Exodus of black residents from Chicago’s South Side

A long-time resident of Chicago’s South Side discusses the movement of black residents to other locations:

For South Side residents, the writing has been on the wall. Starting as a slow trickle into the suburbs as industrial jobs began drying up in the 1970s, black flight increased in the 2000s, with blacks seeking the suburbs like never before — as well as places like Georgia, Florida or Texas, according to U.S. Census data.

The population shift has folks like myself, left behind on the South Side, feeling like life after the rapture, with relatives, good friends and classmates vanishing and their communities shattering. A recent study found that nearly half of the city’s African-American men between 20 and 24 were unemployed or not attending college…

Every senseless death, every random shooting and every bullet-riddled weekend means another family, another frightened parent must make the decision to stay or go.

Those of us left behind must deal with the aftershocks: lessening political clout, limited public services and the creep of poverty and crime into neighborhoods like South Shore and Auburn-Gresham.

Even as some trumpet the demographic inversion of metropolitan areas other research suggests poor neighborhoods, particularly in Rust Belt cities, can often slowly lose residents. On one side, there is a lot of attention paid to whiter and wealthier residents moving into urban cores and hip neighborhoods while on the other side, little attention is granted to disadvantaged neighborhoods. In some of these neighborhoods, it is remarkable just how much open space there can be as buildings decay and few people clamor to move in (think of Detroit and its urban prairies as an example).

“How [residential] segregation destroys black wealth”

A recent New York Times editorial highlights the ongoing effects of residential segregation:

Despite being better qualified financially, black and Latino testers were shown fewer homes than their white peers, were often denied information about special incentives that would have made the purchase easier, and were required to produce loan pre-approval letters and other documents when whites were not.

Moreover, real estate agents enforced residential and school segregation by steering home buyers into neighborhoods based on race. Whites were encouraged to live where the schools were mainly white; African-Americans where schools were disproportionately black; and Latinos where schools were disproportionately Latino…

This history of discrimination has taken an enormous toll on black wealth, as is shown in research by Douglas Massey and Jonathan Tannen at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research. In 1970, two years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, for example, the average well-off black American lived in a neighborhood where potential home wealth, as measured by property values, stood at about only $50,000 — as opposed to $105,000 for affluent whites and $56,000 for poor whites.

By 2010, affluent African-Americans had passed poor whites in potential home wealth but had fallen further behind affluent whites. There is more than money at stake, Mr. Massey and Mr. Tannen write, because home values “translate directly into access to higher quality education given that public schools in the United States are financed by real estate taxes.”

From de jure to de facto segregation. The resources of the past went to white suburbia and the deck is still often stacked against black and Latino urban residents. And the wealth differences are large and this has consequences for subsequent generations.

This editorial appears to be motivated by a recent housing discrimination complaint. This reminds me of the conclusion of American Apartheid where the authors argue that although the United States has the laws on the books that would even out housing opportunities, we often lack the political will to enforce them. This book was published over twenty years ago and there appears to be truth to it still today…

Summarizing “How the Federal Government Built White Suburbia”

Richard Rothstein discusses how white suburbia was promoted by the federal government. Here are some of the ways in which white neighborhoods were promoted:

  • Federally funded public housing got its start in the New Deal. From the very beginning, public housing was segregated by race. Harold L. Ickes, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the most liberal member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s brain trust, proposed the “neighborhood composition rule,” which said that segregated public housing would preserve the segregated character of neighborhoods. (This was the liberal position. Conservatives preferred to build no public housing for black people at all.)
  • After World War II, the Federal Housing Administration (a precursor to HUD) and the Veterans Administration hired builders to mass-produce American suburbs—from Levittown near New York to Daly City in the Bay Area—in order to ease the post-war housing shortage. Builders received federal loans on the explicit condition that homes would not be sold to black homebuyers.
  • The Housing Act of 1949, a tentpole of President Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, greatly expanded the reach of the public housing program, which was then producing the most popular form of housing (!) in the country. In an effort to kill the bill, conservatives tried to tack on a “poison pill” to the legislation: an amendment that would have required public housing to be integrated.

