Listening & Changing
Real estate and land use policy have been used to systematically divide us for decades; now we must use it to bring us together.
On July 23, 2020, ULI Philadelphia, in partnership with Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. hosted a conversation with Richard Rothstein, author of the Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America. Rothstein’s presentation touched on how many metropolitan areas in the United State came to be racially segregated. This program was organized in response to ULI Philadelphia’s Black Lives Matter statement, which committed to convening programming on the harmful legacy of past and current development policies and practices that segregate Black and Brown communities.
Throughout the book, Rothstein refutes the idea that housing segregation is the result of millions of ‘de facto’ individual private choices that can only be undone by accident. Instead he uses his extensive research to prove how segregation is ‘de jure’ and the byproduct of a century of explicitly racist government policies at the local, state, and federal levels. He initially became interested in this topic in 2007 as an education policy analyst, after reading the Supreme Court decision, Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District No.1, in which the school district had implemented a choice schools program, giving parents an option to select their children’s school and used racial demographics to determine ‘tiebreakers’ once a school was filled, effectively keeping races separated. The plan was deemed unconstitutional in a 5-4 ruling led by Chief Justice John Roberts and thus peaked Rothestein’s interest in housing as the true root of our education and segregation problems.
In his presentation, Rothstein outlined various federal and state policies that contributed to discriminatory practices in housing, including racial zoning ordinances, racial covenants, slum clearances, blockbusting, redlining and state sanctioned violence. In many instances, mobs protected by police used violence to drive African Americans out of homes that they had purchased or rented in white neighborhoods. This was not only unconstitutional but was also a civil rights violation and an action forced by the government to enforce racial boundaries; many of which have not been remedied to this day. Post-World War II, the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration refused to guarantee bank loans to developers unless they agreed not to sell houses to African Americans and required deed restrictions on properties prohibiting the resale or rentals to African Americans. The list of unconstitutional violations and policies that created and sustained racial segregation goes on and on
Following Richard’s remarks, Eleanor Sharpe, Deputy Director, Division of Planning & Zoning for the Philadelphia Department of Planning and Development and Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission moderated and curated a discussion from over 100 audience questions. Among the broader themes and take-aways from this conversation were:
ULI Philadelphia would like to thank everyone who joined the program from across the country and to Mr. Rothestein for sharing his expertise with us and offering an extremely important and timely discussion on race and equity within the real estate and land use industry.
Eliana Lozano is a member of ULI Philadelphia’s Young Leaders Group and an Associate at JPMorgan Chase & Co. where she works on Acquisitions marketing.