Housing Discrimination: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Housing Discrimination: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

moving on our main story tonight concerns land specifically the history of race and land ownership in america a history that has many horrifying chapters pretty much from chapter one when america was discovered from under other people's feet in fact it has so many horrified chapters that some have nearly been forgotten like this piece of local history that recently made the news in manhattan beach california a house on the sand can cost up to 20 million dollars and anthony bruce's family used to own two ocean front lots i should be a millionaire standing here talking to you today more than 100 years ago his great great willa and charles bruce bought the land for about twelve hundred dollars they built a resort called bruce's lodge the klu klux klan was involved in harassing them they burned a cross right out here and when that didn't drive him away the city government decided to take the property under the guise of eminent domain wow so when the cross-burning didn't drive the bruises out of town the city called in a lawyer to finish the job and that tells you a lot about how racism in america works sure the vigilante racists are spooky but you've really got to worry when the with advanced degrees show up what manhattan beach did to the bruce family was clearly unforgivable and to its credit the city seems to be trying to reckon with how to deal with what happened although it is also placing some pretty hard limits on that reckoning the council did authorize spending three hundred fifty thousand dollars on art to commemorate the family and this week voted to acknowledge and condemn what happened but chose not to offer an official apology it's awful it's wrong we're not that community now i wouldn't live here if we were a racist community and my friends and neighbors would not live here as well okay a couple of things there first manhattan beach's population is only 0.5 percent black so even if you are not that community now you don't look unlike it and second if you took something worth 20 million dollars 350 000 just doesn't cover it especially when none of that money went toward the family you stole it from there is pretty obviously only two ways of making this right give the bruces 20 million dollars or give them their land back and incredibly the latter might actually happen because la county which owns the land recently released a plan for returning it to the bruises which is to put it mildly about time it's literally been called bruce's beach since 2006.

Is the apostrophe s a joke to you people it indicates possession so the story of bruce's beach might actually end with something approaching justice land was taken away land is given back and i want you to keep the elegance of that solution in mind as we talk about a far more insidious and widespread form of wealth appropriation and that is housing discrimination there is a long history of it in america and we will get to that in a minute but before we do let's just start with its effects currently only 45 percent of black householders own their homes compared with nearly 74 of whites and since homeownership is a key component of wealth it is no surprise that the wealth gap between white and black families is so huge many literally don't comprehend it one recent survey found that most people think that for every hundred dollars in wealth held by a white family a black family has 90 dollars when the truth is it's actually closer to 13 with the median white family having a net worth of around 188 000 and the median black family having just over 24 000 but the effects of housing discrimination go well beyond wealth because questions about where your house is and how much it is worth impact so many things about your quality of life for instance because a key way americans pay for public schools is through property taxes better homes lead to better schools better teachers and more resources which in turn leads back to better neighborhoods in general including cleaner streets cleaner air and crucially only the most exclusive and trees is that tree a bakery because it's got cakes that tree don't just let the audio of this play in the background while you're working click back on the youtube tab and look at me that tree can get it so if it has led to a wealth gap this massive and consequences this wide ranging tonight let's take a look at housing discrimination the damage it has done and more importantly what we can do about it some of you may already know what the last part is going to be and might even currently be shouting out your screens but please don't spoil it for everybody else let's let it be a surprise and let's start in the early 20th century because that is when the real estate industry really began to grow and as it did white people moved quickly to codify the distance between them and black people one major way this happened was through racial covenants essentially bylaws written into deeds or neighborhood regulations forbidding the sale of a house to a non-white person and incredibly these covenants were so widespread that many are still technically on the books a texas news station recently unearthed one in a local suburb and showed it to unsuspecting residents there section 2 page 3 reads none of the lots shall be conveyed leased or occupied by any person other than of the caucasian race it provides an exception for those employed as servants the person other than the caucasian race okay well quite the tone of that okay is usually reserved for a few things finding out your grandma is still sending nudes that jeremy piven launched a podcast called how you live in j piven and that your neighborhood technically still has bylaws prohibiting black people from living there and while racial covenants were done at the local level what really turbo charged segregation was when the federal government got involved in the 1930s the new deal established the federal