badger, that we think of housing discrimination as something of the past. How is it today?
BADGERWell, when the fair housing act was passed in 1968, you know, most of us are familiar with the idea that it was trying to eradicate forms of discrimination that were quite common in the '60s. You know, this is real estate agents saying, I'm not going to show you a home because you're a black person. These are, you know, restrictive covenants restricting who can move into a neighborhood. You know, a property manager saying, I'm not going to rent to you because of you're black.
BADGERIt's without question that those really overt forms of discrimination are dramatically less common today than they were in the 1960s and that is, in large part, thanks to the fair housing act. But that being said, you know, there's still a lot of challenges in the housing market today and part of what we see now is that, you know, even though we've gotten rid of a lot of overt discrimination, we're still living with the world that has been built over decades through past discrimination, through housing policies that have created segregation.
BADGERAnd, you know, those things have proven really difficult to dismantle. So, you know, we know today, in 2015, that a middle class black family is still likely to live in a poorer neighborhood than a poor white family is. You know, we know today that banks are still, in a sense, less likely to give prime loans to a black family that's making as much as $157,000 a year than a white family that makes about $47,000 a year.
BADGERSo there's still these sort of patterns that show us that, you know, we are living with many of the same forms of segregation that we had in the past and, you know, some of things that a lot of people think have been eradicated are still with us in subtler versions, whether that's red-lining by banks, whether that's subtle steering by real estate agents.
REHMEmily Badger, she's a reporter for The Washington Post. Richard Rothstein, you talk about our belief in de facto segregation. What do you mean by that?
ROTHSTEINWell, we do have a national myth that the segregation that Emily was describing that already exists in all of our metropolitan areas was created mostly by private discrimination, by people's choices of where to live, by the fact that African Americans may not have had enough money to move to middle class neighborhoods. That's all a small part of what has caused the segregated landscape of every metropolitan area in the country today.
ROTHSTEINIt was caused, in fact, by explicit policies on the part of the federal, state and local governments that were intended purposely to segregate metropolitan areas by race. We don't have de facto segregation. We have something that's much more like the jury segregation, segregation by law, by regulation, by public policy. The major causes of the segregation that we have in this country today were two. One was the federal public housing program, which began in the 1930s, primarily for white families, middle class, working class families, because there was an enormous civilian housing shortage at that time, but also for African Americans.
ROTHSTEINAnd that program created segregated public housing projects often by demolishing integrated urban neighborhoods. At the time, many urban neighborhoods were integrated because African Americans and immigrants from Europe, whites who had come in from rural areas to work in factories downtown had to live close enough to downtown in the same neighborhoods to be able to walk to work.
ROTHSTEINWhat the federal government did, starting in the 1930s, was demolish many of these integrated neighborhoods and build segregated public housing, separate projects for blacks and separate projects for whites so it created segregation where none had existed before. The second major policy was the federal housing administration, starting in the late 1930s, began to insure loans to mass production builders to build subdivision suburbs around the country so that whites could move from urban areas to the suburbs and the federal housing administration guaranteed these loans to mass production builders on the explicit condition that no homes be sold to African Americans.
ROTHSTEINThe classic examples that I'm sure everybody's familiar with is Levittown in New York. Pete Seeger used to sing a song written by Malvina Reynolds about houses on a hillside made of ticky-tacky. That was giant subdivision south of San Francisco that was built with federal guarantees on explicit federal condition that no homes be sold to African Americans.
ROTHSTEINAnd there were subdivision like this, hundreds of them across the country in every metropolitan area. These two policies, the public housing program to concentrate, really to herd African Americans into central cities and the federal housing administration policy to expel whites from those central cities and lure them into all white suburbs created the metropolitan landscape that we have today. And simply prohibiting ongoing discrimination can't undo that. We need policies just as aggressive to undo that segregation as we had to create it.
REHMRichard Rothstein, he's with the Economic Policy Institute. Ed Pinto, how do you see the last 50 years in housing.
PINTOThank you, Diane. First of all, I'd like to correct something Richard said. There's a very large study of millions and millions of homes and rental properties done in 1934 and it shows that Chicago, for example, was the most segregated city in the United States in 1934. It probably still is the most segregated city. There were many other cities, data on many other cities that show similar patterns. These patterns predate the '30s.
