Housing Segregation

A home in Historic Guilford
west balt
Row-houses in West Baltimore

Growing up in Baltimore has offered vast opportunities to witness, firsthand, the tremendous racial divide in our city’s neighborhoods today. My own school, Friends School of Baltimore, located in the historic and predominately white neighborhood of Roland Park, is no more than a few miles away from some of the poorest and majority-black neighborhoods in the city.

To trace this modern-day segregation to its roots, it is necessary to return to the housing sector of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. While the New Deal succeeded in improving infrastructure, and putting Americans back to work, it miserably failed to diversify cities and ensure equal housing, regardless of race or ethnicity.

One of the New Deal’s leading organizations, the Public Works Association (PWA,) set the tone early by segregating black and white public housing. Originally, public housing was meant to provide housing for white middle-to-lower class working families, struggling from housing shortages. Black public housing was built entirely separately. Because white families could afford housing elsewhere, white projects had large numbers of vacancies and black projects had long waiting lists. Public Housing was swiftly turned from housing for white, working class families, to vertical slums for the poor black population.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) then took additional steps to ensure that the divide was complete. In 1934, Homer Hoyt became the FHA’s chief economist. In Hoyt’s 1933 Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago, he ranked nationalities in terms of their “real estate desirability,” with black people second to last, ahead of only Mexicans. The FHA’s underlining racism was public and well-known. Thus, not long after the PWA began their construction of segregated public housing, the FHA subsidized the mass production of single-family home suburbs, on one condition: None of these homes could be sold to black families. Even the deed of these new homes included clauses that, by law, prevented the resale of these homes to black families. White, working-class families then began moving out of public housing and into these new suburbs. The FHA’s justification of this lawful segregation was that if black people bought homes in or near these suburbs, the property values of these homes would be in danger. However, the opposite is true: when black families moved into newer and nicer neighborhoods, property values went up because black families were willing to pay more to escape their restricted housing options. It would take until 1948 for the Supreme court to recognize these restrictions on black families in the housing market as unconstitutional.

In addition to the FHA’s outright denial of black families in their subsidized communities, the FHA also assured that anywhere where black people lived or lived near would be denied fair loans and mortgages. Using a method dubbed “Redlining,” these black neighborhoods were colored red on FHA maps to advise caution to banks. Housing in these neighborhoods would not be insured, repaired, or aided by banks or the federal government. On the contrary, the best neighborhoods were colored green. In Baltimore, these included the still heavily-white communities of Homeland and Guilford. These neighborhoods were regarded highly by banks and mortgage brokers. Thus, while families in white neighborhoods were served excellently, black families were forced to agree to much less reliable financing. The continued divide and inequality between these white and black neighborhoods offers insight into the current dislocation of wealth.

Much of the current wealth gap in many major American cities is due to home equity. Black families today make ~60% the income of white families. However, their wealth accounts for only 5% of white families. It is very clear that the FHA’s restrictions on black families is directly correlated with the tremendous wealth gap in America today. White families, in buying new housing with great potential in new suburbs, were able to gain equity on their homes for the entirety of their ownership. This provided opportunities to request home equity loans, and for significant wealth acquisition. Black families, on the other hand, who could have afforded houses in the new suburbs during the New Deal Era could no longer afford them years later because they had not acquired equal equity of the white families living in those communities. The market was now way too high for these black families to afford suburban housing.

It is clear that the modern-day segregation of American cities is not a result of social stances or societal norms, but of a deep-rooted racism within the federal government itself. The New Deal helped to lift America out of depression, but it would also establish a standard of oppression and segregation in housing that still plagues black Americans today.



“A ‘Forgotten History’ of How the U.S. Government Segregated America”: An NPR Fresh Air interview with author Richard Rothstein, linked below:


Not in My Neighborhood, by Antero Pietila


Lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom I

Tomorrow, I will be giving an Ignite presentation on the subject of Operation Iraqi Freedom I, a 2003 military campaign, led by President George W. Bush, to remove Saddam Hussein’s horrifying regime in Iraq.

In my research and analysis on this particular involvement, I find evidence of the constant uncertainty of what foreign engagement will ultimately entail. It is impossible to predict the various doors that will be opened as a result of direct action. This theme of uncertainty is ever-present in Operation Iraqi Freedom I.

President Bush went into the operation with two main goals: to expel Saddam Hussein and his government following from Iraq, and to establish a self-governing, democratic, Iraqi government. If the operation was simply judged on these two goals, it would be deemed a great success; US troops invaded the country, swiftly took control of its capital, Baghdad, captured Saddam Hussein and many of his following, and established a self-governing government, which would host two nationwide elections in the years proceeding the operation.

However, this success did not come without consequences. President Bush and the United States were unable to predict was the extensive, prolonged, and extremely expensive involvement in Iraq that would follow in the decade(s) to come. While Iraq was liberated from the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, its backyard soon became the front lines of the war on terror. With terrorist groups, mainly al-Qaeda, finding sanctuary in Iraq’s mountains and deserts, the US was unable to completely withdraw from the country in time, as was initially expected. A withdrawal would have allowed for a blossoming of recruitment, weapons acquisitions, and freedom to plan and execute attacks for terrorist groups. To withdraw, for the US, would have been to go back on the very reason it entered: to remove an oppressive government and prevent the buildup of weapons and weapons of mass destruction, that could pose a significant threat to the safety of the western world.

