The story of housing discrimination is rooted in a long history of segregation, redlining, and exclusionary financial lending and housing policies. For whites, homeownership in America has been widely accessible. This has not been true for people of color, who have been systemically blocked from building wealth associated with homeownership. Some of the racial groups systemically blocked from homeownership include Native Americans who were stripped of their land, Asian immigrants who were precluded from becoming naturalized citizens for decades, and Blacks who were enslaved and denied opportunities to establish economic mobility and security.
This history has present-day implications for Black folks in California.
Pete White, a member of the CA Black Census and Redistricting Hub, has been working in the housing justice movement for decades. Check out Pete’s perspective on what’s at stake for Black housed and unhoused Californians, redistricting, and the housing justice movement.
Taylor Sims, a member of the CA Black Census and Redistricting Hub, is an advocate for students and youth in her Pittsburg, CA community. Check out Taylor’s view on what’s at stake for Black youth in California, redistricting, and the housing justice movement.
California has a long history of passing racially restrictive housing policies, laws, and covenants.1 This legal discrimination permeates all facets of housing policy and practice–from the treatment of those who are renters, to those who are living on the streets, to those who are seeking housing or are one paycheck away from losing housing. This history of structural exclusion has perpetuated Black poverty and oppression, and also mobilized a movement for housing justice in our state.
THE GREAT MIGRATION (1910 – 1970)
Throughout the Great Migration, 6 million Blacks migrated from the South to northern and western cities, fleeing racism, violence, and lack of opportunity.2 We witnessed the Mexican Repatriation, which called for mass deportations of Mexican-Americans, Japanese internment camps, Alien Land Laws barring Asians from land ownership, and “sundown” towns where people of color were barred from public spaces after dusk.
In the 1920s to 1950s, amid the boom in state-aided access to homeownership for whites, California implemented a number of policies inhibiting homeownership for Blacks. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was created to increase homeownership during the Great Depression, insured home mortgages for whites, but formalized redlining, which systematically withheld financial support from homebuyers in Black neighborhoods.3 California’s racially restrictive housing covenants, which white homeowners introduced in the deeds of their homes, blocked people of color from buying houses.4 Almost 80% of Los Angeles carried covenants that banned Black families from buying homes, which further segregated and concentrated L.A.’s Black communities.5
In the 1970s to 2000s, at the same time that America declared the War on Drugs, local city governments focused on addressing “urban blight and decay.”6 A renewed desire among white suburbanites to move out of the suburbs and back to the cities led to massive urban renewal projects, which were colloquially referred to as “Negro Removal” by Blacks.7 After being legally denied access to homeownership for decades, our Black renters were left out of urban development planning and “priced out” of the cities we called home.8
SINCE THE EARLY 2000s
Since the early 2000s, the majority of California renters, and more specifically, over 63% of Black renters, have spent more than ⅓ of their income on rent.9 In California, almost 80% of low-income households spend more than half of their income on rent.10
Since 2003, federal funding for the operation and upkeep of California’s public housing has declined by 37%.11 For example, section 8 vouchers, which provide financial assistance for housing rentals to 300,000 very low-income families across California, lost $140 million in funding across the state between 2010 and 2015.12 The enduring effects of removing these critical safety net programs are evident in our state’s large number of unhoused Black communities.
OVER THE PAST FEW DECADES
Over the past few decades, the high number of unhoused people is partly attributed to high eviction rates, which tend to target households of color. A 2018 survey in San Francisco found that over the previous five years, 21% of Black respondents were threatened with eviction, as compared to 12% of white respondents.13 Almost 35% of “Latinx and Black residents reported they would have no other housing options if forced to leave their current living situation.”14 Today, Blacks in California represent 8% of the state population, and yet almost 35% of those without housing.15
Throughout history, Black America has built a cultural and political home in places where we have been denied legal and economic access to homeownership. Although we represent only 36.8% of homeownership in California, we have helped establish California as a cultural touchstone in America.16 Black influence in California can be seen in the music, food, fashion, civic engagement, and infrastructure in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, San Bernardino, and San Diego.
In our last blog post, we talked about Black California and the critical fork in the road to criminal justice reform. We find ourselves facing a similar fork in the road to housing justice. CA voters now want to see decisive action taken to address the housing crisis, which is now affecting white middle-class folks as well as people of color. In response to legislative inaction, voters have passed propositions like Prop 1 (2018), Prop 2 (2019), Prop C in San Francisco (2018), and Measure HHH (2016) and H (2017) in Los Angeles County–all aimed at increasing access to affordable housing. The future political path for housing justice measures and candidates will, in part, depend on California’s new redistricting map, which will determine how communities are united, resourced, and politically represented for the next decade.
We recently had a virtual discussion with two leaders who think deeply about the influence redistricting will have on the housing justice movement and Black California. These leaders live the struggle for representation and housing justice personally, politically, and professionally.
1 Kilgore, Steven. “Los Angeles Land Covenants, Redlining; Creation and Effects.” LAPL Blog. Los Angeles Public Library. June, 22, 2020.
2 Gregory, James. The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America, Chapter 4: Black Metropolis (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).
3 Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. (Liveright Publishing, 2005).
4 Simpson, Kelly. “A Southern California Dream Deferred: Racial Covenants in Los Angeles.” KCET. February 04, 2021.
5 Chew, Amee, and Chione Lucina Muñoz Flegal. “Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California.” Policy Link, 2020.
6 Mock, Brentin. “The Meaning of Blight.” Bloomberg City Lab, February 16, 2017.
7 Clark, Kenneth. “Conversation with James Baldwin.” WNDT, May 24th, 1963.
8 Richardson, Jason. “Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification and cultural displacement in American cities.” National Community Reinvestment Coalition, March 19, 2019.
9 Chew, Amee, and Chione Lucina Muñoz Flegal. “Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California.” Policy Link, 2020.
10 National Equity Atlas, “Housing burden by tenure, severity, and race/ethnicity: California; Tenure: Renters; Severity: Burdened; Poverty: All income levels; Year: 2017” Policy Link.
11 Chew, Amee, and Chione Lucina Muñoz Flegal. “Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California.” Policy Link, 2020.
12 Chew, Amee, and Chione Lucina Muñoz Flegal. “Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California.” Policy Link, 2020.
13 Chew, Amee, and Chione Lucina Muñoz Flegal. “Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California.” Policy Link, 2020.
14 Chew, Amee, and Chione Lucina Muñoz Flegal. “Facing History, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California.” Policy Link, 2020.
15 Lopez, Steve “Black people make up 8% of L.A. population and 34% of its homeless. That’s unacceptable.” Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2020.
16 California Association Of Realtors. “Housing affordability for Black California households is half that of whites, illustrating persistent wide homeownership gap and wealth disparities.” Cision, February 17, 2021.