PINTOAs abhorrent as what FHA did, which it was following the customs of the day -- and it was broader than race. It was all kinds of ethnic discrimination, Italians, Jews, you name it, Russians of the lower class, they were called, and there were all kinds of ethnic discriminations going on and race discriminations. It was endemic in the United States. But these things had happened before and so one has to start with that. Did this make it worse? It didn't improve it, but did it make it worse?
PINTOIt did -- what was done with public housing and where it was situated, it mostly destroyed some areas that were viewed as slums, that actually working neighborhoods with people that were living there with a lot of amenities in terms of shops and things. They were viewed as slums, but they were living there and they were replaced with these public housing. Over the last 50 years, and it's interesting about 50 years, we started to change our policies in the late '50s, early '60s, particularly for single family housing.
PINTOAnd what we started doing was adding a lot more leverage, a lot more ability to buy more house with the same amount of income or a lower down payment starting in the late '50s, early '60s. Our home ownership rate, literally, roughly peaked in the early 1960s. It has been unchanged. It's the same today as it was in the early 1960s. That rate there tells us we're probably not doing the right thing. When we look at wealth, we see the same thing.
PINTOWealth has not increased for low and moderate income individuals since at least the late 1980s. It's declined for many of the sub groups. So our policies have been a failure and my work is, okay, given that it's been a failure and we recognize it's been a failure, how would one go about making it a success?
REHMEd Pinto, he's with the American Enterprise Institute. Joining us now from New York is Sherrilyn Ifill. And Sherrilyn, I'd like to ask you how well you think the desegregation policies meant to be put in place by the fair housing act have worked.
MS. SHERRILYN IFILLThank you, Diane. Thank you for having me join you.
IFILLAnd thank you for this conversation. This really is the issue of the day because I think anyone looking at it objectively would have to say that despite many of the efforts that were quite good, the efforts have not gone far enough. And the reason is precisely the reason that Richard Rothstein described at the beginning. You have to understand that the issue of housing discrimination and segregation is not just about attitudes and the desire of white people not to live near black people.
IFILLIt's not necessarily true that there's no relevance, ongoing relevance, to the issue of, you know, overt housing discrimination and the report that was released earlier this week demonstrates that there is still active housing discrimination happening that has to be addressed. But what we really haven't dealt with is the massive investments that went into creating segregated housing. And unlike other forms of discrimination, when you engage in investments that change the landscape and infrastructure, you cannot undo that simply by ceasing to do that which you did before.
IFILLSo if you have massively invested in the creation of white suburbs through the interstate highway system and through providing the kinds of loans and tax breaks to the creation of all white suburbs, you cannot undo the damage of that simply by no longer making those investments.
REHMSherrilyn Ifill, she's president, director counsel of the NAACP legal defense and educational fund. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about housing in this country today, the question being to what extent are we still operating in segregated cities. And Sherrilyn Ifill, I want to come back to you, to ask you about why you believe housing segregation is such an important civil rights issue today and why you believe it plays such an important both Ferguson and Baltimore.
IFILLDiane, I think there are really three elements here when we look at housing segregation. One has already been alluded to by your guests, and it's about the accumulation of wealth and the economic stability and viability of African-American families and communities in our country. The ability to sustain oneself in the middle class remains largely tied to home ownership and to home ownership in which you're able to develop equity in that home.
IFILLSo ensuring that African-Americans are not herded into segregated pools of poverty, as the federal judge found happened in Baltimore, is essentially to ensuring that. Secondly, housing segregation is directly related to education segregation. So to the extent we believe that it is important, and I certainly believe, and I hope that most continue to believe, that it is import that our educational system be a place where children from all walks of life, from all races and economic backgrounds, can learn together, that in fact that becomes the incubation place of diverse citizenship in this country, housing segregation inevitably leads to education segregation.
IFILLBut the last thing is that I frankly think, Diane, that we can no longer afford to continue with the kind of chasm that exists between black and white people, between Latino and white people. We have to begin to cross the divide, the divide that we've seen in Ferguson, the divide that we've seen in policing, not just the shooting of a young African-American boy in Cleveland, Tamir Rice, but a police officer tackling his teenage sister as she cries in her grief or threatening the mother that if she doesn't stop crying about the death of her son that she'll be arrested.