Read on for more of the influential policies and decisions. In other words, that the American suburbs were dominated by whites was not a mistake or accident; it was the intent. And even though suburbs today are increasingly diverse, these earlier government actions still have significant consequences that can’t be ignored simply because they occurred in the past.

Viewing a neighborhood differently with white vs. black residents

A recent study asked people to look at the same neighborhood but with differences in the race of the residents:

In a study led by sociologist Maria Krysan at the University of Illinois at Chicago, people were asked to assess short video clips of neighborhoods with black and white actors posing as residents. Whites rated more positively the places that appeared to be white neighborhoods, compared to when the very same neighborhoods were shown with blacks. These two clips used in the study capture the same middle-class neighborhood in Detroit.

An interesting twist to use videos with similar scenes. But, the findings follow in a long line of studies that suggest whites and blacks are treated differently in mortgage applications, searches for rental housing, applying for jobs, buying a car, and other areas. Just having a different skin color provokes people to different perceptions and actions. Whites generally don’t want to live in neighborhoods with blacks though the opposite is not true. And just seeing blacks on the street might be enough to push whites away…

The doomed black suburb of Lincoln Heights, Ohio

Here is a look at an early black suburb outside of Cincinnati that has fallen on hard times in recent years:

Then, as Lincoln Heights residents waited to incorporate, the county allowed white landowners in nearby Woodlawn to incorporate, giving much of the western part of what would have been Lincoln Heights to the white town. Then the county gave much of the eastern part of what would have been Lincoln Heights to another new white town, Evendale, including the land where the Wright plant was located. The residents of Lincoln Heights challenged this move in court but lost…

When the county finally allowed the city to incorporate, in 1946, the boundaries were radically different than black residents had once hoped, encircling about 10 percent—one square mile—of the original proposal. The village now included no major factories or plants and no industrial tax base…

But over time, Lincoln Heights residents found it more difficult to maintain that sense of community. For one thing, the jobs in nearby towns in factories and chemical plants started to disappear as American manufacturing began to shrink in the 1970s and 1980s. As unemployment rose, Lincoln Heights lacked a tax base deep enough to underwrite community development and other social-welfare programs. Soon, it became obvious to anyone who grew up in Lincoln Heights that if you wanted to make something of yourself, you had to get out. People who grew up in Lincoln Heights and were lucky enough to go away to college didn’t come back. Those who stayed largely were the ones who couldn’t get out…

Last year, two nonprofit groups, the Cincinnatus Association and Citizens for Civic Renewal, put out a study that concluded that Cincinnati and its suburbs needed to cooperate—consolidate local governments and share services—to thrive. The idea was supported by an editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer, which argued that cooperation could reduce inequality.

This is a common story among American cities and suburbs: when annexation boxes in communities, they lose the possibility of enlarging their tax base through acquiring more land and development opportunities. See David Rusk’s work in Cities Without Suburbs for more about how elastic cities – those that could annex because of different state laws (primarily in the South and West as compared to the Rust Belt) – have more positive social and economic outcomes. Any suburb would have a hard time recovering from the loss of major job centers and that it was a black community only made it worse.

This case also contradicts the argument that minorities moving to the suburbs is necessarily a positive thing. There are many poor non-white suburban communities and it may be even more difficult to provide social services and pursue economic development there.

For a look at some of the early black suburbs in the United States, see Andrew Wiese’s Places of Their Own.

The “Black Tax”: higher property taxes for black homeowners in order to eventually seize homes

A new study looks at a practice common in Chicago and other cities where raised property taxes for black residents helped others take their homes:

Kahrl’s case study, which was released this month by the Journal of Urban History, traces the practice of tax-lien speculation to a 1951 reform in Illinois state law called the Revenue Act. During the same years when “redlining” emerged as a severely racially discriminatory mortgage practice, assessors in cities such as Chicago systemically over-valued homes in black neighborhoods for property-tax purposes…

Tax-lien speculation proved to be one hell of a business. Over the course of six months in 1973, for example, Gray acquired the deeds to 93 homes in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood for a total of $70,000. Each parcel was worth as much as $20,000 at the time—and potentially much, much more to speculators once all the neighborhood’s black residents had been evicted…

