How Racial Discrimination in Housing Persists in D.C.

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Article Was Originally Published November 15, 2018 On Greater Greater Washington as part of the Urbanist Journalism Fellowship.

A local mapping project from two local historians sheds light on the impact of racially-restrictive deed covenants that kept housing in DC segregated during the first half of the 20th Century. Prologue DC, a small historical research company founded by Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Jane Shoenfeld, officially launched its latest iteration of “Mapping Segregation in Washington DC” on October 24. (GGWash has written about earlier versions of their project here and here.)

In a packed room at The George Washington University’s Textile Museum, Shoenfeld gave a preview of three featured exhibits on the website: a walking tour highlighting key sites along the racial line in Bloomingdale, an updated version of story map on legal challenges to racially restrictive covenants, and a slideshow documenting the role of blockbusting and racial steering in facilitating DC's mid-century racial transformation. There's a lot in there, so take some time to click around.

The 2018 launch coincides with several anti-discrimination milestones, including the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Fair Housing Act (which prohibited most forms of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and in mortgage lending), the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Supreme Court decision (which made racially restrictive deed covenants unconstitutional), and others.

The better half of the evening was spent in a frank discussion about past and present housing challenges, particularly for African Americans in DC, moderated by WAMU’s Sasha-Ann Simons. Here's what the panelists had to say.

Discrimination and poverty persist decades after these rulings

“I think it’s clear today that there's no evidence that the United States has been firmly committed to fair housing,” said panelist Greg Squires, a professor of sociology and public policy and administration at George Washington University. Though things have improved since 1968, Squires said that racial steering, discrimination by appraisal firms, redlining and reverse redlining by mortgage lenders—among other issues—persist for people of color.

The series of laws that have gotten onto the books allow for formal equality, but that’s not enough, Squires explained. “The law prohibits things we're talking about, but we can see that we haven't really gotten to where we should be because formal equality doesn't get you equity.”

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