Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Racial Discrimination in Housing

In the United States, a multitude of mechanisms have been utilized to unjustly discriminate against non-white homeowners and renters: deed restrictions, housing covenants, redlining, exclusionary zoning, urban renewal projects, racial steering, etc. While laws now prohibit explicit forms of racial discrimination in housing, bias and the legacy of historical discriminatory practices persist. This guide provides background information, data, and recommended books and films on residential racial discrimination.

An Introduction to Housing Discrimination and Fair Housing

Here are a few introductory articles on mechanisms of housing discrimination in the United States.

General Information

Deed Restrictions and Housing Covenants

Sundown Towns

Racial Steering and Blockbusting

Redlining and Mortgage Discrimination

Exclusionary Zoning

Urban Renewal and Gentrification

Fair Housing Act

Maps and Data

Redlining and Mortgage Discrimination

Deed Restrictions and Restrictive Covenants

Exclusionary Zoning

Urban Renewal

Sundown Towns

Reading Room

A selection of books available at Gleeson Library

Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor)

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST, 2020 PULITZER PRIZE IN HISTORY By the late 1960s and early 1970s, reeling from a wave of urban uprisings, politicians finally worked to end the practice of redlining. Reasoning that the turbulence could be calmed by turning Black city-dwellers into homeowners, they passed the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, and set about establishing policies to induce mortgage lenders and the real estate industry to treat Black homebuyers equally. The disaster that ensued revealed that racist exclusion had not been eradicated, but rather transmuted into a new phenomenon of predatory inclusion. Race for Profit uncovers how exploitative real estate practices continued well after housing discrimination was banned. The same racist structures and individuals remained intact after redlining's end, and close relationships between regulators and the industry created incentives to ignore improprieties. Meanwhile, new policies meant to encourage low-income homeownership created new methods to exploit Black homeowners. The federal government guaranteed urban mortgages in an attempt to overcome resistance to lending to Black buyers - as if unprofitability, rather than racism, was the cause of housing segregation. Bankers, investors, and real estate agents took advantage of the perverse incentives, targeting the Black women most likely to fail to keep up their home payments and slip into foreclosure, multiplying their profits. As a result, by the end of the 1970s, the nation's first programs to encourage Black homeownership ended with tens of thousands of foreclosures in Black communities across the country. The push to uplift Black homeownership had descended into a goldmine for realtors and mortgage lenders, and a ready-made cudgel for the champions of deregulation to wield against government intervention of any kind. Narrating the story of a sea-change in housing policy and its dire impact on African Americans, Race for Profit reveals how the urban core was transformed into a new frontier of cynical extraction.

Race and Real Estate (Adrienne Brown and Valerie Smith, Editors)

Race and Real Estate brings together new work by architects, sociologists, legal scholars, and literary critics that qualifies and complicates traditional narratives of race, property, and citizenship in the United States. Rather than simply rehearsing the standard account of how blacks were historically excluded from homeownership, the authors of these essays explore how the raced history of property affects understandings of home and citizenship. While the narrative of race and real estate in America has usually been relayed in terms of institutional subjugation, dispossession, and forced segregation, the essays collected in this volume acknowledge the validity of these histories while presenting new perspectives on this story.

The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D'Oca, Georgeen Theodore ; written and edited with Riley Gold ; with contributions by Baye Adofo-Wilson and seventy-four others)

Who gets to be where? The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion examines some of the policies, practices, and physical artifacts that have been used by planners, policymakers, developers, real estate brokers, community activists, and other urban actors in the United States to draw, erase, or redraw the lines that divide. The Arsenal inventories these weapons of exclusion and inclusion, describes how they have been used, and speculates about how they might be deployed (or retired) for the sake of more open cities in which more people have access to more places. With contributions from over fifty architects, planners, geographers, historians, and journalists, The Arsenal offers a wide-ranging view of the forces that shape our cities.by Interboro (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D'Oca, Georgeen Theodore)

Unjust Deeds: The Restrictive Covenant Cases and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (Jeffrey D. Gonda)

In 1945, six African American families from St. Louis, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., began a desperate fight to keep their homes. Each of them had purchased a property that prohibited the occupancy of African Americans and other minority groups through the use of legal instruments called racial restrictive covenants--one of the most pervasive tools of residential segregation in the aftermath of World War II. Over the next three years, local activists and lawyers at the NAACP fought through the nation's courts to end the enforcement of these discriminatory contracts. Unjust Deeds explores the origins and complex legacies of their dramatic campaign, culminating in a landmark Supreme Court victory in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948). Restoring this story to its proper place in the history of the black freedom struggle, Jeffrey D. Gonda's groundbreaking study provides a critical vantage point to the simultaneously personal, local, and national dimensions of legal activism in the twentieth century and offers a new understanding of the evolving legal fight against Jim Crow in neighborhoods and courtrooms across America.