IFILLIt is the disregard for African-American life. It is the chasm in which African-American people are not considered human. This has to be breached, and we alluded to this in Brown versus Board of Education when we litigated that case in the Supreme Court. We talked about the danger of segregation not only to black people but the danger and the harm of segregation to white people.
IFILLAnd I think that we're beginning to live with the consequences of that danger.
REHMEd Pinto, comment first on the wealth, economic viability of home ownership.
PINTOSo home ownership is not a guaranteed route to wealth-building. It's -- home prices in the United States are incredibly volatile. People look at averages, and averages can be very deceiving. We've published a lot of data that show that there are metropolitan areas that are consistently boom and bust. We've shown when you drill down to that data that the lower price tier, and it doesn't make any difference based on race, it could be low income based on, you know, without looking at race, but race is certainly a factor, that the low price tier has more volatility.
PINTOAnd then we drill down within the low price tier in a city, we find there's a tremendous variance there. So if you buy a house, the average may be a three percent increase year over year, but you could buy a house that has a five percent decrease over a time period.
BADGERYeah, I mean, I just wanted to add to something -- the point that Sherrilyn made earlier about why housing is so important. And, you know, that's because where you live influences just about every other thing that's going on in your life. You know, not only does it influence where your children get to go to school, it influences whether they're exposed to pollution, whether they have access to public transportation, whether there are jobs anywhere near you, whether there's a grocery store in your neighborhood, whether you can eat healthy. All of these things are bound up in where you live.
BADGERAnd, you know, there is a really big landmark study that came out of some economists at Harvard earlier this year that verified what I think a lot of people suspected for a long time, which is that, you know, where children grow up influences the success that they have over the rest of their lives, right down to the way that we can measure that they will have higher lifetime earnings, you know, if they live in the kinds of neighborhoods that offer lots of opportunities for success.
ROTHSTEINLet me illustrate the wealth issue. I mentioned before Levittown, and there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of subdivisions like that. In 1947, the federal government subsidized Levitt to build that development, 17,000 homes. They were sold at that time to working-class, lower-middle-class, white families only for about $7,000, something like $100,000 in today's income.
REHMAre you saying that that contract was specifically limited to white families?
ROTHSTEINYes, the Federal Housing Administration refused to guarantee any loans to builders who would sell to African-Americans, and they required that the loans not be -- in fact the Federal Housing Administration even gave builders model restrictive covenants that they could attach to deeds prohibiting resale to African-Americans. Well, those homes that were sold in today's dollars, I said $7,000 then, probably $100,000 today, those homes today sell for $500,000.
ROTHSTEINSo the white families who bought into Levittown in the late 1940s and the early 1950s have gained, over the course of three generations, roughly $400,000 in equity appreciation. They used that to send their children and their grandchildren to college. They used that to finance their retirements so that their children did not support them in retirement. The African-Americans, who were equally qualified at that time, the same kinds of jobs, these were lower-middle-class, returning war veterans, who were equally qualified to buy those homes and were prohibited from doing so wound up living in urban ghettos, accumulated none of that kind of equity.
ROTHSTEINTheir children did not to go to college with the same advantages. Their children had to support those families in their retirement. And that's responsible for a lot of the wealth gap that we see today, federal policy.
REHMEmily, today how often -- this is a tweet from Ben. How often is a financially viable African-American turned away from a home loan?
BADGERI mean, there's a fair amount of research that suggests that this was going on in a very widespread way during the housing boom, you know, that black families in particular were dramatically more likely to be given a subprime loan even when they qualified for a white loan, compared to a white family. And, you know, even in the last, in the last week or earlier this year as well, you know, there have been redlining settlements that have come out where the federal government or, you know, local authorities have reached agreements with banks that have acknowledged that, you know, they don't offer mortgages to families that live in black neighborhoods in some cases, in Buffalo, New York, for instance, where there were several redlining cases in the Chicago and Milwaukee area, where banks were not offering mortgages or, you know, mortgages with good rates to black families at the same rate that they do to white families that look exactly identical on paper.
