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  • On October 21st, 1909, 125 residents of an affluent Minneapolis neighborhood

  • approached William Simpson, who'd just bought a plot in the area,

  • and told him to leave.

  • The Simpsons would be the second Black family

  • in the otherwise white neighborhood, where they intended to build a home.

  • When the Simpsons refused offers to buy them out,

  • their neighbors tried blocking their home's construction.

  • They finally moved into their house, but the incident had a ripple effect.

  • Just a few months after the mob harassed the Simpsons,

  • the first racially restrictive covenant was put into place in Minneapolis.

  • Covenants are agreements in property deeds that are intended to regulate

  • how the property is to be used.

  • Beginning in the mid-1800s,

  • people in the United States and elsewhere began employing them in a new way:

  • specifically, to racially restrict properties.

  • They wrote clauses into deeds that were meant to prevent all future owners

  • from selling or leasing to certain racial and ethnic groups,

  • especially Black people.

  • Between 1920 and 1950,

  • these racial covenants spread like wildfire throughout the US,

  • making cities more segregated and the suburbs more restricted.

  • In the county encompassing Minneapolis,

  • racial covenants eventually appeared on the deeds to more than 25,000 homes.

  • Not only was this legal,

  • but the US Federal Housing Administration

  • promoted racial covenants in their underwriting manual.

  • While constructing new homes,

  • real estate developers began racially restricting them from the outset.

  • Developments were planned as dream communities for American families

  • but for white people only.

  • In 1947, one company began building what became widely recognized

  • as the prototype of the postwar American suburb: Levittown, New York.

  • It was a community of more than 17,000 identical homes.

  • They cost around $7,000 each and were intended to be affordable

  • for returning World War II veterans.

  • But, according to Levittown's racial covenants, none of the houses

  • couldbe used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race,”

  • with one exception: servants.

  • Between 1950 and 1970,

  • the population of the American suburbs nearly doubled

  • as white people flocked to more racially homogenous areas

  • in a phenomenon known aswhite flight.”

  • The suburbs spread,

  • replacing native ecosystems with miles of pavement and water-guzzling lawns.

  • And their diffuse layout necessitated car travel.

  • American automobile production quadrupled between 1946 and 1955,

  • cementing the nation's dependence on cars.

  • Federal programs like the G.I. Bill offered American veterans

  • favorable lending rates for buying homes.

  • But it was difficult for people of color to take advantage of such resources.

  • Racial covenants restricted them from certain neighborhoods.

  • And, at the same time, government programs labelled neighborhoods of color

  • bad investments and often refused to insure mortgages in those areas.

  • Therefore, banks usually wouldn't lend money to people purchasing property

  • in neighborhoods of color— a practice that became known as redlining.

  • So, instead of owning homes that increased in value over time,

  • creating wealth that could be passed to future generations,

  • many people of color were forced to spend their income on rent.

  • And even when they were able to buy property,

  • their home's value was less likely to increase.

  • The suburbs boasted cul-de-sacs and dead ends that minimized traffic.

  • Meanwhile, city planners often identified redlined neighborhoods

  • as inexpensive areas for industrial development.

  • So, the massive freeway projects of the mid-20th century

  • disproportionately cut through redlined neighborhoods,

  • accompanied by heavy industry and pollution.

  • As a result, many neighborhoods of color experience higher rates

  • of drinking water contamination, asthma, and other health issues.

  • People targeted by racial covenants increasingly challenged them in court

  • and, in 1968, they were finally banned under the Fair Housing Act.

  • But the damage had been done.

  • Racial covenants concentrated wealth and amenities in white neighborhoods

  • and depressed the conditions and home values in neighborhoods of color.

  • As of 2020, about 74% of white families in the US owned their homes,

  • while about 44% of Black families did.

  • That gap is greatest in Minnesota's Twin Cities.

  • Across the country, neighborhoods remain segregated

  • and 90% of all suburban counties are predominantly white.

  • Some landlords, real estate agents, and lenders

  • still discriminate against people based on race

  • rejecting them, steering them to and away from certain neighborhoods,

  • or providing inaccessibly high interest rates.

  • Gentrification and exclusionary zoning practices also still displace

  • and keep people of color out of certain neighborhoods.

  • Racial covenants are now illegal.

  • But they can still be seen on many housing deeds.

  • The legacy of racial covenants is etched across the pristine lawns

  • of the American suburbs.

  • It's a footnote in the demographic divides of every city.

  • And it's one of the insidious architects of the hidden inequalities

  • that shape our world.

On October 21st, 1909, 125 residents of an affluent Minneapolis neighborhood

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What you might not know about the suburbs - Kevin Ehrman-Solberg and Kirsten Delegard

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    Jimmy posted on 2022/04/23
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