Saving the Neighborhood (Richard R. W. Brooks; Carol M. Rose)

Saving the Neighborhood tells the charged, still controversial story of the rise and fall of racially restrictive covenants in America, and offers rare insight into the ways legal and social norms reinforce one another, acting with pernicious efficacy to codify and perpetuate intolerance. The early 1900s saw an unprecedented migration of African Americans leaving the rural South in search of better work and equal citizenship. In reaction, many white communities instituted property agreements--covenants--designed to limit ownership and residency according to race. Restrictive covenants quickly became a powerful legal guarantor of segregation, their authority facing serious challenge only in 1948, when the Supreme Court declared them legally unenforceable in Shelley v. Kraemer. Although the ruling was a shock to courts that had upheld covenants for decades, it failed to end their influence. In this incisive study, Richard Brooks and Carol Rose unpack why. At root, covenants were social signals. Their greatest use lay in reassuring the white residents that they shared the same goal, while sending a warning to would-be minority entrants: keep out. The authors uncover how loosely knit urban and suburban communities, fearing ethnic mixing or even "tipping," were fair game to a new class of entrepreneurs who catered to their fears while exacerbating the message encoded in covenants: that black residents threatened white property values. Legal racial covenants expressed and bestowed an aura of legitimacy upon the wish of many white neighborhoods to exclude minorities. Sadly for American race relations, their legacy still lingers.

Sundown Towns: Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (James W. Loewen)

Bestselling author ofLies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, exposes the secret communities and hotbeds of racial injustice that sprung up throughout the twentieth century unnoticed, forcing us to reexamine race relations in the United States. In this groundbreaking work, bestselling sociologist James W. Loewen, author of the national bestseller Lies My Teacher Told Me, brings to light decades of hidden racial exclusion in America. In a provocative, sweeping analysis of American residential patterns, Loewen uncovers the thousands of "sundown towns"--almost exclusively white towns where it was an unspoken rule that blacks could not live there--that cropped up throughout the twentieth century, most of them located outside of the South. These towns used everything from legal formalities to violence to create homogenous Caucasian communities--and their existence has gone unexamined until now. For the first time, Loewen takes a long, hard look at the history, sociology, and continued existence of these towns, contributing an essential new chapter to the study of American race relations. Sundown Towns combines personal narrative, history, and analysis to create a readable picture of this previously unknown American institution all written with Loewen's trademark honesty and thoroughness.

Calculating Race (Benjamin Wiggins)

In Calculating Race, Benjamin Wiggins analyzes the historical relationship between statistical risk assessment and race in the United States. He illustrates how, through a reliance on the variable of race, actuarial science transformed the nature of racism and helped usher racial disparities in wealth, incarceration, and housing from the nineteenth century into the twentieth. Wiggins begins by tracing how the life insurance industry utilized race in its calculations at the end of the nineteenth century, focusing particularly on Prudential and its aggressive battles with state regulators to discriminate against clients and adjust rates on the basis of race. He then turns his focus to the collection of racial statistics in the Illinois state penitentiary system in the late nineteenth century and the state's subsequent development of predictive sentencing and parole formulas in the 1920s that weighed race as a key factor. Next, he investigates the role of race in the state-sponsored mortgage insurance program of the Federal Housing Administration between the start of the New Deal and the beginning of the Cold War and its prolonged effects on mortgage lending. Wiggins concludes with an analysis of the use of race in the statistical risk assessments across financial institutions and government programs during the post-civil rights movement era, and how that practice has been transformed in the twenty-first century through "proxy" variables which stand in for the now taboo category of race. Offering readers a new perspective on the historical importance of actuarial science in structural racism, Calculating Race is a particularly timely contribution as Big Data and algorithmic decision making increasingly pervade our lives.

