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What Ben Carson should learn about housing segregation

Roundup
tags: Ben Carson, HUD



Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a fellow of the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and of the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). He is the author of "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America," forthcoming in 2017.

President-elect Donald Trump proposes to nominate Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Mr. Carson has expressed opposition to the Obama administration’s new HUD requirement that cities and suburbs develop plans to end their segregation or face possible loss of federal funds. He calls this “social engineering,” and says that such well-intentioned programs have unintended consequences that their proponents later come to regret. Instead, he says, emphasis should be placed on revitalizing distressed minority neighborhoods in central cities.

What Mr. Carson’s view ignores is that the racial segregation of every metropolitan area in the nation is also the result of “social engineering”—the purposeful efforts of federal, state, and local governments to create and enforce the residential separation of the races. What the Obama administration has begun are plans to undo this social engineering. Failing to continue these plans doesn’t avoid social engineering—it perpetuates it.

Mr. Carson has said that his experience growing up in Detroit gives him insight into the plight of distressed segregated urban neighborhoods, but he may not be familiar with how, in Detroit, those neighborhoods deteriorated. Here are some examples of facts he should know, to place decisions about whether to desegregate those neighborhoods in their proper context:

● In the 1940s and 50s, one of the most important issues in Detroit’s mayoral elections was where public housing should be placed. Two successful candidates, Mayors Edward Jeffries and Albert Cobo, vowed to place public housing only in already heavily black neighborhoods. In 1948-49, the Detroit City Council held hearings on 12 proposed public housing projects in outlying (predominantly white) areas. Mayor Cobo vetoed all 12; only housing in predominantly black areas was approved. At the time, there was an enormous civilian housing shortage, and both whites and blacks needed public housing. Had the rejected sites been approved, families of both races would have resided in public housing located throughout the city, setting an integrated pattern that might well persist to this day. Failing to permit this was the social engineering of segregation.

● During this period, one developer applied to the federal government for financing to construct housing in Detroit that would be restricted to white families only. Fearing possible future integration, the Federal Housing Administration approved his application only on condition that he construct a concrete wall, six feet high and a foot thick, to separate the proposed development from a neighborhood where African Americans lived. Thus did the federal government socially engineer the segregation of Detroit.

● During World War II, the federal government constructed a bomber plant outside Detroit in Willow Run, then a rural, undeveloped, area where there was no previous pattern of segregation. Nonetheless, the government built housing for families whose members worked in Willow Run, and restricted the housing to whites only. African Americans not only couldn’t live near the plant, with no way to get there for the most part they couldn’t even work in it. This was social engineering of segregation.

●Hamtramck is a city almost entirely encircled by Detroit. In the 1950s, it was overwhelmingly Polish. The city’s 1959 master plan called for a “program of population loss,” referring to its small number of African Americans. In 1962, with federal urban renewal funds, the city began to demolish African Ameri­can neighborhoods. Twelve years later, a federal appeals court concluded that HUD officials knew that the purpose of the plan was to force African Americans out of the city and into Detroit’s African American areas. This was social engineering. The court opinion stated: “The record supports a finding that HUD must have known of the indications of overt prejudice among some of the persons involved in carrying out the urban renewal projects of the City.”

● Public officials in Detroit suburbs adopted explicit policies to exclude African Americans, preventing them from leaving the neighborhoods where Ben Carson grew up. In 1956, for example, the mayor of Dearborn, a suburb to the west of Detroit, announced, “Negroes can’t get in here. Every time we hear of a Negro moving in, we respond quicker than you do to a fire. That’s generally known.” One black family that purchased a Dearborn home in defiance of the city policy found its gas turned off and garbage uncollected, and finally moved out. The mayor of Warren, a suburb to the north of Detroit, announced “I won’t tolerate Warren being used as a guinea pig for integration experiments.” Other suburbs maintained similar policies, social engineering the concentration of African Americans in the city itself. ...

Read entire article at Economic Policy Institute


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