Discrimination in Housing and its Effects in the United States by Jackson Ellis

Any argument about a topic as complex as housing discrimination must first be rooted in ample research about the topic. This research overview, centered on the issue of housing discrimination, works to make sense of the reasons behind such discrimination in the United States. By organizing research into sections, Ellis works towards his overall claim, presented in the last pages. After reading his research review, do you agree with his claim that intervention by the government is mostly ineffective in addressing this problem? If you were to create an argument paper in response to this one, what would it look like? How would you organize it?


In a country in which slavery and subjugation of one race was widely practiced from its founding up until 150 years ago from the present, it is unsurprising and in reality, expected that racial discrimination would still be occurring to some extent. Also in an unsurprising manner, this prejudice and discrimination has found its way into the housing market. Over the years, the federal government has made efforts to both increase the prevalence of discrimination and to assuage its effects depending on who was in power at the time. Unfortunately, the efforts to correct the problem have rarely, if ever, worked to benefit the minority populations. Housing is not just a question of where an individual lives either; it plays a role in many other parts of an individual’s life. Housing plays a great role in education, safety, health, and ability to improve one’s economic situation, amongst other things. Even today, with all the time, energy, and resources that have been put toward correcting this injustice, there is no clear cut,  tried and true, or immediate solution to this problem.

  1. The History of Racial Segregation

We will start the discussion of the history of housing discrimination in the United States, post-Civil War for various reasons, mainly that the majority of blacks were not free to live where they wanted (which is discrimination, but not really fair to compare against pre-Civil War dynamics) and that there is little to no data before then. First off, even though laws made during reconstruction theoretically prevented discrimination, they did not succeed anywhere more than marginally (Legalizing Discrimination…America). As mentioned earlier the failure of these laws extended into housing and other areas of life (Legalizing Discrimination…America). The average black person was almost no better off than they were before the civil war.

As if things could not get any worse for black families, the period of industrialization after the civil war lead to more discrimination, particularly in the North (The Industrial Revolution; The period…). Blacks began to move North and compete with white people for jobs (The Industrial Revolution; The period…). Despite ending slavery years earlier, whites in the North were not much more tolerant than whites in the South toward blacks. Once more, this lead to black people being disadvantaged in many aspects of life, not just housing alone.

The next big setback that black americans faced was the creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the implementation of their racist policies. Created in 1934, to correct unfair housing practices the FHA did in fact do that, for white americans (1934: Federal Housing Administration Created).  Black people on the other hand were not benefited as such; the poor areas occupied by both black and white people were transformed into all black ghettos (Madrigal). The FHA was able to accomplish their goal by a process of redlining, in which they sectioned off areas with large minority populations and labeled them bad for lending (1934: Federal Housing Administration Created). Their discrimination was not limited to this however, they also selectively gave blacks fewer loans than whites even if they lived in a non redlined zone as well as vice versa, giving whites in red lined districts better options for zones (Madrigal). This process lead to white people being able to leave poor areas and forced even more blacks into the poor areas. From this the unequal opportunity between races which was already prevalent grew even larger (Madrigal).

The most recent major shakeup to housing discrimination was in 1994, when the it was discovered that a Boston bank had been practicing discriminatory policies (Wallsion 2). A reinterpretation of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act put banks under legal pressure to not only give minorities fair consideration for housing loans but to actively try and succeed to provide them with these, even at a substantial risk to both parties (Wallison 4). Even with the noblest of intentions, this policy did not help anyone (Wallison 2). Minorities were put in horrible situations as they were given loans they had no chance of paying back, the same went for poor people of any ethnicity and most likely played a large part in the housing market crash in the 2000’s (Wallison). In the end, black families ended up in the same situation as they were before, but with more debt (Wallison 2). While this hurt all poor people who took out loans regardless of color, minorities were disproportionately affected since, due to previously mentioned policies and events, more of them were poor at the time and in worse housing situations (Wallison 2).

The sum of these events has accumulated into the poor housing market today for black americans. Not everything that happened had an immoral or discriminatory motive, but nonetheless, the situation was worsened because reality is not altered by intentions. A poor housing situation for blacks was close to inevitable after the start of slavery, the situation was simply stacked against them and government intervention has not helped them. This leads to a very sad reality today of racial inequality in housing markets which needs to be remedied.

  1. The Negative Effects of Housing Discrimination

Of course the real bad part of housing inequality is not limited to simply being stuck in a subpar home or apartment, it comes with what is tangent or dependent to where a person lives. This fact is very obvious to the great majority of people but many may also not see or put enough thought toward the subject to really understand just how far the consequences extend into an individual’s life. Where a person lives helps shape many important parts of their life, possibly more so than any other factor besides family and personal decisions.

