NEW IPO Logo - by Charles Larry Home Search Browse About IPO Staff Links


Housing discrimination: one step forward and pro backward

Illinois neighborhoods did not become segregated by accident. State and federal legislation to the contrary, racially motivated housing discrimination is still entrenched tough real estate 'steering' practices and even by federal housing programs

THE RIGHTS of property ownership were extended to all U.S. citizens over 100 years ago, yet discriminatory real estate practices against nonwhites are still an everyday occurrence in Illinois. Racial discrimination in the housing market has created two separate housing markets — one for whites, the other for blacks and other minorities. This so-called dual housing market has been a major cause of racially segregated living patterns in most of Illinois' communities.

Racial segregation in housing is not just a Chicago problem, although Chicago vies with Houston, Texas, for the title of most segregated city in the nation. The dual housing market and the racially segregated neighborhoods that have resulted are a statewide phenomenon. In Aurora, Cairo, East St. Louis, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana — in most of Illinois' communities — there is a "black section" of town and a "white section."

The greater metropolitan Chicago area leads the state and the nation in developing strategies to promote integration and open housing. But like busing in the arena of education and affirmative action in employment, these strategies have generated controversy and disagreement among public officials, minority communities, the real estate industry and advocates of open housing. The key issue in these disagreements has been identified by several policy analysts and writers. It is this: federal and state laws, as upheld by the courts, support open housing and declare housing discrimination on the basis of race as illegal, but these laws do not comment on the question of residential integration. Consequently, municipalities in Illinois and other states are struggling to address the question on their own.

Racial covenants

Illinois' neighborhoods didn't become segregated just by accident. They are segregated because of the considered policies of the real estate industry during the first half of the century. In fairness, it should be noted that these policies were a direct reflection of the views of a great part of society during that period of history. In 1917 when blacks were moving into the northern industrial cities from the South, a committee of the Chicago Real Estate Board recommended that blacks should be confined to contiguous city blocks: "Inasmuch as more territory must be provided (for Negroes), it is desired in the interest of all, that each block shall be filled solidly and that further expansion shall be confined to contiguous blocks with the present method of obtaining a single building in scattered blocks discontinued." This recommendation was adopted and implemented through restrictive covenants, until they were ruled legally unenforceable in 1948. But the desired results of racial restrictive covenants continued to be achieved through the use of contract sales, neighborhood associations and more subtle forms of discrimination such as

September 1980/Illinois Issues/15

"racial steering," which is the practice of discouraging white home buyers from seeking housing in areas where blacks already live, and vice versa. Potential home buyers are not told about housing opportunities in neighborhoods that the realtor, because of the home buyer's race, has decided are unsuitable. Racial steering is illegal under the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Law, and is forbidden under the Illinois Real Estate Brokers and Salesmen License Act, but the practice is very difficult to prove or eliminate. The Illinois Department of Registration and Education, the state agency that licenses and disciplines real estate brokers and salesmen, has taken disciplinary action against members of the real estate industry for racial discrimination only 30 times since August 1974 when the department began keeping records. In the last few months, the agency has received 25 complaints.

Economic fear

Illinois neighborhoods remain segregated because of fear — economic fear. White homeowners worry that they will lose the investment their homes represent if a black family moves into the neighborhood — regardless of the physical desirability and condition of the neighborhood. This fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy and can cause homeowners to panic and sell out at unreasonably low prices. Likewise, the belief that a neighborhood will rapidly change to all black residents once a black family moves onto a block is another self-fulfilling prophecy. If white demand for homes in a neighborhood diminishes, the neighborhood will become all black. Decades of history have illustrated the force of these self-fulfilling prophecies. There are only three neighborhoods in the city of Chicago (Hyde Park, Kenwood and Beverly-Morgan Park) that have avoided changing to all black from all white once blacks moved into the neighborhood.

Segregated housing has even been caused by some of the programs under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is charged with administering federal fair housing laws. HUD's public housing program and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance program have been two of the biggest offenders. Illinois' Gautreaux case is a well-known example of the former (see "Private sector assisted housing," June Illinois Issues).