BADGERSo we are not talking here about, you know, low-income black families not qualifying for the same mortgages that middle-income white families get. We're talking about, you know, black families that should be qualifying for mortgages to obtain a home who are, you know, still in 2015 less likely to get those mortgages.
REHMSo Ed Pinto, can you speak to what Richard Rothstein was talking about, namely the accumulation of wealth that did flow to white families because they were able to buy in those choice developments, those choice neighborhoods, and their wealth increased?
PINTOSo what I -- what I know is that from 1940 to 1960, there was a huge boom in home ownership for both blacks and whites. Blacks had a lower home ownership rate to start with. They still ended up with a lower home ownership rate in 1960. But both went up tremendously, and on a percentage basis, blacks went up more.
PINTOThe problem started in that regard, in my opinion, in the '60s, when leverage was introduced to a great extent. So you weren't building up equity through paying down the mortgage. You were relying on house price increases. And the areas that blacks were in didn't experience the house price increases. The leverage was very high, and so it was very difficult to build wealth. That's part of the problem.
PINTOWhere we are today, and this goes to what Emily said, but it puts a different perspective on it, the median FICO score, without getting too technical, FICO is a credit score, the median in the United States is 711. The median for a black individual is about 618. That's a huge difference. If you make a loan to someone that has the median FICO score of 618, and it's the same type of FHA loan that you'd make to a white individual with a 711, they're looking at probably a 35 percent likelihood of default under stress, whereas the 711 person might be five percent.
PINTOIt's that six times that, when you put all that leverage, which has been our policy, we have to change that policy. We're not going to address this by adding leverage to the solution. We've tried that, and it's failed.
REHMSherrilyn, do you want to comment?
IFILLWell it -- I just think it's -- we have to be very careful about where we decide to start this story and when we start using passive voice. So when we say blacks were not able to build up that kind of equity, or when we suddenly start talking about the 1960s, I mean, Richard just laid something out about blacks were able to purchase homes as opposed to where whites were able to purchase homes.
IFILLWe're not now even talking about home ownership rate. We're talking about the home that you were able to purchase, where it is located and what the value of that home is. And so when we talk about the credit scores of blacks, when we see the work of Massion Denton (sp?) , who wrote years ago about the fact that when African-Americans lose their parents, they tend to inherit debt, and when whites lose their parents, they tend to inherit wealth. That comes from someplace, and so we can't just wake up today and say, you know, this is what we see. We have to recognize that it was created and developed by a set of policies that we're inheriting.
IFILLAnd if we actually want to engage the issue today, then we have to be prepared to engage with the level -- same level of investment that we were willing to put into segregating this country to desegregating this country. And that means not only the kind of economic changes and practices that have been discussed, but it means transportation policy, infrastructure, what we're going to do to our cities, how we're going to support families. All of that has to be looked at in a very dynamic way.
REHMAll right. Emily, talk about -- bring us into the present and talk about the announcement from the Obama administration over the summer, targeting housing segregation.
BADGERSo we've all been talking about how housing segregation is not a new phenomenon, but there are several new things that have happened this year that have made this an incredibly relevant topic. You know, you already mentioned Baltimore and Ferguson brought attention to these things. This Harvard study I mentioned has drawn a lot of attention to it. And then, you know, two really big things happened over the summer.
BADGERFirst in June, we got a Supreme Court decision that upheld a really important legal tool that civil rights groups use in order to prosecute -- to try to go after people who are discriminating or to try to go after sort of segregation patterns. And then in July, the Obama administration announced these new rules that people have been waiting for for years, that are designed to repair the fact that, you know, we have really not been living up to the full goals of the Fair Housing Act for the last 48 years or so.
BADGERAnd what these new rules said was, you know, the Fair Housing Act doesn't just say you can't discriminate. You know, the Fair Housing Act also says that communities that receive federal dollars from HUD have a responsibility to spend that money in a way that actively promotes integration, that actively tries to break down segregation.
BADGERAnd, you know, HUD has not been enforcing this for years. The federal government has never really, you know, put a whole lot of emphasis behind this requirement. Local communities have been ignoring it, and civil rights groups have been very upset about this for a very long time.