The Dream Revisited (Ingrid Ellen and Justin Steil, Editors)

The Dream Revisited brings together a range of expert viewpoints on the causes and consequences of the nation's separate and unequal living patterns. Leading scholars and practitioners, including civil rights advocates, affordable housing developers, elected officials, and fair housing lawyers, discuss responses to residential segregation.

Housing Discrimination Research

For much of the twentieth century, discrimination by private real estate agents and rental property owners helped establish and sustain stark patterns of housing and neighbourhood inequality. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has rigorously monitored trends in racial and ethnic discrimination in both rental and sales markets. This book presents findings from the fourth such study, which applied paired-testing methodology in 28 metropolitan areas to measure the incidence and forms of discrimination experienced by black, Hispanic, and Asian renters and home buyers.

The Lines Between Us (Lawrence Lanahan)

Deeply reported and deftly told, The Lines Between Us, a riveting story from DuPont Award - winning journalist Lawrence Lanahan, compels reflection on America's entrenched inequality - and on where the rubber meets the road not in the abstract, but in our own backyards. The criss-crossing stories of Mark, a white devout Christian who sells his suburban home to move to Baltimore's inner city, and Nicole, a black mother determined to leave West Baltimore for the suburbs, chronicle how the region became so deeply segregated and why these fault lines persist today.

The One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities (Edward G. Goetz)

The One-Way Street of Integration examines two contrasting housing policy approaches to achieving racial justice. Integration initiatives and community development efforts have been for decades contrasting means of achieving racial equity through housing policy. Goetz traces the tensions involved in housing integration and policy to show why he doesn't see the solution to racial injustice as the government moving poor and nonwhite people out of their communities. The One-Way Street of Integration critiques fair housing integration policies for targeting settlement patterns while ignoring underlying racism and issues of economic and political power. Goetz challenges liberal orthodoxy, determining that the standard efforts toward integration are unlikely to lead to racial equity or racial justice in American cities. In fact, in this pursuit it is the community development movement rather that has the greatest potential for connecting to social change and social justice efforts.

Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America's Black Cities (Andre M. Perry)

Changing perceptions about the worth of African Americans and their communities. Know Your Price establishes new means of determining value of Black communities. The deliberate devaluation of Blacks and their communities, stemming from America's centuries-old history of slavery, racism, and other state-sanctioned policies like redlining have tangible, far-reaching, and negative economic and social impacts. Rejecting policies shaped by flawed perspectives, the book gives fresh insights on these impacts and provides a new value paradigm to limit them. In the book, noted educator, journalist, and scholar Andre Perry takes readers on a guided tour of five Black-majority cities whose assets and strengths are undervalued. Perry begins the tour in his hometown of Wilkinsburg, a small city east of Pittsburgh that, unlike its much larger neighbor, is struggling and failing to attract new jobs and industry. Perry gives an overview of Black-majority cities and spotlights four where he has a deep connection to--Detroit, New Orleans, Birmingham and Washington, D.C.--providing an intimate look at the assets residents should demand greater value from. Know Your Price demonstrates through rigorous research and thorough analysis the worth of Black people's intrinsic strengths, real property, and traditional institutions. All of these assets are means of empowerment, as Perry argues for shifting away from simplified notions of equality and moving towards maximizing equity.

The Color of Credit: Mortgage Discrimination, Research Methodology, and Fair-lending Enforcement (Stephen L. Ross; John Yinger)

An analysis of current findings on mortgage-lending discrimination and suggestions for new procedures to improve its detection. In 2000, homeownership in the United States stood at an all-time high of 67.4 percent, but the homeownership rate was more than 50 percent higher for non-Hispanic whites than for blacks or Hispanics. Homeownership is the most common method for wealth accumulation and is viewed as critical for access to the most desirable communities and most comprehensive public services. Homeownership and mortgage lending are linked, of course, as the vast majority of home purchases are made with the help of a mortgage loan. Barriers to obtaining a mortgage represent obstacles to attaining the American dream of owning one's own home. These barriers take on added urgency when they are related to race or ethnicity. In this book Stephen Ross and John Yinger discuss what has been learned about mortgage-lending discrimination in recent years. They re-analyze existing loan-approval and loan-performance data and devise new tests for detecting discrimination in contemporary mortgage markets. They provide an in-depth review of the 1996 Boston Fed Study and its critics, along with new evidence that the minority-white loan-approval disparities in the Boston data represent discrimination, not variation in underwriting standards that can be justified on business grounds. Their analysis also reveals several major weaknesses in the current fair-lending enforcement system, namely, that it entirely overlooks one of the two main types of discrimination (disparate impact), misses many cases of the other main type (disparate treatment), and insulates some discriminating lenders from investigation. Ross and Yinger devise new procedures to overcome these weaknesses and show how the procedures can also be applied to discrimination in loan-pricing and credit-scoring.