Of course, racial discrimination is not the sole reason for the segregated residential patterns in Illinois communities. Poverty is a contributing and related cause.

There is a high correlation between low incomes, poor housing and minorities. Forty-three percent of Illinois minority households are inadequately housed. Because poor housing is usually concentrated in specific neighborhoods, these neighborhoods often end up containing poor people — often black. And relatively affluent, even rich black families will choose to live in all-black communities.

Many people, black and white, believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with all-black neighborhoods. Unfortunately, black neighborhoods all too often suffer when public services and private investments are passed out. And the market value of any house, regardless of how well-maintained, will be distorted if only one segment of the population, i.e., the black community, finds it desirable.

This country has never agreed whether residential segregation per se is bad: Is it fair or unfair for blacks to live in all-black neighborhoods? Is it just or unjust to permit or to encourage all-white neighborhoods? HUD has a policy against discrimination, but has no official policy on segregation of housing. Yet racially motivated housing discrimination is still well-entrenched in our society, despite federal and state legislation to the contrary. In 1968, soon after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Congress passed legislation to strengthen efforts to end housing discrimination. This legislation is known as the Federal Fair Housing Law or Title 8 of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1968. The 1968 law gives all persons, not just all citizens, regardless of race, color, religion or national origin, the right to obtain the housing of their choice (on the open market and within their financial means), and identifies specific illegal acts such as racial steering. The law was amended in 1974 to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sex. This legislation provided three enforcement mechanisms: (1) an administrative complaint procedure through HUD; (2) private suits filed in a federal district court and (3) suits filed with the U.S. attorney general in class action cases. The fair housing law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones v. Mayer in 1968.

Only three Chicago neighborhoods have avoided changing to all-black from all-white once blacks moved into the neighborhood
The 1970 Illinois Constitution includes a provision against discrimination in the sale or rental of property. No enforcement mechanisms, however, were provided. In 1979, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Human Rights Act (S.B. 1377, P.A. 81-1216) to create the Illinois Human Rights Department and Commission, which began operation July 1. The statute also defines housing discrimination, and the new commission will hear these complaints along with others. The state definition of illegal discrimination is somewhat broader under this statute than federal law: in addition to race, color, religion, national origin and sex, discrimination on the basis of age, marital status, military discharge or disability will also be illegal. The state commission will give Illinois a statewide complaint procedure and advocacy group. The Chicago metropolitan area has been the only part of the state in which concerted fair housing activity takes place, although municipal governments in Illinois do have the legal authority to adopt fair housing ordinances.

Chicago leadership

Spearheading the open/fair housing movement in the Chicago metro area is the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. It was founded in 1966 as an outgrowth of Dr. King's civil rights marches, and the resulting tension and violence in Chicago during the summer of 1966. It is a private nonprofit organization that is concerned exclusively with fair housing. It receives one-third of its funding from foundations, one-third from government contracts, and the remaining

16/September 1980/Illinois Issues

one-third irom donations from individuals and corporations.

The major activity of the leadership council is its legal action program, which has been largely responsible for Illinois' reputation as a leader in fair housing court action. In the early 1970's, more housing discrimination suits were filed in Illinois than all of the other states put together, according to Kale Williams, executive director of the council. Under the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Law any individual or household who feels that he has been discriminated against in his search for housing can file a private suit for damages in a U.S. federal district court. A temporary restraining order can be issued by the court to keep a housing unit off the market until the dispute is settled. Williams says the leadership council provides investigative and legal services to any individual or household who wishes to file a private suit under the federal law. An administrative complaint procedure through HUD was also set up under the 1968 law, but the leadership council has found the private suit procedure to be more efficient. Since a suit usually takes less time, the disputed housing can be kept off the market, and damages can be awarded to the injured party.

