Many people believe that the United States has entered a post-racial society. After all, immigration and multi-racial families have created a diverse country, and we have a black President. Unfortunately, recent stories suggest that racial discrimination and inequality is continuing to persist in the housing sector (as well as other areas).
In April 2012, a discrimination complaint against U.S. Bank was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other organizations. The National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of fair housing agencies and individuals throughout the United States. The National Fair Housing Alliance’s mission is to eliminate discrimination and promote equal opportunity in housing through education, advocacy, enforcement, and public policy initiatives.
The complaint alleges that foreclosed homes that have been taken over by U.S. Bank are not taken care of in minority communities as well as the homes U.S. Bank has absorbed in white communities. Properties in minority neighborhoods are not well-maintained, which makes the surrounding look undesirable and create health hazards for neighbors. There has also been poor marketing for the properties owned by the bank, which keeps the homes sitting vacant. The vacant, unkempt properties impact the entire neighborhood they reside in. Home seekers are less likely to purchase a home on a street that seems undesirable, and current residents have difficulty selling their home if they decide to move. The complaint argues that the bank’s habit of ignoring their properties in minority communities is discriminatory and violates the federal Fair Housing Act. New data allows communities to continue to be added to the original complaint (the most recent addition occurred in November 2013). There are currently 20 total cities with communities that are included in the complaint.
A discrimination complaint was also filed against Bailey Properties, an apartment property management company that has allegedly been discriminating against Latinos in the southern United States. Last month, the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission filed the complaint with HUD because the management company has been refusing to rent their properties to Latinos. The complaint also claims the company has discriminated in the conditions or terms of rental for Latinos that have been able to rent their properties.
In December 2012, a discrimination complaint was filed with HUD against Allstate Insurance. The National Fair Housing Alliance reported that Allstate has been utilizing redlining practices to discriminate against African American communities in Wilmington, Delaware. The company has refused to provide home insurance plans for houses with flat roofs. African Americans are more likely to live in areas of town that have a concentration of houses with flat roofs. The policy set by Allstate has a disparate impact that results in discriminatory effects that disproportionately harm African Americans in Wilmington.
A recent national study conducted by HUD reported that racial minorities continue to be discriminated against in the housing sector. The study used paired testers to assess the experiences of different races navigating the housing sector in 2012. The report revealed that minorities are told about and shown fewer houses and apartments than white home seekers. Further, minorities who can pass as white either over the phone or in person experience less discrimination than minorities who cannot pass. The impact of these different experiences along racial lines is that minorities are constrained in their housing choices, which can influence the costs of available housing choices.
The cases described above indicate that racial discrimination in housing is still prevalent. Discrimination may have decreased in the last 40 years but it is still evident and has merely shifted into a different form. Subtle inequality has replaced direct discrimination – an African American will not likely be refused to see any available homes or apartments as in the past, but the African American won’t be able to see as many properties as a white person. This change in discrimination is more difficult to notice because minorities aren’t being completely denied housing opportunities and so without a deeper investigation it appears as if their experiences are equal to whites.
Monitoring the participation of different races and ethnicities in the housing sector is necessary to analyze the changes in discrimination each year. Paired testing is the method utilized by researchers to measure discrimination in the housing sector. Paired testing matches a white and non-white individual who have equal qualifications to buy or rent a home. The pair inquires about the same available listings and records the treatment they received from each property manager. Paired testing controls for all variables except the person’s race or ethnicity, allowing researchers to identify racial differences. This method has successfully measured discrimination in the housing sector for decades and continues to be a valuable tool for fair housing experts and agencies who are working to combat housing discrimination.
The hope is that through HUD complaints and lawsuits housing providers will be held accountable for their actions and ultimately improve their compliance with fair hosuing law. In the meantime, it is important for individuals to understand their rights as renters, homeowners, and home seekers. Those who believe they have experienced discrimination should file a complaint with HUD. Housing discrimination continues to occupy our communities and it is important to be aware of and work alongside our neighbors to eliminate discriminatory practices.
To file a complaint with HUD:
Additional information and resources:
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
Saturday Night Live (SNL), the long-running sketch comedy show recently aired a skit addressing the lack of women of color in its cast. In the skit, actress Kerry Washington portrayed Michelle Obama and sat with her husband in the Oval Office. A White House aide informed the Obamas that Oprah Winfrey was outside the room and wanted to come in and talk with them. The skit joked that Washington would have to leave the scene to change clothes and return as Oprah Winfrey, since she was the only African American female actress on the set. Later in the skit, the White House aide announced that six Matthew McConaugheys were outside waiting to be seen, and then a procession of white male cast members entered the room.
