What kind of place will you call home?
What defines a good place to live?
Is a single-family home a good fit for everyone?
Should an ideal city have all renters, all owners, or a mix of each?
Race and real estate: the connections between the two run deep in US history. Will the future be different?
Starting in the 1890s, residential segregation and racial separation became a critical part of many White Americans’ vision of the good life. It was built right into the landscape. As generations grew up in this reality, segregation could seem like the natural enduring way things are and always were. But it was created purposefully by human decisions and actions.
The decisions and actions of civil rights advocates worked to chip away at this system. Activists, lawyers, and everyday homeowners asserted their rights to live where they wanted to and could afford to. The pinnacle of their efforts was the 1968 passage of the Civil Rights Act, known as the Fair Housing Act. Its passage reversed a decades-long rise in segregation in the US. Segregation rates began to fall gradually, but not until the 1990s.
What decisions and actions today could create a different future for housing in America? While legal housing discrimination has mostly been banned, it is still common to hear the belief that certain racial groups or types of housing bring down property values or cause community decline. Online, potential homebuyers can find maps of communities listing race alongside factors like average home price, political affiliation, and COVID-19 rates. Housing patterns continue to create disparate outcomes among people of different races. The challenges of the past are still reaching into the present and future.
Every community has a story about housing and race. Many communities hid or overlooked this history for a long time. We hope the Unvarnished project will inspire further research into local community histories across the United States. How did these national movements for and against housing segregation play out locally? After you have explored the national story and six community spotlights of this project, we invite you to dig deep into your own community’s history. How does your community compare? How did the systems of laws, customs, beliefs, and threats influence your hometown? What community movements and legal fights paved the way for people who live in your city or town today?
And once you have learned the history, think about the days to come. What is your vision for fair housing in America? What can you do today to work toward it? How could your own city or town reduce segregation and increase access to safe, good-quality housing? What kind of community do you want to live in? By bringing your knowledge of the past to your own local activities, you have the power to envision new futures.
We end in the same place we started: What do you know about the place you call home?