REHMSo the Obama administration is putting into place new rules, which say you've got to keep track of what's going on.
BADGERExactly. So the requirement to actively try to promote integration and break down segregation is not new. That has been in the language of the Fair Housing Act since it was passed in 1968. But what is new is that the Obama administration said these are exactly the things that you need to do to start complying with this. Local communities all over the country are now going to have to start, you know, doing a very thorough assessment of their segregation patterns, looking at where poor people live, where a Section 8 voucher is being used relative to where good schools are.
BADGERThey're going to have to do, you know, a really serious sort of self-assessment of this and show it to HUD.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And Ed Pinto, what do you think of the government's involvement here?
PINTOSo I've looked back at the government's past efforts, many of which have been mentioned by others. And I think they've been a spectacular failure. They haven't accomplished what they set out to accomplish. They announced X, and they accomplished something completely different. You know, so when you look at this...
REHMSo you think they're saying it's going to be true today?
PINTOI do, and here's how I think it could play out. Real estate, it's based on location, location, location. And a lot of these areas, while they may not have all the services, they tend to be close to jobs. They tend to be close to downtowns, which is where a lot of the jobs are. And things are moving back towards the inner-city. Just look at Washington, D.C., for example. And so what this could do is sort of the reverse of the urban removal and the white flight, is try to move minorities out to the suburbs while the whites want to move back to close to where the jobs are, where the other amenities that go with a city, and they end up on the short end once again.
REHMIs that a danger, Richard Rothstein?
ROTHSTEINNo, I don't think so. The jobs that used to be in the cities fled along with white homeowners, white families, to the suburbs. So African-Americans were left concentrated in central cities at the same time that the jobs disappear, and they became more impoverished. The kinds of jobs that white are now moving back into cities for are not factory jobs, they're not service jobs, the low-wage service jobs. They're professional jobs.
ROTHSTEINAnd African-Americans living in central cities need access to the jobs that are now very much located in the suburbs. Transportation is one way to do it. We've had segregated transportation policy, which was not designed to link African-Americans in central cities to jobs. And we need the kinds of mobility policies that for low-income and lower-wage African-Americans that will enable them to live in suburbs and near jobs.
REHMSherrilyn, how important do you think this announcement was?
IFILLI think it's critically important because it -- it is supposed to provide a kind of guide for communities to understand what they should be looking at to engage in this kind of affirmative effort to end segregation. And, you know, to just use the transportation example for a minute, you know, Richard Rothstein's absolutely right. The jobs are actually at the edges of the cities and in the suburbs, in the outer-ring suburbs and the counties, at the malls and those kinds of locations.
IFILLAnd so when we think about where African-American families are living, they need to be able to have one of two things, the ability to purchase homes and to live close to where the jobs are located, but they also need transportation services to be able to get from the inner city to those jobs.
REHMEd Pinto, how do you respond to that?
IFILLBut transportation is one of the factors that -- that's mentioned in the government...
PINTOSo what -- we just completed a study of 9 million properties, single-family properties in 10 metropolitan areas, including Washington, D.C. And one of the things that we found is the outlying areas had the greatest home price volatility through this last cycle. And I think that's generally true. And it's because there's so much land out there, it gets built up and ahead of demand sometimes, and then when the demand goes away, the prices go down.
PINTOSo these areas that you want to move people out to are exactly the most volatile ones that you're not going to be reliably build wealth.
REHMAll right, we'll take a short break here. When we come back, I also want to ask about grocery stores, none of which were visible during those Baltimore riots. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're going to open the phones, read some of your emails. Here's the first from Rob in Baltimore. He says, I'm a huge fan of Sherrilyn. I completely agree with what she just said regarding diversity. However, many of the kids I see in Baltimore are not simply poor. They are broken. Broken by multi-generational poverty and city leadership that really doesn't care that they exist until they riot or protest. I would not want my middle class kids going to school every day with these broken children. How do you respond to that, Sherrilyn?