Not every tax-lien sale resulted in a transfer of deed, but they always resulted in a transfer of wealth. Many homeowners managed to pay off their liens at high interest rates—often 18 percent, the legal ceiling—along with a host of fees. Making real money depended on finding the poorest and most vulnerable owners in the poorest but most over-assessed neighborhoods. This practice was perfectly legal. The “Black Tax” was law…

The remarkably resilient predatory-tax-lien business continues to thrive, despite efforts at reform. The industry is enormous. Late in 2014, the Abell Foundation published a report on the state of the practice in Baltimore City. In 2013, the city sold tax liens for more than 2,000 owner-occupied homes. Almost one-tenth of these liens were attached to water bills. In 2014, of some 6,690 tax liens sold, 2,236 were for owner-occupied homes.

Given the interest, fees, and court costs, a homeowner’s $500 delinquent tax or water bill can mushroom to $3,000 over a two-year window—the time an owner has to pay down the lien. According to the report, there were 2,805 pending tax-lien foreclosure cases in Baltimore City in 2014. Noting the difficulty in tracking these tax-foreclosure evictions, the Abell Foundation report’s authors warn that in Baltimore, the “tax sale can lead to evictions, homelessness, and property vacancies and abandonment in a city already plagued by all three.”

More inequality via race and property in the United States. As if residential segregation wasn’t enough – ongoing lending practices and tax policies continue to make it difficult for blacks and other poor residents to build wealth over time.

Less residential segregation for black residents over the last few decades; better outcomes?

A sociologist discusses changes in where black Americans live over recent decades:

Over the past 70 years, housing segregation in America has decreased to the point where most African Americans no longer live in neighborhoods that are mostly black, said Mary Pattillo, a Northwestern University sociology professor who spoke Thursday at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems.

Ms. Pattillo, who studies and writes about the black middle class and residential patterns, said that from 1940 to 2010, the percentage of African Americans nationwide who lived in a majority-black neighborhood fell from 62 percent to 42 percent. Even in the Chicago metro area, which historically has had high segregation rates, the percentage living in majority black neighborhoods fell from 90 percent in 1940 to 68 percent today…

Efforts to reduce official housing discrimination and the rise of the black middle class have led to many more African Americans living in the suburbs. And while many suburbs have become mostly black, the majority of them have not, she said.

Another national trend that has reduced the concentration of blacks in certain city neighborhoods has been the destruction of large public housing complexes and their replacement with more mixed-income housing plans.

Finally, in many major metropolitan areas, the growth of the Latino population has created many mixed black-Hispanic neighborhoods. South Central Los Angeles, long an iconic black region, is now mostly Latino, she noted.

Still, the news is not all good even if residential segregation has declined.

1. Residential segregation for blacks is still persistent and white-black segregation is still higher than for other groups.

2. Moving to the suburbs or altering housing projects may be good but it doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. What are the economic conditions in these suburbs (often majority-minority communities and/or inner-ring suburbs) or where do these public housing residents go (it is unknown or to similarly poor neighborhoods)?

3. Declining residential segregation may need time before we can see significant effects. Simply moving poor black residents to communities with more resources – like in the Gautreaux Program or Moving To Opportunity – doesn’t immediately change things. It may be a generation or two before we see improvement.

Growing Latino populations in American cities

Latinos constitute a growing share of American urban populations, raising implications for future political races:

While many cities are experiencing an influx of young whites, those gains are more than offset by the continuing exodus of working- and middle-class whites. The result is a net decline nationwide of the white share of city populations.

Hispanic ascendance is apparent in both cities and suburbs, increasing the likelihood of the election of Latinos to local, state and federal office.

Over time, blacks stand to lose leverage. Cities have been a crucial base of power for African-American politicians. Insofar as the black population becomes diffuse, black leaders will have to grapple with a decline in black-majority districts, especially city council districts, in cities with declining black populations…

Frey pointed toward the rapidly increasing strength of the Latino vote in the 100 largest metropolitan areas. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of city dwellers in such areas who are Hispanic grew to 26 percent from 17 percent; and the share of suburban residents who are Hispanic rose to 17 percent from 8 percent.