SNL successfully poked fun at the lack of diversity in its cast, especially in this current season when six new cast members were hired and all are white (and only one is a woman). Aside from the humor in the skit, SNL brought to light an important issue: the lack of racial diversity in Saturday Night Live’s cast. Since the show’s inception in 1975, only four cast members have been African American women. Currently, the show has only three racially diverse cast members. Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharaoh are African American males and Nasim Pedrad is a female Irani-American.
Lorne Michaels, SNL Executive Producer, commented that the show searches for a specific type of comedian: one with experience in sketch comedy. This exclusive group of comedians creates a smaller pool of available potential cast members. While the world of improv and sketch comedy has a long history of being white and male, minorities have been fighting hard to get noticed, and the schools that train students in improv comedy are working to develop and promote minority comedians. Two major improv schools, Second City in Chicago and Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City and Los Angeles, have diversity programs that offer scholarships and administer outreach to develop a core group of minority students. The number of available, trained sketch and improv comedians includes a considerable selection of minority individuals, which conflicts with Michaels’ comments.
Northwestern University professor, Miriam Petty, observed that the people making casting decisions – “the boardroom” as she names the group – generally consist of a majority of white men. She explains that these men don’t intentionally exclude racial minorities (or women) from becoming cast members, but they also don’t spend time thinking about the impact of having a limited number of minorities represented in the SNL cast.
The impact of having a small number of minority cast members is substantial. It ignores the experiences of entire groups of the U.S. population. The diversity in the U.S. is ever-increasing, but the show remains consistent in its exclusion of racial minorities. Many viewers are people of color but they are not able to relate to many of the skits, or don’t feel valued as members of society who can contribute to mainstream comedy.
It is also easier for skits involving racial minorities to include stereotypes because there isn’t a significant representation of minority cast members to influence the show’s writers or executives. Cast member Jay Pharaoah refuses to portray females and Kenan Thompson has recently made the same decision. The portrayal of black men as black women only served to mock the women, even if it was not intentional, because the impressions were exaggerated and unnatural.
SNL (and Lorne Michaels himself) also has the power to direct the future of comedy. Movies and television shows have derived from characters created on SNL and former cast members have launched into movie and television stars (don’t forget late night talk show hosts). Because Saturday Night Live is a major player in mainstream comedy, it is able to guide the future actors, characters, and content of comedy in the United States. Without a robust number of racial minority cast members, the chance of minority comedians and their comedy becoming important after SNL is small.
A coalition committed to strengthening the power of African American voices, ColorOfChange.org, asked Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live executives in a recent letter to include more African American women in the show. The group insisted that SNL make changes now and requested a meeting to discuss the ways that SNL can improve its diversity. This is not the first group to criticize SNL for its lack of diversity or request the show to alter its hiring practices. Many SNL viewers and civil rights activists want to see more diversity on the show.
For a show that has been such a major part of American life and culture, it is disappointing that it does not better represent America. Saturday Night Live will, hopefully, seriously consider the appeals to diversify its cast and make positive changes in mainstream comedy and American society.
Watch the SNL skit with Kerry Washington here:
To read more about SNL and diversity:
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
Often times the words “diversity” and “integration” are used interchangeably when describing the racial composition of a neighborhood or town. The differences between the two words, however, are greatly important to the fabric of a community.
Think of the neighborhood in your community that houses the refugee population or an area with a large university or medical center that brings in employees with different backgrounds. These communities are diverse…but are they integrated?
Integration moves beyond the Census numbers. It not only acknowledges the variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, but it accepts, encourages, and thrives in the mixture. Integration is purposeful in creating an environment where residents don’t merely live in the same zip code but they share their lives with each other. While diversity spurs cultural competency and understanding of different backgrounds and perspectives through the presence of differences, it doesn’t outwardly promote the value of inclusion. Plus, cultural competence can only increase if community members interact with one another.
The benefits of integration go farther than neighborly sentiments. Integration not only fosters a sense of community among its diverse residents, but it also has quantifiable advantages. Integrated communities have excellent public schools and students have higher academic performance than in segregated towns. Home values are equal across races, making the prices closer to true value because the costs associated with racial-specific neighborhoods are void. Concentrated poverty is reduced in integrated communities and social capital is more beneficial for minorities in these communities. There is also more access to factors that measure opportunity in an area – transportation, public services, green space, quality education, nearby employment, and low crime rate.
The benefits of living in an integrated community sometimes go unnoticed by municipalities and home-seekers, so segregated communities persist. Another concern is that civic leaders are unsure how to go about integrating their community. Also, people often believe their community is integrated when it is actually diverse; this hinders community members’ access to the full benefits found in an integrated community and fails to affirmatively further fair housing.