housing administration and the homeowner's loan corporation or hulk which is incidentally also french for hulk uh the idea of these two agencies was to make it easier for people to buy and retain houses during the great depression and they were promoted at the time through newsreels like this this couple is going through a model house now suppose we follow them the husband apparently isn't very keen about it all but you know how wives are this cheerful room with its many handy cabinets impresses even this skeptic and his wife is entranced by the modern flat top stove too bad they can't afford it ah but maybe they can for according to this sign they can buy this house with monthly payments that are less than they now spend for rent wow that is a very affordable house for two people that clearly do not get along you know how husbands are they hate their wives and anything that would make her happy every moment with them is torture and maybe a new house would help us neither of them will leave this wretched marriage because it's the 1930s it's up to the baby to save them the pitch was that the government would insure your loan so that banks would accept a significantly smaller down payment that was standard at the time with much lower interest rates and give you decades to pay it off the federal government essentially invented the modern home mortgage and it worked incredibly well millions bought homes who could otherwise never have afforded them beginning a cycle of stable generational wealth that continues to this day it was a great idea i cannot stress that enough which is why it is so tragic that built directly into that plan was the intentional exclusion of black people for instance hulk developed maps that colour-coded areas green yellow blue or red based on their credit worthiness a neighborhood could earn a red color or be redlined if any african americans lived in it at all at which point the area would essentially be ineligible for any mortgages meanwhile when it came to new developments the fha's underwriting manual essentially mandated that communities have racially restrictive covenants as a prerequisite to receive mortgage insurance these policies alone had a devastating effect on black communities significantly expanding and locking in segregation and some developers ensured that they would continue to qualify for loans by going to some ridiculous lengths here in detroit there was a developer that wanted to build a development for whites and they want to get fha loans and the federal government said you know what there's a black community kind of close by you don't get the good loans and so the developer in an effort to try to fix that built a six foot tall wall a foot deep to separate the black community from the emerging white community and then the federal government gave the loan that's terrible and what makes it somehow worse is that that wall was only six feet tall that's just not that tall it's like the height of a fridge or a mattress or snoop dog snoop 6'4 he could very easily see over that wall is that what you want snoop making direct eye contact with you over your stupid racist wall how is that helping anyone and all of this is obviously horrifying white people basically wrote black people can't live here on pieces of paper and the federal government said if you white people don't have one of those pieces of paper you can't get a loan if everything had just stopped there the damage already would have been immense but it very much did not stop there after world war ii the gi bill gave returning service members access to home loans with as little as no down payment which is great but the vast majority of financial institutions still refuse to approve loans for african americans meaning that black service members returned home only to be shut out of home ownership in the rapidly expanding suburbs one of the most famous examples of which was levittown a development on long island of over 17 000 homes and to ensure government support to build them the developer had the contract state that the home could not be used or occupied by any person other than members of the caucasian race and when black people did try to buy homes there they were told in no uncertain terms just how unwelcome they were as this woman remembers we went to the office where the gentleman was showing the houses so my husband said to him my wife and i interested in you know purchasing a home here in levertown he said get your out of here wow that is a sweet lady recounting an appalling story in just the most matter-of-fact way but i guess for black people in america you ask your grandma to tell you a wholesome story about something like the first school dance she went to or how she and grandpa bought a house and it's not long before you're suddenly in the middle of an august wilson play and crucially white people who were able to buy homes in levertown could accumulate massive wealth in 1948 homes there sold for around eight thousand dollars or about 75 000 in today's money and they currently sell for 350 000 or more meaning families who bought homes back in 1948 gained more than two hundred thousand dollars in wealth that is a lot so quick side note if you are young white and looking for a real return on investment forget about your amc and gamestop stonks what you really want to do is get a time machine travel back to the 1940s and buy a house in the segregated suburb it's the safest investment you'll ever make and levittown and detroit were by no means alone this happened again and again so much so that the exclusion of black people from these federal programs was nearly absolute for instance a survey of 13 cities in mississippi in 1947 found that of the more than 3 200 loans given to returning veterans under the gi bill only two went to african americans and nationwide in just the first quarter century of the federal housing administration the government insured over 40 billion dollars in loans that is the equivalent of nearly 400 billion today but some estimates indicate that 98 