Some striking demographic changes that have potential consequences in areas like politics. The changes are numerous: an influx of younger, educated whites into city centers even as whites leave other areas of cities; an increase in the suburbanization of blacks; and growing Latino populations in both cities and suburbs. These changes may not quickly become apparent in the political landscape but should at least draw the attention of political operators. For example, is incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel really in danger in the run-off election? Given the demographic changes in large cities like Chicago, perhaps.

Loss of housing wealth hits black suburbanites hard

The housing and economic crisis of the last decade has hit black suburbanites particular hard:

But today, the nation’s highest-income majority-black county stands out for a different reason — its residents have lost far more wealth than families in neighboring, majority-white suburbs. And while every one of these surrounding counties is enjoying a strong rebound in housing prices and their economies, Prince George’s is lagging far behind, and local economists say a full recovery appears unlikely anytime soon…

The recession and tepid recovery have erased two decades of African American wealth gains. Nationally, the net worth of the typical African American family declined by one-third between 2010 and 2013, according to a Washington Post analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, a drop far greater than that of whites or Hispanics…

Not only is African American wealth down, but the chances of a quick comeback seem bleak. Just over a decade ago, homeownership — the single biggest engine of wealth creation for most Americans — reached a historic high for African Americans, nearly 50?percent. Now the black homeownership rate has dipped under 43?percent, and the homeownership gap separating blacks and whites is at levels not seen in a century, according to Boston University researcher Robert A. Margo…

Many researchers say the biggest portion of the wealth gap results from the strikingly different experiences blacks and whites typically have with homeownership. Most whites live in largely white neighborhoods, where homes often prove to be a better investment because people of all races want to live there. Predominantly black communities tend to attract a narrower group of mainly black buyers, dampening demand and prices, they say…

Scholars who have studied this dynamic and real estate professionals who have lived it say the price differences go beyond those that might be dictated by the perceived quality of schools, or the public and commercial investment made in particular neighborhoods. The big difference maker, they say, is race.

In other words, simply promoting homeownership – a key part of the ideal of the American Dream and also something taken as a sign that various groups have made it – is not the complete answer for thinking about equality among different groups. What homes people own and where they are located also matter. Decades of research in urban sociology and related areas shows that blacks and other minorities often don’t live in the same suburban settings as white suburbanites. Their homes tend to be located in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods that have higher non-white populations. This is due to a variety of reasons including long-term white wealth that gives whites better opportunities to move to wealthier and whiter places, zoning practices in wealthier communities that tend to limit cheaper or affordable housing (examples here and here), mobility patterns among whites that show they leave neighborhoods and communities as they become more non-white (the process of “white flight” continues in some suburban areas), and patterns of mortgage lending as well as renting that tend to take advantage of poorer and non-white residents. Tackling the issue of residential segregation still matters today even as more minorities and poor residents move to the suburbs.

 

Black congregation in Seattle follows its members to the suburbs

Here is one illustration of the demographic changes in American suburbs: an African-American church heads for Seattle’s suburbs.

The Rev. Leslie David Braxton saw the writing on the wall in 1999. Members of his former congregation at Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Central District were moving south, and in Seattle, the black middle class was already starting to shrink…

A data junkie and sociologist by training, the reverend rattles off statistics effortlessly. In 1999, he gleaned that in 20 years, the Central District wouldn’t be the epicenter of the black community…

He pushed for Mount Zion to open a satellite campus south of the city. After some internal conflicts, he resigned and, in 2005 started his own church, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, south of Seattle…

“We’re sitting on 8½ acres. There’s no way you’d be able to get that kind of property in the city.” And, if a similar building existed, he said, “it certainly wouldn’t be affordable.”

To Braxton, there’s an upside, however. For many black families, the suburbs offer an opportunity to live out the American dream — good schools, the house with a two-car garage and a spacious yard — far more easily than the city. It’s a reversal, he says, of white flight, common in the East Coast.

Churches can often go where a majority of their members go. The pattern described here sounds similar to that of numerous white urban churches after World War II: as whites moved to the suburbs, so did a number of the congregations. Such moves weren’t necessarily immediate; it took time for some established institutions to leave buildings and neighborhoods where they may have been for decades and/or served multiple waves of white immigrants.

But, the suburbs today have a wider range of residents including more non-whites, immigrants, and lower- and working-class people. Suburban religious congregations already reflect some of these changes and will likely demonstrate these further in the future.