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Poor Policy: The History of Housing in Black America

Racial Segregation and Concentrated Poverty:

Segregation is the practice of requiring separate housing, education and other services for people of color. Segregation was made law several times in 19th- and 20th-century America as some believed that Black and white people were incapable of coexisting.

In the lead-up to the liberation of enslaved people under the Thirteenth Amendment, abolitionists argued about what the fate of slaves should be once they were freed.

One group argued for colonization, either by returning the formerly enslaved people to Africa or creating their own homeland. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln recognized the ex-slave countries of Haiti and Liberia, hoping to open up channels for colonization, with Congress allocating $600,000 to help. While the colonization plan did not pan out, the country, instead, set forth on a path of legally mandated segregation. 

Modern Day

The existence of poor, largely African American communities in urban areas across the nation is “not the unintended effect of benign policies” but of “explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government,” Richard Rothstein, a senior fellow at Berkeley Law and a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, tells Fresh Air’ s Terry Gross in a radio interview. “We are reaping the fruits of those policies.”

On Jan. 26, 2021, President Joe Biden signed four executive orders designed to address racial equity in the United States. With one particular action Biden hopes to right the historical wrongs Black folks have faced when it comes to housing and homeownership in this country.

Per a White House statement, “The President will direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take steps necessary to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies that have contributed to wealth inequality for generations.”

And that’s why the story of what housing and other living conditions look like for many Black Americans is pretty bleak. It’s by design.



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