IFILLWell, sadly, it is true, that there are many children who are broken by generations of poverty. We helped litigate a case challenging segregated public housing in Baltimore. One of the things we showed, Diane, was the way in which many children in that city lived in communities of deep distress. Not just single family poverty, but pervasive poverty and violence and all of the other pieces that come with concentrating a poor population over generations in a space with very few resources. And so, there's no question that there's great distress.
IFILLBut we have to take responsibility for that. That was created, and I think that's really what, you know, the subject of this show is about. The development of these enclaves. There is nothing genetically wrong with people who are poor. But when they have been herded into this kind of island of segregation, in which there are few resources, very little hope. Unlike in the past when you could be poor, but the person across the street from you was a middle class person and the doctor lived down the street.
IFILLAnd maybe the person on the corner was on welfare, but you knew that the person on the other corner was a teacher. That's the kind of diverse community that many people in my generation grew up in. And that we don't see. So, this impulse to say, I don't want my middle class kids with that kid, that's also part of the problem. Because we've got to break up that concentration of distress and give families an opportunity to move to communities with opportunity. But also, create opportunity within those communities. And that only happens when we decide that we are going to end this process of segregating communities and holding people in these areas of distress.
IFILLAnd forgetting about them until the pot boils over and we see what we saw in Baltimore.
ROTHSTEINYes, when you have a child whom your writer described as a broken child, a child who comes to school unprepared to take advantage of what the school has to offer because they come from a home with low literacy levels, from a neighborhood with a lot of stress, maybe unemployment. That child, if in a middle class school, the child can be given special attention by the teacher and that child can begin to thrive. If you take children like that and concentrate them all in a single classroom, there is no way that those children can thrive. And the level of instruction declines. It becomes remedial for the entire class.
ROTHSTEINTeachers devoting more time to discipline than instruction. It's true that these children are broken, but they can be revived only if they are in an environment where they are not concentrated so that every child there has that problem.
REHMRichard, we have an email from George in Pensacola, Florida, asking that you quote an example of the precise language contained in the government's documents which directed developers to exclude blacks from consideration in the purchase of a property.
ROTHSTEINYes, this all came, it's written down in the manuals that the Federal Housing Administration gave to appraisers who were evaluating loans and I've written a lot about this. Your reader can, if they want exact quotes and citations, they can go to my website and find it. But it was all in the manuals of the Federal Housing Administration, written out that a loan was high risk if it included African Americans, if it included even neighborhoods where African Americans lived nearby.
ROTHSTEINSo, there was a threat of Africans moving in. This was a risk assessment that the Federal Housing Administration gave. I can give a very dramatic example, if you like. Right after 19, right after World War II, the great novelist, Wallace Stegner, moved to Stanford. He was recruited to Stanford University to teach. And because there was an enormous civilian housing shortage, there was no housing available for him, he and a number of other people organized a cooperative of 400 families.
ROTHSTEINAnd they bought a large tract of land right outside Stanford University. They hired builders and architects to design 400 homes. The Federal Housing Administration refused to guarantee those loans because three members of this 400 person cooperative were African American. Of the group, the cooperative tried to bargain with the Federal Housing Administration. The offered to restrict the number of African Americans in their co-op to no greater percentage of African Americans in the California population.
ROTHSTEINThe Federal Housing Administration still refused. Eventually, Stegner and his co-op members wound up disbanding the co-op. They sold the tract of land that they had built to a private developer. The private developer then was able to get an FHA loan on condition that they include restrictive providence in every deed in that property.
BADGERYou know, some of the language that has always stuck with me from this history is the phrase that, you know, it was the policy in this guidance that was being on whether and where to give out mortgages that, you know, the federal government did not want to have, quote, inharmonious racial compositions in neighborhoods. And what that basically means is, you know, a neighborhood should be homogenous. A neighborhood should be all white, and if a few blacks families start to move into it, you know, that's when we're talking about a place becoming inharmonious.
BADGERAnd it was the belief and, you know, the policy of the federal government, you know, to think, the values of property would not hold up in a white neighborhood and would not be as good of an investment if we allowed black people to move in. And so, the way to protect that was to sort of try to protect this homogenous sense of whites should all live together in one place. Blacks should all live together in another place.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones. First to Auburn, New York. Lance, you're on the air.
