Residential Segregation and Its Implications By Allison Klei

Over a century ago, Mark Twain penned a famous line describing the unique cultures of the three largest cities in the Northeast: Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. He wrote, “In Boston, they ask how much does he know? In New York, how much is he worth? In Philadelphia, who were his parents?” For a long time Boston has been associated as a city of great education, New York has often correlated with financial strength, and lastly, Philadelphia has been recognized for its historical lineage. Even many years ago, people were aware that where you live heavily influences your lifestyle and perspective. Though the majority of Americans may not realize the extent of the influence of where they live on a day-to-day or long-term basis, the effects are blatantly there. While segregation has undoubtedly decreased in the past half a century, there are still persistent pockets of discrimination in major metropolises across the nation. The perpetuation of many of these pockets can be attributed to redlining, blockbusting, racial covenants, and despite many laws and racial equality progress, simply sickening discrimination.

Where you live has more far-reaching effects than the average American might initially realize. For instance, in the podcast that I listened to, a matter of three miles separated a girl from a fantastic public school education and one that wasn't so great. The great public school met all of the state’s requirements, while the other hardly met any. Fantastic public schools are often tied to the districts overall wealth; a wealthier district means more taxes and some of those taxes go towards funding the school system. This means that poorer neighborhoods generally have worse school systems than their richer counterparts. In addition to a generally weaker school system, poorer neighborhoods are often subjected to more crime and bigger social issues. A Stanford University study shows that blacks and Hispanics typically require higher incomes than white Americans to live in affluent neighborhoods. This adds a racial component to the mix. It also makes the upward mobility of blacks and Hispanics more difficult compared to their white and Asian peers. Many of these modern problems have stemmed from issues of redlining, blockbusting, and racial covenants. Even though Americans would like to believe that we have evolved enough to discredit and eliminate these segregational tactics, they still persist throughout society today. Only the naïve and close-minded can remain oblivious to all of these racial issues.

Redlining refers to a discriminatory process by which financial institutions use obstructive lending practices that impede homeownership or loans to people of color. Redlining originated in 1933 from the policies created by the HOLC (Home Owners Loan Corporation) to mitigate home foreclosures during the Depression and then it was institutionalized in 1937 by the U.S. Housing Act, which also built the FHA (Federal Housing Association). These federal agencies, along with many others, determined whether or not areas were suitable for investment by banks, insurance companies, savings and loan associations, and other financial companies. In fact, the areas were actually shaded using a red marker, while the areas that were considered the best investment in green, and the intermediate areas in blue. However, these companies often disregarded income levels and looked solely at the racial composition of the selected area. In 1968, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, redlining was outlawed. However, the law did little to aid with the impact and wasn’t truly felt until much later. The consequences of this practice were that the areas that were deemed unfit for investment were left as they were – in dire need. When the existing businesses in these areas collapsed, new ones were prohibited from replacing them and this practice reinforced the degenerative spiral in these neighborhoods. In turn, this limited the access of the people in that area to healthcare, banking, retail merchandise, and much more. However, with the failure of businesses in the area, redlining also led to the death of employment opportunities as employers were not motivated to locate there. In these impoverished areas, crime rates were often much higher. With this trickle effect, it is clear that redlining had far-reaching implications and created a vicious, destructive cycle.

Blockbusting refers to the process by which real estate agents convinced Caucasian home owners to sell their houses at low prices for fear that colored people will move into the neighborhood and lower the economic value further. Real estate agents used this approach to gain profit from the discrimination-driven market instability by initiating white flight. Real estate agents offered middle class blacks access to neighborhoods at inflated prices (known as a “black tax”). However, since housing options were grim, many had no choice but to pay the higher cost. Blockbusting put extra strain on black homeowners because it was difficult to acquire bank loans to make repairs on their new homes. Also, the greater the number of blacks that moved into the neighborhood, the greater number of Caucasians that moved out, thereby maintaining, rather than decreasing, the segregation that existed and upholding the white-only housing in other areas in the city or suburbs. Like redlining, blockbusting was outlawed in the Civil Rights Act of 1968, but it still persisted much after the enactment of the law.

Racial covenants refer to the contractual agreements that disallow the lease, purchase, or occupation of property by a specific people (usually blacks). This practice of exclusive, restrictive covenants came about as a reaction to the Great Migration of southern blacks and also in response to the 1917 court ruling of Buchanan versus Warley (which stated mandated racial bounding unconstitutional). They became common after the Supreme Court validated their use in 1926 (Buckley versus Corrigan). These covenants further promoted segregation between Caucasians and non-Caucasians. The Housing Act of 1934 encouraged realtors, land developers, and community residents to write these restrictive covenants to prevent redlining. To maintain property values and sell housing, as mentioned before, realtors supported residential segregation. The effect of these limiting covenants was that it legally kept neighborhoods and areas unmixed and homogenous. It furthered many of the other processes of discrimination mentioned in this paper. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed and prohibited racial restrictive covenants from being upheld both privately and judicially, but this ruling did not force the removal of racial limitations from the property deeds. Because of this, segregation remains in property documents in fine print and serves as a historical reminder of the segregationist ideology that plagued many cities.

Wherever you live, the implications of that location are eminent and can affect your lifestyle considerably. While segregation has undoubtedly decreased in the past half a century there are still persistent pockets that put these aforementioned discriminatory practices in motion within major metropolises across the nation. Even though Americans would like to believe we have evolved enough to discredit and eliminate these segregational tactics, they still persist at some level today. Hopefully, in the near future, we can realize true equality across the board in American society.


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