It is important to understand the differences between diversity and integration because this awareness can greatly impact a resident, a community, and the fair housing movement. Diversity is great, but integration is greater.
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
Photo By Billie Hara
Map 1. Chicago
Map 2. Detroit
Many of you have seen the colorful maps which illustrate the geographic racial patterns of U.S. cities, bringing public awareness to the issue of residential segregation. One example of these maps were created by Eric Fischer, where he utilizes 2010 Census data to map the density and racial demographics of residents in major cities. The color-coded dots display the striking differences in metropolitan areas such as Chicago and Detroit, shown above.
The information presented in the maps is not news to residents of the towns represented. Many residents know the area of their town where Hispanics typically live or the neighborhoods where it is very unlikely to see a white family living. The maps reveal the stark separation of races that has been accepted by many citizens as local common knowledge.
For those Americans who believe segregation is no longer a prominent issue in the U.S., or think segregation has decreased because there are more integrated communities than before, these maps set the record straight.
So, why are these maps important, other than emphasizing what many already know to be true? How can these maps be useful tools for communities? These visual representations of racial residential patterns help community members link social problems with their locations. It helps us think about where problems exist in a city – high poverty rate, food deserts, lack of commercial districts – which are most often located in minority areas. The maps can help city leaders and residents involved in their communities to assess and create solutions to the needs of their neighbors.
Community leaders can also focus on the areas of a city that include a mixture of races living in the same neighborhood. It is important to first determine if those communities are integrated or merely diverse, with no intentional practices in place to sustain integration. We can also think about how these areas are different – what is going on in these neighborhoods and how can other communities follow suit? Neighborhoods that are purposefully promoting integrative strategies set an example for segregated communities, and locating these areas is the first step in changing the demographics portrayed in the maps. Integrated neighborhoods have a lot to teach segregated communities and are often happy to help their neighbors work toward the goal of integration.
The dot density maps provide a good starting point for cities to address issues that connect with racial residential patterns, and to re-focus on the issue of segregation. It is true that the number of integrated communities in the U.S. is increasing but, as showcased in these maps, there is still a lot of work to be accomplished to integrate our major cities.
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
There’s a new home in town, providing persons with disabilities the opportunity to live independently. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve Nazaran, the Community Coordinator of L’Arche Chicago, to learn about their model and why more people should support this program.
L’Arche is a vibrant Community Integrated Living Arrangement for people with and without disabilities, located on Chicago’s west side. The home is comprised of four core members with disabilities that live with three people without disabilities. L’Arche Chicago is accessible to downtown, public transportation, and a wealth of resources.
The home is integrated into the neighborhood so from the outside L’Arche reflects the same structural qualities as most other homes in the area. “We want the layout and design of the homes to be esthetically pleasing,” says Nazaran. Most neighbors like the idea of a L’Arche home in the area or do not notice that this type of community living is present. The homes are well maintained, creating no impact to the character of the neighborhood. Services are not provided on-site so that the home can focus on building community and learning from one another.
L’Arche is very intentional about connecting with the community. The home hosts monthly Community Nights to invite local residents over in an open house setting to share a meal and connect in a comfortable judgement-free environment. “Having these relationships helps you to realize their strengths and that they’re not all that different from you,” explains Nazaran. “Everyone has vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It helps you to recognize your prejudices and helps to broaden your views.” The L’Arche community helps to break down stereotypes that people may have towards persons with disabilities and illuminates the fact that the disabled population deserve to live with dignity and are active participants in society. L’Arche residents are employed by local businesses within the area, which is another way that the residents connect with the community.
One barrier that L’Arche faces is physical accessibility. Due to the housing stock type within the region, L’Arche homes are typically two flats which prevent wheelchair access to the 2nd floor for potential residents and visitors of the home. The installation of elevators and ramps would be ideal; however in most cases funding is not available to make those accommodations. Despite this barrier, L’Arche homes are open to all and accommodate within their financial means as much as possible. Many homes in the Chicago region have large community spaces, which is an asset for when people that need physical accommodations visit L’Arche.
People without disabilities also benefit from the L’Arche program. Nazaran explains that, “At times people come to L’Arche because they are service-minded and value the idea of building a relationship with a population that is typically separated from their world. Others have been somehow impacted by the disability community and have worked with the population before, but feel that they want to be a part of an experience where people with disabilities live a full life.” L’Arche does not market living in their community as a job. People come because they recognize that they can get something out of it. Unlike the high turnover rates in group homes, people without disabilities that live at L’Arche stay for years. After they transition out of the program, most in some way stay connected to the home and contribute to the mission of the program.
Due to the success of this program, there are L’Arche homes in more than 30 countries worldwide.
For more information: L’Arche Chicago
By Morgan P Davis, Fair Housing Policy Director