Years Later,Race-based Housing And Zoning Practices Still Affects Many Cleveland Communities

Two foreclosed properies in East Cleveland (pic: Brian Bull, ideastream)
Two foreclosed properies in East Cleveland (pic: Brian Bull, ideastream)
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The role of race and real estate across Cuyahoga County has created segregated pockets across the region, which have caused long-term disparities through much of the past century.

Jason Reece is Director of Research for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. He says in the early 1900s, private agreements called covenants kept home owners from selling their houses to a multitude of people, including blacks, Jews, eastern Europeans, and the Irish.

Speaking on today’s program, Reece says after suburbs boomed after World War Two, many covenants continued, but only for blacks.

“And a lot of scholars refer to this really as the “creation of whiteness,” says Reece.

“When all these ethnic Europeans suddenly were able to move to these new suburbs. These new suburbs didn’t have the ethnic restrictions of the past. But for African-Americans, they were still barred from these communities. And we’re still dealing with the impact of that.”

Even after the Fair Housing Act came about in the late 1960s, Reece says there was still discrimination that led to racial divisions and lack of investment in certain neighborhoods.

And then there’s “redlining”.

The term refers to the practice of ranking neighborhoods based on their perceived desirability and the perceived risk for banks to issue mortgages. The ones deemed least desirable were outlined in red, and the practice devalued a wide number of properties often in minority neighborhoods.

And while city officials speak of the Cleveland resurgence, skeptics say former redlined areas of the city are still economically depressed. Many of the neighborhoods are largely African-American.

Recent blame for the rebound lull falls on predatory lending practices, restricted credit, and the foreclosure crisis.

But Reece says the issues go back to the 1930s.

“You know, when you think: ‘Why is there knob and tube wiring still in these houses? Why is there still lead paint in these homes?’ This is what happens when you starve a neighborhood of investment for 50, 60 years,” continues Reece.

“You don’t have those loans coming in, where folks can reasonably turnover properties, you can’t rehab properties, you can’t update properties….the end result is all these kind of physical challenges down the road.”

Fair housing advocates want disadvantaged residents to have the tools to move beyond past practices. They say improved equity, investment, and assistance can all help homeowners in these areas.

Redlining and other practices were also discussed at a City Club event today.

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