President Bush was justified in his initial entry of Iraq by the danger that the Saddam Hussein regime posed to global safety and security. While the US was not the only nation in danger, it was the only nation with the power and ability to swiftly execute the operation, and bring peace to the oppressed Iraqi citizens. What Bush was unable to predict was the rise in terrorist activity that would follow. This unexpected consequence serves as a great example of the uncertainty that accompanies all foreign engagements still in our world today.

Why Immigrate?

Over the course of our unit on immigration, we have come across many origins of immigration into America. Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America have all sent immigrants to the United States. When looking at people of different origins, from all over the world, it is important that we understand why they are here (in America) in order to better understand our population, and the state of the world as a whole.

When looking back on the history of America, our nation was discovered by accident. Europeans made up the first wave of immigrants, as many hoped to find a better life in the new land. However, this initial wave of immigrants was accompanied by a forced migration, the transatlantic slave trade. In 1790, fourteen years after America achieved its independence, people of African origin made up the second largest population in the territorial United States, behind Europe. These African immigrants did not come to America of their own free will, rather were forced from their homes, their countries, their families, and sold into a life of slavery in the Caribbean and American south. The transatlantic slave trade is the single largest forced migration in world history, and whether we like it or not, defines the history of our nation and the Atlantic world, and explains, in large part, the diverse society that makes up the United States.

In my DPLA Primary Source project, I studied the immigration of Puerto Ricans into America in the 1950s and 60s. There were a few very clear factors that motivated many Puerto Ricans to come to the United States. In 1953, Puerto Rico had a suffocating population density of 646.6 persons per sq. mile, compared to 49.9 persons in the US. Just as air moves from higher to lower pressure, Puerto Ricans migrated to America to escape the high pressure of its population. In addition, this high population density was often worsened by the poor city slums and hillside farms which were comprised of the country’s poorest, condensed together. Puerto Rico also had very few resources. Its economy depends entirely on agricultural production, therefore during droughts, and off-season lulls, the majority of the population takes a financial hit, and many are left out of work. Inequality in land-ownership was deeply entrenched in Puerto Rican society, and was responsible for much of the hardships that its citizens faced. The sugar plantations and valuable, fertile, coastal land was owned by wealthy landowners, leaving most of the population landless, with no opportunity for career growth or increased land ownership. Thus through my research, I found that Puerto Ricans were likely migrating to America to escape the conditions at home, and find better work, living conditions, and financial opportunities.

In a way, the US population tells the story of the world. From the slave trade back in the 1700s-1800s, all the way through the modern Syrian refugee crisis, America represents a wide range of immigrants fleeing, searching, hoping, or even being forced into the world around us. To understand our nation, and its people, we cannot simply look at the stats, the pie charts, and the simple data surrounding where our people come from. Rather, we must investigate, to find WHY we came to this country, in order to better understand our past, as individuals, and as a country.

Initial Thoughts on Immigration

Thus far in our unit on immigration, I have come to a new understanding regarding the difficulties facing young immigrants, often students as well. In watching the documentary, “I Learn America,” I was amazed by the ability of certain student-immigrants, often lacking a background in English language, to remain positive and work and strive for their diploma, GED, college admission, etc. One student in particular started school with no motivation, making to effort to adhere to his teachers wishes or do any work at all. His English not very developed, and he was done running, trying to learn a new language, assimilate into a new culture. However, with the continued care and gentle pressure given to him by faculty eventually motivated him to read a story (in English) at a school event. Eventually, later in the year, when his family moved two hours away from his school, he even made the four hour round trip each day just to get to school and back. In seeing the journey of these students, I also came to a new realization on how important it is for them to have passionate mentors looking out for them. One female student, who was destined for an arranged marriage, and a life of wifehood, instead graduated and went on to a two-year college, all thanks to the support she received from an English teacher.  Even though this new plan went against the original wishes, her father understood the incredible opportunity she was presented with, and continued to support her. However, it is often difficult for immigrants, especially children, to determine to what extent they can assimilate into a new culture before betraying their heritage, or going against their families’ wishes. The student was ready to give in, and accept the future she was handed, until she was provided the motivation to seek a better life by this teacher. This leads me to believe that it is absolutely necessary for schools with high immigrant populations to be led by teachers and role models who are eager to help students new to America reach their goals. The sad truth of the matter, however, is that it often tends to be public schools in poor districts that have the highest percent of immigrant students, yet not the funds nor the means to help these students succeed. In order for foreign students to have an opportunity for a better life and education in America, I believe that our nation needs to focus more on immigration schools such as the one documented in “I Learn America.”

I have also been able to learn more about the state of immigration in the United States post-election. What is most obvious to me, and is confirmed for me in the article, “The Truth About Mexican-Americans,” is the stereotyping and generalization of the Mexican-American population in this past election, and how this rhetoric played to the fears of the American people, and thus helped achieve victory for the president-elect, Donald Trump. Trump left nothing up to question very early on in his campaign, as he stated, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Trump’s claims, while incredibly prejudiced, boosted him in the polls. The article recalls how Trump expanded this argument in his immigration plan, “Immigration Reform that Will Make America Great Again,” in which he claimed that the Mexican government was taking advantage of the United States. Trump continued to lead the polls, thus forcing his competitors, such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, to change their entire beliefs on immigration in order to continue to remain competitive in the race. Trump understood that it would be easy to make Americans fear that they were becoming marginalized in their own country. Thus, he made every effort to focus his stance on immigration around this fear, and it ultimately paid off.  

In the documentary, students saw great benefits when supported and motivated by other individuals. In the article, however, the paranoia and fear surrounding new immigrants is revealed. While one high school is a small scale, it can set an example for how we as a country can better support new immigrants.