The leadership council receives an average of 150-200 complaints a year and about 50 of those cases go to court. About 95 percent of the court cases are settled in the complainant's favor. The complaints that don't go to court are settled either privately or forgotten when a complainant gives up or to evidence of discrimination can be found by the leadership council. According to Williams, most of the leadership council's complaints are concerned with discrimination on the basis of race. Ninety-five percent of the complaints are from blacks, 4 percent from Latinos and some from Asians. Occasionally, the council receives complaints of housing discrimination against women or children. In addition to its legal action program, the leadership council has contracts with the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Cook County, the Federal Trade Commission and HUD to administer various programs. The leadership council also provides heavy moral support to about 15 suburban municipalities and the few city neighborhoods which have established racial diversity as a desirable community goal.

Of Chicago's 252 suburban communities, only 15 of them have any more than a handful of black residents. The majority of these 15 are trying to build racially diverse, rather than monocolor communities. In order to do that they have adopted a battery of ordinances and promotional tools to protect their integrated status. These have been labelled integration management or maintenance techniques.

Suburbia problems

Unlike Chicago neighborhoods, suburban municipalities have their own legal power and so can adopt these techniques, which are usually implemented through a community relations department and/or a fair housing counseling center. One integration technique involves the careful monitoring of real estate sales and practices for discriminatory behavior and legal action taken against such behavior. Integration maintenance techniques also include promoting a positive image of the community as a good place to live and actively publicizing housing opportunities among groups that are underrepresented in a particular neighborhood. This is called "affirmative marketing." Underrepresentation is usually defined as less than the greater Chicago racial composition of 80 percent white and 20 percent black. Other examples of integration maintenance techniques are:

•  listing homes for sale at the city or village hall;
•  barring real estate brokers from soliciting listings without town approval;
•  banning "for sale" signs in order to discourage panic selling;
•  guaranteeing home-selling prices (an insurance policy for homeseekers who fear that a home they purchase in an integrated neighborhood may lose value over time);
•  counseling for prospective home buyers on various problems, including the community's racial balance in relation to housing opportunities.

The real estate industry and some members of the black community charge that too often fair housing counseling or affirmative marketing activities include "reverse steering" (a clearly illegal action under the 1968 federal law), and that not all available housing opportunities are always discussed with a family. Indeed, black families are sometimes discouraged from buying housing on a block that already has "too many" black families and are directed towards all-white neighborhoods.

Jean Oden is one of the "victims" of affirmative marketing. In 1978 Oden sold her home in Park Forest South so that her family could move back into the city. Oden feels that she lost several thousand dollars on the price of her home because of Park Forest South's affirmative marketing program. Only white families were shown her home and prospective black buyers were encouraged to look elsewhere, even though, according to Oden, "black" demand for her house was higher than "white" demand. Oden says that white demand for housing in Park Forest South is usually from young couples buying their first home, and they cannot afford to pay the price that black, upper middle-class home buyers can afford. Feeling that her rights as a property owner were violated, Oden along with two other property owners and a real estate broker filed an administrative complaint with HUD in March 1978 against Park Forest South's fair housing ordinance. HUD sat on the complaint for a year and then decided not to give an answer. Oden then filed a complaint with the Justice Department and — one year later — has not yet received a reply. Park Forest South has since rescinded the affirmative marketing provisions of its fair housing ordinance, but Oden would still like either HUD or the courts to rule on the legality of affirmative marketing programs.

What is at stake in this instance is an individual's civil rights (the right to choose where one lives) versus a community's right to pass laws that protect the health and welfare of the community (in this case, the integrated status of the community). The real estate industry represented by the National Association of Realtors, which is headquartered in Chicago, and several prominent Chicago black leadership groups including the Chicago chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), the Chicago chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Operation PUSH have adopted

September 1980/Illinois Issues/17

viewpoints supporting the individual's civil rights. The similar viewpoints of the realtors and some members of the black community may seem to be an unusual alliance, since in the past (as fair housing advocates are always quick to point out) the real estate industry has fought every piece of major fair housing legislation.

Race-conscious approach

Clyde Brooks, president of the Chicago chapter of SCLC, says that his group is' opposed to any attempt to manage where blacks can or cannot live. He asks what is wrong with an all-black community? Brooks says that he doesn't see anyone trying to manage the Irish, the Italians or the Polish. Those groups frequently live in ethnic enclaves. Brooks also charges that all the counseling in fair housing programs goes to the "victims" (blacks) rather than the "oppressors" (whites) who cause the problem of discrimination in the first place.