of them went to white americans 98 if you ate 98 of someone's cannoli you basically ate all their cannoli pointing out the fact that they've still technically got two percent somehow makes it worse and the implications of all of this can be hard for some to think about earlier this year cbs's tony decouple did a story about his grandparents hometown of lindhurst new jersey and in doing so broke some difficult news to the town's unofficial historian wait a minute you're telling me they were only going to mortgage white people yeah yeah for you to say that lynhurst is the way it is because it almost implies that leonardus was racist no this is my family too i'm not saying that i'm saying that we i'm saying we had no idea you're right most people would not have known that the federal government had this program in place okay first i get that this is uncomfortable but i will say if a white person says that almost implies blank was racist and another one says no no this is my family too that doesn't mean the matter is closed if two white people are trying to figure out if something is racist nine times out of ten it probably is as for that man's claim most people would not have known this program was in place just hold on there because none of this was a secret at the time the link between the racial makeup of your neighborhood and the value of your home was so well established some speculators took advantage of it to buy homes on the cheap through a practice called blockbusting that is where they would go to a white neighborhood and make it seem like black people were moving in they would hire a black woman to walk up and down the street with a stroller or call homes and ask to speak to someone with a stereotypically black name the idea was that simply by doing this the speculators could panic white homeowners into selling their homes at a loss this tactic was incredibly effective but i will say some white homeowners did stand firm like this amazing woman in baltimore well i had to be sitting on the steps with a friend of mine and the man that had gotten the house from the woman next door he came up and he said to me would you like to sell and i said no i couldn't afford to sell because i can't afford to go anywhere else and he said you won't sell i said no he says well pardon me angie these are not my words he said what are you going to do when these move in here and they get out in a porch in the summer and they drink beer i said hell i'm gonna join them look i know this story is full of terrible people and unmitigated racism so we should probably take a moment to celebrate a lady who just wanted to get drunk on her porch with her neighbors regardless of their color i love so many things about that i love roses don't give a energy but also angie's rose is gonna rose response because when roe said pardon me angie these are not my words that was for us angie knew she knows who rose is and she's made peace with it these women have talked there is a history in that relationship bless you rose and bless angie too just because rose was an ally doesn't mean she was always an easy person to be around and when you put all of this together it is no wonder that by the late 60s fair housing had become a core issue for the civil rights movement martin luther king's efforts to combat housing discrimination in chicago were met with fierce resistance and uprisings began to break out across the country unrest that reached a fever pitch in the wake of king's assassination lbj and congressional leaders tried to settle things down with the civil rights act of 1968 with sections 8 and 9 being the fair housing act and section 10 titled civil obedience and anti-riot act which is a pretty effective way of saying that's our final offer we've gone about as far as we're going with this whole civil rights thing the fair housing act made housing discrimination illegal and also required the government to affirmatively further fair housing in other words take an active role in integration and to his credit nixon's housing secretary george romney mitt's dad actually did try to do that and developed a program to withhold federal grants from communities that refused to integrate but nixon then quickly stepped in calling it off and publicly repudiating the whole plan concerning governor romney's plan to what extent should the federal government use its leverage to promote racial integration in suburban housing it is not the policy of this government to use the power of the federal government or federal funds in any other way in ways not required by the law for forced integration of the suburbs i believe that forced integration of the suburbs is not in the national interest yeah not great and it is worth reminding yourself once in a while just how deeply weird nixon was he's been rendered so silly by a lifetime of cartoonish impressions it is genuinely unsettling to watch him make unyielding eye contact while saying i believe that forced integration of the suburbs is not in the national interest like a cold robot powered by racism all i'm saying is it really says something that the most human version of nixon is the one where he's a cartoon head in a jar and what nixon made very clear there is that the federal government would not step in to integrate neighborhoods meaning neighborhoods weren't going to integrate prices in white neighborhoods were now too high and the racial wealth gap was firmly entrenched and even though overt discrimination was now illegal there were and still are many many ways for neighborhoods to keep themselves white sometimes it's through zoning like requiring minimum lot sizes or banning multi-family homes and sometimes it comes in the form of realtors steering buyers away from certain neighborhoods on a racial basis they are not supposed to do that but it still happens all the time a few years ago newsday had testers of multiple races posed as home buyers on long island and the black testers experienced disparate treatment nearly half the time in some cases they were sent to vastly