LANCEThanks, Diane. I just wanted to point out that fair housing covers professionals, but under certain circumstances, until they meet a threshold of being considered in the business. Private individuals can still discriminate on many grounds.
LANCEIf you, I don't want to spell it all out, but if, for instance, if you live in a house, three units or less, you can, you know, discriminate, say I want Catholics here. I want only whites here. I want no gay couples. No single mothers. You know, whatever you want.
REHMAll right. Emily.
BADGERSo, that's not legal. I mean, even if you have an apartment building that's got three units, and, you know, it's just three families, what does it matter? You're not impacting a lot of people. It's still illegal for you to discriminate in that question. But, you know, that does raise the issue of whether or not that case is large enough that if their housing organization or the Department of Justice or HUDD is going to come after you.
BADGERSo, there's no question that some of that certainly exists, and no one's going after it.
REHMLet's go to Houston, Texas. Ryan, you're on the air.
RYANThank you. Two points, one particularly in response to Mr. Rothstein. Mr. Rothstein, you're describing a history in which the federal government acted in the realm of housing and zoning and these matters. And it did a really bad job, and, you know, if anything, that strikes me as a basis to conclude that the federal government is not good at this. And if anything, should be extracting itself from various policies of where Americans are going to own homes, if we're going to own homes. Who are going to own homes?
RYANThat just doesn't seem something that the government is very -- the federal government is very well suited to address. And my second point is that we've had a conversation among the guests about, you know, where are the jobs? Are they in the central -- center of the city? Are they around the edge of the suburbs? You know, how are cities going to develop? And that sounds to me like a question that is very uncertain in how you would answer it. And probably is going to go different ways in different places.
RYANAnd the worst possible way we could address that question is, in a society, is to ask one regulatory body in Washington to set policy for the whole country and tell local governments how things should be developed.
PINTOI think those are good points. I would add one. I was at an event yesterday where I was speaking to 25 black ministers of their churches. And one of them pointed out that in the late 50s, early 60s, I believe, the marriage rate for blacks is well above the marriage rate for whites. And that, of course, is not the case today, and then someone else pointed out, you know, when did it get to a point where the parents and grandparents were afraid of their own children in these neighborhoods? I think the road back, someone mentioned, you know, what's the road back?
PINTOThe road back, for example, from the destruction of destroying the intact family, is vouchers. I mean, nobody's brought that up, but housing, vouchers for, school vouchers would be a road back. Give parents, and the grandparents, the freedom to choose the school, allow the private sector to create schools to deliver that. Allow churches to do that, and really cut this off at its knees. It will take a generation, but it's happened before and it will happen again.
IFILLYou know, the caller talked about what the federal government is not good at. What we really should be focusing on is what the federal government is good at. And actually, the federal government has proven very adept at housing policy. They created the suburbs, the white suburbs that most Americans have come to think is just part of the landscape and part of American life. And kind of an inevitable aspect of middle class life. That was created by the federal government and by the subsidies provided by the federal government.
IFILLThere's no possible way to have suburbs without the interstate highway system. Richard Rothstein has already talked about all of the subsidies that went into creating the Levittowns and so forth. So actually, the federal government has proven itself quite adept. And what we ought to be doing now is looking at the ways in which the federal government can use the skills that it has, now that it is not the 1930s, the 1940s or the 1950s to turn its investments and its focus and attention towards doing the kind of radical, creating the kind of radical opportunity that they created for GIs after the war.
IFILLThat they created for low income whites when they created the white suburbs. And using that ingenuity, today, to deal with some of the conditions that we talked about earlier, when the caller called about Baltimore. We've got to decide that we want to marshal the resources to do that. Last thing, on the affirmative rule, the affirmative leaf furthering fair housing rule that we talked about. The caller said that we shouldn't have a regulatory agency in Washington, D.C. Each jurisdiction has to make a plan based on their local reality.
IFILLThis is not a one size fits all. What happens in Baltimore is not going to be what happens in Detroit. It's not going to be the same as what happens in Buffalo. And the efforts will not be assessed exactly the same. All the rule does is set out what the factors are that the local jurisdictions ought to be looking at as they make their plans. This is not a one size fits all.