The real estate industry and some blacks contend that communities think integration is fine only as long as whites remain in the majority
William North, attorney for the National Association of Realtors, says that the real estate broker is the "victim" of this controversy: "He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't [steer]." The official position of the National Association of Realtors is that the appropriate action with respect to the race, religion or sex of buyers or sellers is no action at all. The real estate industry should be color blind.

But not everyone agrees with that position. Donald DeMarco, Park Forest assistant village manager for community relations and an outspoken fair housing advocate, feels that a race-conscious approach is necessary to obtain the goals of equal access for all groups to housing opportunities and to replace racially isolated ghettos with housing markets not identifiable by race. To take a neutral approach, he believes, encourages the status quo.

But a race-conscious approach raises all sorts of complicated questions. For example, when precisely is a community integrated? Should integration be measured on a block-by-block basis or in terms of the entire community? The real estate industry and some blacks contend that communities think integration is fine only as long as whites remain in the majority and retain political control. They argue that integration maintenance techniques are an effort to disperse black political power throughout the white community so that it will be ineffective.

The nation's current economic problems have virtually shut down most real estate transactions and put the issue of integration maintenance on a back burner. But the issue won't disappear; it will return when housing sales return to normal.

In the meantime, a related issue has popped up in one of HUD's housing programs. In May 1979, HUD invited 22 regional planning agencies to participate in a pilot program called the Regional Housing Mobility Program. Both the Chicago metro area and two Illinois counties, Madison and St. Clair (as part of the greater St. Louis area), were extended invitations. These 22 regions are the areas of the nation with the highest percentage of blacks concentrated in central cities in comparison to the number of whites in the suburbs. A counseling and outreach program would help black families find housing in formerly all-white areas and vice versa. One element of the program focused on using Section 8 Low Income Rental Assistance certificates (see box on federal housing programs, p. 10, May Illinois Issues) anywhere in the participating region rather than in just the community that issues the certificates. The East-West Coordinating Council, which is the administering agency for the program in the St. Louis area, dropped its application due to citizen protest. Protesters argued that although such a program would foster integration, it would isolate black, low-income households in suburban neighborhoods which do not have the social services of the central city. The Chicago area application for the program is being prepared by the Chicago Urban League. Brooks of SCLC says that, based on conversations he has had with Urban League Director Jim Compton, he has no problems with the Chicago program as long as blacks are not discouraged from moving into all-black neighborhoods. Nationally, some members of the black community have expressed reservations or strong opposition to the program arguing that it is a deliberate attempt to scatter blacks among the white suburbs and dilute black political power.

Delicate balance

The controversies surrounding integration maintenance techniques and HUD's Regional Housing Mobility Program point out how difficult it is to adopt an acceptable policy — even when all parties want to stop housing discrimination. Fair/open housing laws should be enforced to ensure that any family can live where they wish -within their financial capabilities. Some blacks want to live in integrated communities. Other members of the black community would prefer to live in all-black neighborhoods.

Writers such as Herbert Gans and Richard Sennett argue strenuously for heterogeneous rather than homogeneous neighborhoods. Such arguments are based on the assumption that if different races live together they will inevitability become good neighbors and friends, and will learn to respect differences. In truth, only a minority of our population desires to live in such neighborhoods. The vast majority appear to feel most comfortable with their own kind. However, the desire to live in a homogeneous neighborhood should never be a flimsy excuse for discrimination. At the same time, all levels of government need to guard against being so overzealous in their efforts to provide equal opportunity in housing that the very people they are trying to help get hurt.

Beverly Ann Fleming holds a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is now coordinator of the federal Section 8 Rental Assistance Program in the Hyde Park historic district of St. Louis.

[This is the eighth in a series of articles on Illinois housing issues. The series is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The ninth and last article of this series will discuss the changing methods of buying a home. —Editor]

18/September 1980/Illinois Issues

|Home| |Search| |Back to Periodicals Available| |Table of Contents| |Back to Illinois Issues 1980|
Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library