different neighborhoods but even a realtor who news they said gave out similar listings to black and white buyers thereby staying outside the legal definition of steering accompanied them with some not so subtle tips that she only gave to the white tester and there's pockets for jeff too that you know uh down by the train there's like an area there what i say is always to women follow the school bus you know that's what i always say follow school bus see the moms that are hanging out on the corners there was one fella who was like insisted on this house and the wife was pregnant had a little one and i said to him i can't say anything but i encourage you i want you to go there at 10 o'clock at night with your wife and my doctors go to that 7-eleven they didn't buy that no that's great i have to say without saying it you know you have the knowledge of the areas yeah i don't want to use the word steer but i try to i use one word in the areas you know oh well that's all right then as long as you don't say the word steer it's okay it's like taboo as long as you don't say one of the five words on the card you're completely in the clear at every step of the process black home buyers are faced with discrimination a few years ago reporters crunched through 31 million loan applications and found that african americans continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at much higher rates even controlling the income loan amount and neighborhood and even if you own your home the simple act of having it appraised can still be tainted by discrimination this woman had a home appraised twice but the values seemed low to her so she did a little experiment i met with two of my girlfriends both are married to white men and i was like okay i need to borrow one of your husbands when the third appraiser came duffy was gone her friend's husband posed as her brother the result duffy's home was appraised for 259 thousand dollars more than double that of her previous two appraisals i screamed with joy i just was i was so elated and then it just it quickly dissipated and then i just cried because this is an actual there it is in that i'm the thing that's devaluing my house look that is just awful we all know the only time the addition of a white man should increase value to anything is if that thing is a movie and that white man is stanley tucci otherwise it is just not okay and when you take all of this together the redlining the blockbusting the steering and not least the federal government's involvement it all becomes clear that the myth of white americans post-war prosperity powered by ingenuity and self-reliance leaves a lot out and the problem is there are many white people who are unwilling to acknowledge this or even if they do are unsure what to do with the information remember tony decouple's story about lindhurst the mayor there and the historian had very different reactions to what they were learning the one thing that i'm struggling with and this is as as somebody whose family came through here is when i looked at the old maps just over the river the areas were redlined by the federal government meaning they weren't worthy of mortgages and lynhurst wasn't redlined what do you do with that knowledge you move on come on it's all god's people now that we do know right what do we do about it you know that's a good question i don't have the answer to that tony i wish i did okay we'll get to the content of what they're saying in a second but first i gotta know everything about that mayor and how he came into office if i had to guess a couple of candidates disappeared you can't have a runoff if only one candidate is on the ballot can you but as nice as it sounds to just move on that is not dealing with the underlying injury here because even if you had a magic wand and were able to stop every facet of housing discrimination going forward you still wouldn't be undoing the damage that has been done home prices have risen much more than wages in the last 50 years so buying a home today doesn't carry the same economic promise as it did when the fha started in fact by one estimate if we do do nothing and move on it would take 200 years for the wealth gap to disappear on its own and yet so often efforts to address the legacy of housing discrimination have been resolutely colorblind here is joe biden on the campaign trail just last year my plan for african americans will to close the wealth gap is to invest in african american home ownership that includes my insisting that there will be a fifteen thousand 000 first time home buyer tax credit for everyone well hold on there joe for everyone that might sound great but it also fundamentally dilutes what you're actually trying to achieve here because we've immediately gone from targeted investment in black home ownership to a broad tax credit for everybody and we sure do suddenly seem to become a rainbow coalition just as soon as the federal government starts handing out cash don't we and our failure to effectively target solutions based on race has doomed potential fixes in the past in the 70s we passed the community reinvestment act requiring banks to approve loans in low-income neighborhoods but we didn't specify who the loans had to go to with one analysis in philadelphia showing that banks and lenders favored white borrowers even in majority black neighborhoods making this well-meaning act basically a gentrification machine although not a literal gentrification machine of course because as we all know those are obviously e-scooters so that approach of move on we're all god's people hasn't fixed the problem but what about that second guy who said he doesn't know what we should do about it but wishes he had the answer if that is true if he honestly wants to know what a major component of the answer should probably be i've actually got some good news for him because it exists it's pretty straightforward and it's the same answer that many black viewers have been shouting at this screen for the last 20 minutes because it's reparations and the