REHMDoesn't that make sense, Ed Pinto?
PINTONo, it doesn't. Because anybody who thinks that the federal government is going to have a light touch has never experienced the federal government. And again, I've gone back and looked at some of these policies that were put in place with public housing and things like that. And the complaints back then was that the federal government was being too heavy handed on the local communities.
REHMBut if it is left to the local communities, why wouldn't that work?
PINTOBut it won't be. The federal government never does that. Name an example where the federal government, over time, doesn't have a heavier and heavier hand.
IFILLLet me be clear.
PINTOI would challenge you to name an example.
IFILLI'm not making a plea for a light touch from the federal government. I hope...
REHMI cannot personally. Richard Rothstein will, in just a moment. But first, you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Richard.
ROTHSTEINWell, we have a Constitution, and the Constitution requires us to remedy violations of the 14th, the 5th, the 13th Amendments. We don't violate those Amendments by having the government create a segregated metropolitan landscape and say okay, the government screwed it up, so now we're not going to let the government get involved in it anymore. The consequence of the government creating segregation is a Constitutional requirement that it will undo that segregation. That's what the Constitution requires.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Baltimore. Elias, you're on the air.
ELIASHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
ELIASMy comment goes back to what your guest said about the cavern between law enforcement and black communities. I really think that we have to look to the policies of the war on drugs, which, since its inception, has been targeted against those segregated black communities. And I think because of this war, police officers have developed a, you know, a soldier's mentality fighting this, you know, ubiquitous enemy that could be anywhere in the community of drug dealers and users. And that's the -- and then, the end result is Freddie Gray and Tia Rice and just looking at that, the whole community as potential criminals in the drug trade. And you know, it's wrong. And that's why we have more African Americans…
REHMSo, how does the policing of a community, Emily, get tied up with the whole question of housing?
BADGERI mean, all of these things are related. Housing is related to transportation, is related to job opportunities, related to mass incarceration. And, you know, when we're talking about these segregated neighborhoods having concentrated poverty in them, they also have, sort of, concentrated effects of mass incarceration in them. You know, there's this concept in New York and Chicago and many cities of quote, million dollar blocks. You know, these are single city blocks, in many cities, where tax payers have invested more than a million dollars to incarcerate people who came from those communities. And, you know, you have to ask the question, well, what would happen if we were to spend that money differently?
BADGERWhat if we were to spend that money on economic development and reinvestment in building a playground? And investing in job training, you know? What if we were to think very differently about the way that the public devotes resources towards spending, particularly on these communities, and redirect it in just a totally different way?
REHMSo, you have this issue of housing, Ed Pinto, but seems far broader than just housing.
PINTOIt is, and I think what we need to do is focus on some proven solutions that may work in housing, but then we have to focus on the schools. And I already mentioned it, school vouchers would be a way of taking existing resources, redirecting them, giving the parents the freedom to do what they should be able to do, the grandparents, if that's the case, and move forward. That will take time, but I believe that over 20 years, that will get a much better result than anything that's done by affirmatively fair, you know, affirmatively furthering fair housing rule.
PINTOYou know, top down from the government. There are states, the states are implementing vouchers, they're being fought tooth and nail, but they are implementing them, they are growing, and they need to grow, if they increase by 20 times, we'd be a lot better off.
REHMEmily, last word.
BADGERYeah, you know, one other point about vouchers is that they're not just school vouchers, they're housing vouchers, too. But that is a market where discrimination continues to exist, as well. You know, it's true in many communities all over the country that a landlord has the right to discriminate against a housing voucher holder, to say I don't want to rent to you because you have a voucher. And this is a perfect example of where it's -- there's an appropriate role for government to step in and write a law saying, you shouldn't be able to do that if we want to create housing opportunity for everybody.
REHMEmily Badger, Ed Pinto, Richard Rothstein, Sherrilyn Ifill, thank you all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Grappling with the past behavior of elected officials -- and our country's racist past.
A leading expert on end-of-life care discusses how to make decisions when it comes to death and dying.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired its final episode in 2001. Fred Rogers passed away two years later. But the legacy of Mister Rogers is stronger than ever. Last year’s film about…