Published November 9th, 2020 at 3:10 PM
Buying a home for some is the epitome of the American Dream.
In the Midwest, which has the highest homeownership rates, that dream is more attainable, according to the National Association of Realtors. But it wasn’t always accessible to everyone.
A reader reached out to curiousKC, asking about how real estate advertisements were once handled in local newspapers.
“I understand that The (Kansas City) Star used to advertise Black real estate separate from white real estate for many years. When did this practice end?” asked the reader, Earl, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Racism in housing is a complex, layered and well-documented problem. It was implicit and explicit in Kansas City’s real estate development. Examples of clear cut racism can be seen in the University of Richmond’s project “Mapping Inequality,” which Flatland reported on back in May.
In 1975, former Kansas City Star reporter Bill Tammeus investigated the segregationist practices that shaped redlining in the urban core. This was corroborated by a report released by the Mid-America Regional Council.
“Large real estate organizations, such as the Kansas City Real Estate Board, responded to the anxieties of white residents about black population influx deflating property values and destabilizing neighborhoods,” concluded the MARC report. “Many real estate professionals systematically attempted to keep neighborhoods either all white or all black.”
That was then, but what about now? The curiousKC team turned to several experts in the area. Here’s what we learned.
In 1954 – the year Brown vs Board was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court – the federal government required the Housing Authority of Kansas City, Missouri to submit applications for housing developments that were “separate but equal.”
“It was not until after the Civil Rights Acts in the ‘60s that they (didn’t) require that anymore,” said Edwin Lowndes, executive director of the Housing Authority. “It became more of a statistical aspect of tracking by race, how many families lived in what developments.”
A large part of what the Housing Authority does is provide housing vouchers, once known as Section 8, for lower-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities. Section 8 is now called the housing choice voucher program. These vouchers can be used for rental properties. The majority of clients are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).
“(Segregation) still does exist. It’s more veiled in that same context of ‘well, we’re not discriminating based on race. I just don’t want to deal with, whether it’s a low-income, or a stereotype of low-income families being drug dealers, prostitutes or otherwise,’ ” Lowndes said. “You still have a vestige of some sort of discrimination but it’s couched as more of an economic discrimination.”
In the Midwest, he said, a disproportionate number of BIPOC communities are low-income. It’s a vicious cycle, spurred by opportunity, discrimination and policies. He explained that families go where they’re used to living — or where vouchers are accepted — and that has a domino effect on where certain communities are concentrated.
In large part, he said, historically mandated segregation by way of neighborhood covenants influenced the way folks think of where they ought to live.
For example, the housing authority wanted to build public housing near Worlds of Fun. In the first meeting, a number of folks protested against the possibility of low-income families on vouchers living in their neighborhoods.
“The mindset is still here,” Lowndes said. “It’s very hard to undo that… ‘Not in my backyard.’ it’s code. Look who you’re not allowing into your neighborhood.”
There has been some progress. Lowndes’ office works with Legal Aid of Western Missouri to provide resources, shed light on fair housing policies and to enforce their clients’ rights. Lowndes is optimistic, as he continues to push for equal opportunities for everyone.
“You’re balancing the reality of some people saying, ‘not in my backyard.’ And the other reality of others saying, ‘I’m not welcome,’ ” he said. “It’s overcoming those different things.”
As a 30-year real estate professional, Stacey Johnson-Cosby says she never heard of segregated house advertisements.
“I’ve heard of redlining but never heard that as an issue,” she said. “Race is not an issue for me personally. I don’t see it in my business. I don’t have a problem as an agent.”
Johnson-Cosby, a Black woman, is a firm believer in real estate as a conduit to building wealth. Her mom was a single mother raising four children and almost always owned a home. So did her grandparents.
So through her work, she wants to help break intergenerational poverty.
“Your house becomes like a piggy bank. … You own something that can lead to financial independence,” she said.
But recently, the National Fair Housing Alliance filed a lawsuit against Redfin – a Seattle-based real estate brokerage firm – for redlining in 10 metropolitan areas. Kansas City was one.
The NFHA claims the firm discriminates against communities of color. After a two-year investigation, NFHA claims that Redfin doesn’t offer equal incentives or services for people wanting to sell or buy in non-white ZIP codes. However, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman said the company makes decisions based on business, not race, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.
But the findings show that the company offers its best services to majority white neighborhoods, whereas it was more likely to skip over other non-white neighborhoods altogether.
Kirk McClure, a native of Kansas City, Kansas, an economist and professor emeritus at the University of Kansas, said he may not have a mainstream opinion.
“Redlining was a very real process,” McClure said. But he added that placing blame on the federal government and J.C. Nichols is overrated.
“There is no question that (the Federal Housing Administration) contributed to the racial segregation by saying, ‘certain neighborhoods (are) losing value therefore we do not want to insure loans,’ ” McClure said.
But he says the main driver for segregation was simply racism.
“(It) is so deeply rooted in the American society,” he said. “Ultimately, racism may have something to do with why (neighborhood) values go down. It’s plain, old-fashioned white people banding together to protect themselves.”
White people were protecting themselves against neighborhoods “becoming too Black.” From an economic perspective white communities assumed the value of their homes and neighborhoods would decrease the more non-white people moved in. Enter racial covenants, which he said the government didn’t create nor endorse. But it didn’t prohibit racial covenants, so the policies persisted.
“There tends to be a tipping effect when communities integrate above a certain percent,” McClure said. “It’s where we are and it’s a very sad thing.”
In high school, McClure used to deliver the Kansas City Times at 3 a.m. and tried to recall whether he saw segregated housing listings.
“There were lots of those kinds of things when I was a kid,” he said.
The signs he remembers most were: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” That was almost code for certain demographics, he said.
“You ask any Black (person) in Kansas City who’s my age they knew exactly what that meant. It meant whites only and it gave a plausible excuse to businesses,” McClure added. “Realtors would post signs like that. This stuff was widespread and continued well into the ‘60s.”
Ultimately, the answer to Earl’s question was difficult to pinpoint. So, if you’d like to help us investigate or recall seeing segregated real estate advertisements in Kansas City newspapers let us know.