first thing to say about this is that it's by no means a new argument people have been making the case for reparations for generations and the history of housing discrimination specifically made up a large part of tanacy cults's award-winning essay the case for reparations seven years ago and yet even though reparations are clearly necessary practical and the right thing to do a poll recently found only one in 10 white people favor them and some dismiss the subject right out of hand yeah i don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea uh we've you know tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war by passing landmark civil rights legislation we've elected an african-american president i think we're always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive was responsible for that wow reparations aren't a good idea because we've elected an african-american president who exactly is the we in that sentence mitch because as i remember it electing that president was basically your least favorite thing america ever did and you failed to devote every waking moment to making sure it didn't happen again we tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war which i didn't have to take a side in by passing civil rights legislation which i didn't have to take a position on and by electing an african-american president who i've always been against this country has come a long way and with god as my witness it will not go any further but the thing is we're not actually talking about reparations for slavery here we should but that is a different conversation we're talking about housing discrimination mitch mcconnell was born in 1942 the fair housing act wasn't passed until 1968.

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This is quantifiable harm done in our lifetimes to people who are still alive as for what reparations could look like there was a bill introduced in the house for 30 years by the late john conyers to form a commission to study this and this year the house judiciary committee finally voted to advance it so if we really want to know what reparations could look like we can pass that bill and find out but to be clear we don't really need to study the weather at this point we just need to study the how because we know what the government did and we know the effect it had and there are potential models for us to learn from from germany paying reparations to holocaust survivors to the u.s paying japanese americans who were interned during world war ii and if you are looking for more recent examples evanston illinois recently voted to use revenue from legal weed to provide grants to assist black people who live there from 1919 to 1969 and their descendants now does that program fix everything though of course not its first phase makes available up to 25 000 for each participant who can only spend that money on buying or renovating a house or paying down their mortgage and the initial budget for the program is only four hundred thousand dollars so it might well be limited to 16 people but it is at least a real attempt to both acknowledge and redress harm and ultimately this isn't something cities or even states can do on their own it took the power and resources of the federal government to enforce racism on this scale and only the federal government can truly grapple with the consequences and there are some like nicole hannah jones who have some pretty specific ideas on what that grappling could look like so to me reparations has to be three-pronged uh recommitment to strong enforcement of civil rights laws because you can get this economic payment but we know that black people still face discrimination in every aspect of american society and then i think there needs to be a really large investment of resources into the black communities that have had that wealth extracted and have been denied the ability to live like other americans and i think anyone who's arguing for reparations that is not arguing for a cash payment is um basically that's racist you know because it's like it's only when it comes to black folks that we're so concerned of how people are going to know if they know how to spend that money responsibly i say this jokingly but half jokingly like if if i wanted to spend my reparations on all gucci that's my right yeah black people should get to decide how to spend the money the federal government gives them in the same way that white people got to decide how to spend all the billions of dollars in wealth that it created for them i promise you not all that money has been spent responsibly just think of how much of it has gone towards thomas kincaid paintings there is one and only one good reason to buy a thomas kincaid painting and that is to help convince the appraiser that your friend's white husband really does live in this house that is it and i'm not saying that money alone is what is called for here as nicole hannah jones pointed out simply handing out cash without changing any of the underlying structural conditions that produced inequality in the first place would be a big mistake this is a both and situation but ultimately the only really strange thing about paying reparations to black people is that we haven't done it yet just like its strength it has taken so long to give bruce's beach back to the bruces in both cases the right thing to do couldn't be clearer when you deprive somebody of something you make it right by paying what you owe now figuring out exactly how to pay might well get complicated but realizing that you have to should be pretty simple because this is a wound that we are actively choosing not to heal and it is hurting real people every day and also try and think of the positives here because if we do choose to do the right thing and after all these years redress this wrong we might finally get to live up to this country's highest potential and that is to become a nation of rose and angie's getting absolutely day wasted on our porches you

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