The first and quite possibly the most negative side effect is lack of access to high quality K-12 education. Black teenagers in living in poor neighborhoods are 20% less likely to graduate high school than black students living in middle and upper class neighborhoods (Children Living In.. High School: Study). Surprisingly, the average black student living out of poverty is 1% more likely to graduate than a white student in the same situation yet white students in poverty are only 8% less likely than affluent white students to graduate (Children Living In.. High School: Study). Those statistics may be a little hard to follow so the numbers are as follows: percent chance to graduate for a black person who is not in poverty is 96, for a black person in poverty 46, for a white person out of poverty 95, and finally for a white person in poverty 87 (Children Living In.. High School: Study). If black students were able to move out of these poor neighborhoods, they would be much more likely to graduate than if they stayed there, since the data above shows that the better area a school is in, the more students they graduate. It’s not that the poverty level itself causes people to be unable to learn, it’s that the quality of school goes down in low income neighborhoods, this is how housing is related to education. The reason for the larger discrepancy for black students is not apparent but the correlation between the housing situation and graduation rate is undeniable, if this problem is fixed, graduation rates will improve as well, in turn fixing more problems. People who do not graduate high school are not very likely to have a secure career and it is functionally impossible to go to college without a diploma.

The next problem, which stems from education, is the unsafe environment which many low income neighborhoods foster. Any study when simplified to have two variables (crime and income) will show a directly proportional link between the two (How Income Inequality Affects Crime Rates). The fact that there are two variables is to demonstrate that there could be other factors that appear to influence crime as well but these also fluctuate with housing, leading us to the conclusion that housing is a determining factor; simplifying the study is not used as a qualifier.  Clearly, there are many negative things that come with living in a crime filled area. Individuals who would not otherwise join a gang or be involved in criminal activities will be encouraged to because people tend to do what those around them do. The safety of everyone in the community is compromised as violent crime increases. Incarceration rates rise and many young people are furthering the bad situation which these people are in. Single mother families are also more likely to result in children more prone to commit crime, and single mother families are commonly found in poorer areas (4.1 Million Single-Mother… Poverty: Census).

People who are involved in crime and have lacking education are not likely to be very well off economically because they cannot find employment. From this stems a wide variety of other serious problems. First off, healthcare is not ideal for people with low incomes, they have a hard time affording insurance, and while there is another option in medicaid, which is government ran, it is not as efficient as private insurance (Medicaid vs. Private Insurance). Many healthcare providers do not even accept medicaid as a form of payment (Medicaid vs. Private Insurance). Obviously this means that the availability of healthcare to poor people will be limited. Next, without a high school education it is harder to pass on knowledge and information to children, which leads to even more uneducated people through generations, the opposite of how the process should work. Also, the high concentration of minorities in one area allows for public officials to discriminate more easily, this is likely not a large problem but when an individual in a position of power knows where the majority of black people live, he/she has the means to discriminate if he/she would like to; the only thing else they would require (apart from a real motive of course) is a way to hide their true motive. One way this is done on a large scale is by defunding schools in largely black neighborhoods. Lawmakers may say that we need to fund the better schools more to incentivize learning but it does not make much sense to fund schools which are doing poorly less, since they need the most help (Does Common Core…The Most). Since most black schools are usually worse than their mixed race or primarily white counterparts these laws disproportionately affect them (Educational Achievement and Black-White Inequality). How, taking away funds from a school doing poorly could possibly be misconstrued to help them is quite puzzling.

I’m sure it obvious by now that these series of events lead to what is known as a cycle of poverty. What starts with poor housing leads to poverty and a chain of disadvantaged generations. People in these situations turn to crime and violence more often than people in more advantageous situations, and while this is an unfortunate reality there actions cannot be excused, they must pay the consequence for their actions. This cycle can last for a very long time and can only be broken by one person defying the odds and getting out of the cycle through hard work. This cycle started years and years ago, before any of the people who are currently in it were even born. Referring back to section I of the paper, the cycle started with slavery, and was perpetuated through the years by government intervention. While racial discrimination may not be playing a big part of what happens today, its effects from the past are still felt.

III. Previously Tried Solutions

Over the years the federal government has attempted many times to decrease housing discrimination. Many a time with little or no success. Even with wholehearted, good intentions, these proposed methods to solve the housing problem very often failed miserably. The most successful of the policies, counterintuitively, were the ones which were the most passive in regulation, or in other words, only prevented people from discriminating instead of “reverse discrimination.” Sometimes, what appeared as a solution was actually a way to increase inequality to an even higher margin, not only by mistake but by intention.

In fact, the first tried “solution” was the primary one which fit the category above of a way to disenfranchise blacks even more. This was the creation of the Federal Housing Administration. What appeared as a life line to many black people was actually a way to segregate them further. The FHA did not come close to awarding the amount of federally insured loans which they should have to black families (1934: Federal Housing Administration Created). Which allowed white families to move out of the very poor neighborhoods but caused blacks to be left behind. This created an even bigger problem than was already in existence, one that needed much more help down the road.

The next attempted solution, and only one that worked, was the civil rights act of 1968. This piece of legislation declared that discrimination by private realtors and individuals on the basis of race, sex, and ethnicity in housing was illegal (Fair Housing Act of 1968). The clear benefit of this was that the government could now prosecute those who were actively discriminating. This cut down on private discrimination obviously but still did not eliminate it (Fair Housing Act of 1968). Every single instance of this simply could not be found or proven so it was not a final solution but a great step on the way to the goal.

