Blog #33: Racism, Real Estate, and Rats

Posted in: Leader's Blog

Our president once again stirred up racial animus with a tweet, criticizing Rep. Elijah Cummings and saying that his congressional district “is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Baltimore’s CBS affiliate swiftly pointed out that a company owned by a top presidential advisor, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, owns and operates properties in the Baltimore County repeatedly cited and fined for code violations, including rodents.

While this current hypocrisy is clear to most, many don’t realize that our nation has a long history of racist housing policy. Most strikingly, when poor Black families moved from rural to urban areas at the start of the twentieth century, private lenders would offer them only “homes on contract” with unreasonable interest rates and no accrual of equity.  If families failed to make all payments, they lost the entire home.

Making matters worse were municipal, state, and federal laws that manipulated people of color and locked them into intergenerational poverty (see Segregated by Design).  It starts with New Deal public housing projects that destroyed integrated neighborhoods and created segregated public housing. Even when politicians – such as Rep. Lyndon Baines Johnson in Austin, Texas, in the late 1930’s – were praised for their public housing efforts, they resulted in poor neighborhoods for Black, Hispanic, and Asian families.

This pattern of superficial “improvement” resulting in greater segregation was repeated across the United States thanks to the Federal Housing Administration.  The FHA, which encouraged separating “inharmonious racial groups,” color-coded city maps indicating areas off-limits to federal loans. This process of “redlining” assured that families of color were denied the American dream of home ownership.

The federal government looked away when realtors engaged in “blockbusting,” another race-based method of abuse. Realtors went to great lengths to scare whites into selling quickly at low prices to get out of neighborhoods “turning black.” They would even hire Black women to walk through white neighborhoods with baby carriages so as to whip up and manipulate racial fear and maximize their profits.

Even after the 1968 Housing and Urban Development Act outlawed many of these practices, new “predatory inclusion” was used to trap unsuspecting people of color in unsustainable loan situations where they would ultimately slip into foreclosure. As explained by Prof. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in Race for Profitsystems that purportedly encouraged Black home ownership actually locked Black families into greater debt. 

  • Lesson #159: The hypocrisy that a top presidential advisor, Jared Kushner, owns and operates properties repeatedly cited and fined for code violations, while his father-in-law smears the same region with racist innuendos, is a classic example of white privilege.

  • Lesson #160: In response to the president insulting Cumming’s Baltimore-area district, some “well-meaning” residents of the suburban parts of the district criticized the president for being wrong since their neighborhoods were not rat infested. One constituent, Julia McCready, was right when writing to the Baltimore Sun pointing out what should have been the focus of criticising the president: “White people created distinctions that withheld wealth, power and equal rights from some, while consolidating it for themselves.

  • Lesson #161: The web of laws and regulations segregating urban neighborhoods based on race during the New Deal and post-WWII periods, justified as a way to “minimize racial tensions,” demonstrated how white supremacy often determines public policy.

  • Lesson #162: The equity gained by most white families, thanks to appreciation of the value of their home, was denied to families of color which created poor urban neighborhoods and cross-generational poverty.

  • Lesson #163: Many other techniques for segregating people of color into poor areas, such as selective construction of highways and bridges, are outlined in the video Segregated by Design, which was based on work by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute.

  • Lesson #164: Kushner-owned properties that have been reportedly cited for mold, insect infestations, mice, rats, window or door leaks, inadequate air conditioning or heat, include: Commons at White Marsh; Cove Village; Essex Park; Fontana Village; Harbor Point Estates; Highland Village Townhomes; Riverview Townhomes; The Apartments at Bonnie Ridge; The Apartments at Cambridge Court; The Apartments at Canterbury; The Apartments at Owings Run; The Apartments at Saddle Brooke; and, Whispering Woods. Tenants deserve better from their landlords, their fellow-citizens, and our government.

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