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New book advocates for ways to end housing segregation

Richard and Leah Rothstein says government created segregation but activists could work toward ending it

  • Scott LaMar

Airdate: May 23rd, 2023

Six years ago, Richard Rothstein wrote the seminal work – The Color of Law – which described how government at all levels gave rise to and reinforced racial segregation in neighborhoods. It forcefully argued and most would say squelched the idea that Blacks and Whites lived apart by choice.

The book sold almost one million copies.

Rothstein and his daughter Leah Rothstein have published a new book – a follow up called – Just Action – How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law.

Both Richard and Leah Rothstein were with us on The Spark Tuesday.

Richard Rothstein’s previous book described and he spoke on the program about how the federal government created racial segregation,”We all believe somehow that segregation just happened naturally because of private bigotry and people wanting to live with each other at the same race. My previous book, The Color of Law, demolished that myth. And one of the policies that I described was the policy of the Federal Housing Administration and Veteran’s Administration to create all white suburbs throughout the country at a time when we were not a suburban nation. Immediately after World War II was its height. They built suburbs all over. And the only condition that they required of builders whose projects they approved for federal guarantees, bank guarantees of their loans was a commitment on the part of these developers never to to sell a home to an African-American. The Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration even required these developers to place clauses in the deeds prohibiting resale to African-Americans or rental to African-Americans. This was a racially explicit policy. The Federal Housing Administration had a manual called the underwriting manual that they distributed to appraisers all over the country whose job it was to recommend or not to recommend the builders for federal bank guarantees for their loans. The manual said you could not get a federal bank guarantee if you were going to sell to African-Americans. The manual went so far as to say you couldn’t even get the federal bank guarantee if you were going to build an all-white project near where African-Americans were living, because in the words of the manual, that would run the risk of their infiltration into a white neighborhood. This was a blatantly unconstitutional policy of the federal government followed.”

The new book — Just Action — describes how communities can get involved to reduce or eliminate racial housing segregation. Leah Rothstein listed a few of them,”A community can start or support a land trust that creates long term affordable housing opportunities, affordable home ownership opportunities, both in gentrifying communities where residents are being are at risk of being displaced by rising prices. And in suburban communities where African-Americans have historically been excluded from and are now priced out of. So a land trust could create affordable home ownership opportunities in those communities. We could look at changing how the Section Eight program works locally so that it’s a better tool for allowing low income families to move out of high poverty areas into higher opportunity neighborhoods. And there’s a lot of changes that can be made on the local level that make that program a more effective, what we call mobility tool for low income families. And in all of these policies and strategies, we advocate for being race specific in our solutions and in our goals and and the structures of these programs. You know, the segregation was caused by race specific policies of the federal and local and state governments. And so our solutions and our remedies have to be race specific as well. So as we create new housing opportunities in exclusive communities, for example, say we change the zoning in those communities so that those communities now allow duplexes and triplexes and small multifamily buildings rather than only single family homes. Then we have to ensure that African-Americans have access to those homes. So maybe we have preferences or subsidies to allow them to buy into those communities. So it’s a multi layered, you know, a basket of solutions, I guess. And like Color of Law, describe the many, many actors and actions that went into creating segregation. There’s also many, many actions and actors that will go into undoing it and challenging it.”


Richard and Leah Rothstein will appear at Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg Saturday, June 3, 2023, at 6 p.m. to discuss Just Action – How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law.

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