In the 1990s the federal government decided that they needed to actively try to integrate the neighborhoods of the United States. They reinterpreted the Community Reinvestment Act and made all banks give large loans to black people when they applied, and really people in general, no matter their economic status/situation (Wallison). This was an absolutely awful approach to correcting the issue and put black families as well as the country as a whole in a worse position. This policy, at least in part, also lead to the housing bubble burst in the 2000’s (Wallison). Black families ended up in debt but in the same poor housing situation, and the net effect was that no one benefitted and ironically, the people who the policy was shaped to help were hurt tremendously more.

  1. What Should be Done

Still today, it is quite apparent that housing discrimination is one of if not the biggest reasons black people are, on average, not able to achieve and prosper economically as other ethnicities are in the United States. This problem needs fixed as soon as it can be. This sense of urgency unfortunately leads to misplaced and inappropriate policy which hurts black families in the long run.

Affirmative action is one of these policies. In an article from Forbes in 1997, Thomas Sowell argues that blacks consistently underachieve where they are taught to believe that they are incapable of success on their own (Sowell). Places like academia and employers use affirmative action to attempt to help black people get out of the situation they are in, and this would work if all variables were stagnate but this is not the case. Sowell uses the industries of sports and entertainment, where blacks are overrepresented and not helped from affirmative action by any means to illustrate his point that, “It is where blacks are given double standards and coddled that they end up tarnished in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.” Affirmative action tends to create an expectation of failure or a qualifier or an asterisk put next to the achievements of blacks, which would discourage learning in anyone.  The link between this and housing may be hard to see at times but it always goes back to education, affirmative action leads to less black people achieving academically and therefore less families with the income to get out of the bad residential areas. Being stuck in this poor area with little access to education once again, perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

Another thing which could potentially be used to stop housing discrimination or lessen the effects of it is actively preventing white flight, or the act of whites leaving black residential areas. The primary place where this has occurred however is within the education system. A judge in Texas ruled that it was illegal for white students to transfer out of predominantly black schools (Barber). While this situation does not exactly apply to housing (even though housing and education are related closely) it is easy to see how this argument could be stretched into housing itself. While this would certainly work to integrate neighborhoods, it is an extremely unethical way to do so. Telling someone where and where not they can live is wrong, no matter what their reasons for moving are. If the government at any level were to step in and prevent a homeowner from buying or selling a home, they would be infringing that person’s civil liberties, which it unjust no matter how noble the cause. Once again, to emphasize the ramifications of this policy, just because an idea may work to fix a problem that does not mean it is appropriate to implement, the full context of the situation must be taken into account.
The best policy to end housing inequality directly is the only tried and true one that there is. Preventing realtors from steering black people to black neighborhoods and away from white or mixed race ones. This will allow blacks to work to move out of bad neighborhoods using their own means and desegregate themselves, while it may be harder to do this for those people even if discrimination is eliminated, it is very possible. There are countless examples of this, Ben Carson, who went from one of the worst neighborhoods in the country to become a neurosurgeon, is one of the first ones that comes to mind. Theses examples do not even have to be restricted to black people in poor areas; my own grandfather for example, a white man whose family had spent generations in the West Virginia coal fields, where work was not even rewarded with real currency, was able to train himself as a mechanical engineer while in the army without a high school education and obtain a good paying job upon his return to civilian life. Now my grandfather was not put in that situation from discrimination in the past by any means as many blacks are, but the point is, his situation was just as bad as any other person and he was able to manage it. If active discrimination is eliminated, eventually more and more people will be able to work their way out of poverty. The reason a person got in the situation they are in is irrelevant, it may be for horrible acts of past discrimination but this does not influence the solutions that work. Insuring that there are no individuals or companies working to keep these people down is the best policy to insure that they are not given any more adversity than they already have, giving them the opportunity to better themselves.  It may seem unsympathetic or careless to not give disadvantaged groups extra assistance but the fact of the matter is, that system of operating has let black families down and put them in even worse situations. It may feel as if blacks are helped by proactive policies on the surface but upon further analysis, this is just not true. As long as there is a clear way to eliminate discrimination where it is observed (through prosecution) that is all that is necessary to provide a fair way to eliminate the disparity in housing and in turn other manifestations of racial inequality. While this process will not be instantaneous of course, it will be effective over time and there is no proven way to expedite it. This is not a perfect solution to the problem but it is the best.

Conclusion

The problem of housing discrimination and inequality was started generations ago, the people that are suffering from it right now obviously did nothing to deserve the situation they are in. Intervention from government, however, has proven to be ineffective or adversely effective in the past and there is no reason to believe that this will change in the future.  It is very unfortunate that there is nothing that can be done to counteract this disadvantage which many people are given but this is just the reality we are stuck in. Insuring that there is very little discrimination is the best policy to implement. Despite possibly appearing to be an uncompassionate take, letting people do their own work to fix their problems is what needs to be done, no matter if it is their own fault that they are in that position or not. The immoral acts committed against black people in the past, both systematically and on an individual basis have been atrocious and are the main reason that the black population in the United States is generally segregated and worse off than their white counterparts. This is clearly an injustice but the errors of the past cannot be corrected with bad policy in the future.

 

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