Place, Exclusion and Mortgage Markets (Manuel B. Aalbers)

Utilizing research from the U.S., Italy, and the Netherlands, Place, Exclusion and Mortgage Markets presents an in depth examination of the practice of redlining and the broader implications of contemporary urban exclusion processes.   Covers exclusion in mortgage markets in three different countries - the U.S., Italy, and the Netherlands Presents an interdisciplinary perspective to the practice of redlining Connects the literature on social exclusion and financial exclusion

What a City Is For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement (Matt Hern)

An investigation into gentrification and displacement, focusing on the case of Portland, Oregon's systematic dispersal of black residents from its Albina neighborhood. Portland, Oregon, is one of the most beautiful, livable cities in the United States. It has walkable neighborhoods, bike lanes, low-density housing, public transportation, and significant green space -- not to mention craft-beer bars and locavore food trucks. But liberal Portland is also the whitest city in the country. This is not circumstance; the city has a long history of officially sanctioned racialized displacement that continues today.   Over the last two and half decades, Albina -- the one major Black neighborhood in Portland -- has been systematically uprooted by market-driven gentrification and city-renewal policies. African Americans in Portland were first pushed into Albina and then contained there through exclusionary zoning, predatory lending, and racist real estate practices. Since the 1990s, they've been aggressively displaced -- by rising housing costs, developers eager to get rid of low-income residents, and overt city policies of gentrification. Displacement and dispossessions are convulsing cities across the globe, becoming the dominant urban narratives of our time. In What a City Is For, Matt Hern uses the case of Albina, as well as similar instances in New Orleans and Vancouver, to investigate gentrification in the twenty-first century. In an engaging narrative, effortlessly mixing anecdote and theory, Hern questions the notions of development, private property, and ownership. Arguing that home ownership drives inequality, he wants us to disown ownership. How can we reimagine the city as a post-ownership, post-sovereign space? Drawing on solidarity economics, cooperative movements, community land trusts, indigenous conceptions of alternative sovereignty, the global commons movement, and much else, Hern suggests repudiating development in favor of an incrementalist, non-market-driven unfolding of the city.

Urban Planning and the African-American Community (June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf, Editors)

How have urban planning policies contributed to racial injustices in American cities? Does contemporary urban planning really address and attempt to solve the social and economic problems of African Americans in cities, or does it just perpetuate ghetto conditions? What have African Americans done to confront injustices in planning? Historically, race and city design are linked, and Urban Planning and the African American Community aims to clarify the historical connections between the African American population and the urban planning profession and to suggest means by which cooperation and justice may be increased. The book focuses on the areas of zoning and real estate, planning and public policy, African American initiatives and responses to urban planning, and urban planning education. Individual chapters examine the racial origins of zoning in American cities; how Eurocentric family models have shaped planning policies applied to African American families; the rise of equity planning and its effects; the role of race and empowerment in the Model Cities experiment; African American experiences with shaping the planning of such cities as Los Angeles, Greensboro, and Birmingham; and provides a plan for diversifying planning education in order to advance the profession. The editors also include a chapter of excerpts from important court cases and government reports that have shaped or reflected the racial aspects of urban planning. This important new volume bridges the gap between urban planning and issues of race and will be an essential resource for academics and students in urban studies, urban planning, and race/ethnic studies.

Race, Real Estate, and Uneven Development, Second Edition:The Kansas City Experience, 1900-2010 (Kevin Fox Gotham)

Examines how the real estate industry and federal housing policy have facilitated the development of racial residential segregation.

Screening Room

View online these documentary films which address residential racial discrimination.

Housing Segregation and Redlining in America: A Short History | Gene Demby - Code Switch | NPR
Ask A Librarian