Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Race and community value

Whenever I address the subject of race or racial prejudice here, I brace myself. I always get negative feedback, some of which suggests that I should leave the subject alone. The assumption of many of my critics is that race and racism are no longer problems in our society.

Oh, the bliss of wishful thinking.

Last week I attended the first few minutes of a seminar dealing with property values in neighborhoods as an index for determining "livability" or more comprehensive measures of community health. The presenters were accomplished academics, people who really knew their stuff. I'm sure the seminar was brilliant and full of at least some useful insights.

But, I left after the first twenty minutes.

One of the presenters made this statement about real estate values in South Dallas, "We controlled for many factors in our comparisons between this part of Dallas and other more affluent parts of the city. We were surprised to discover that race is still a significant factor affecting property values."

Say what?

"Surprised to discover that race is still a significant factor affecting property values"--are you kidding me? Anyone who is surprised by that fact of life in the inner city has just lost the ability to command my presence for the remainder of the presentation. Thus, my early departure.

Race and racism remain powerful forces and factors in the dynamics of life, economics, opportunity, hope and justice in every inner city in the United States.

The entire ugly reality reminded me of a story I ran across recently. It seems a white preacher visited a black congregation and, during his sermon, suggested that in heaven there must be a Jim Crow partition that separated the white saints on one side from the black saints on the other. At the end of the service, one of the church's deacons led the congregation in a closing prayer that went like this:

". . .O Lord, we thank thee for the brother preacher who has spoke to us,--we thank thee for heaven,--we thank thee that we kin all go to heaven,--but as to that partition, O Lord, we thank thee that we'se a shoutin' people--we thank thee that we kin shout so hard in heaven that we will break down that partition an' spread all over heaven,--an' we thank thee that if the white fokes can't stand it, they can git out of heaven an' go to elsewhere!"

I think the deacon knew more than the academic who came to town last week. How about you?



c hand said...

More affordable housing is now evidence of racism? Of what is less affordability evidence?

The Jim Crow partition story is,..what, 50..60 years old?

Daniel Gray said...

Looks like the presentation would have been news to chand... It has nothing to do with affordable housing, unless that's a code word. You can take a neighborhood with the same location and housing stock, and when enough black people move in, property values drop.

At least these presenters weren't denying the fact that racism exists, but you have to wonder where these guys have been all their life.

Larry James said...

Not "affordable," chand. Rather, substandard on the one hand or undervalued on the other. Yes, the story was from a generation ago, but the point is housing segregation and poverty concentration only grows to be more concentrated.

Anonymous said...

I didn't want to get in on this not because of what you, Larry, might say, but how other might react. I can take the heat, but often when the subject of racism comes up the conversation tends to degenerate away from healthy dialogue. I speak from a Memphis perspective which I am sure is not unique. Larry, I am a little disappointed that you walked out. I always try to hear you out even though I might not always agree. You even admitted that seminar was probably "brilliant."

I want someone to explain to me what I have seen happen over and over again. A middle class neighborhood is built. For the first few years of existance it is majority white, well maintained with thriving businesses and resturants and the schools are perceived as some of the best in the county. Then the area begins to become more intergrated, and then the exodus begins. The whites who can afford to move are the first to go and then the blacks who were there in the beginning are the next to leave. When the transition is complete the neighborhood and schools are in shables. A real live example of this is the Hickory Hill area of Shelby County. When a tornado recently did some damage to a large mall in the area it was basically shut down. I want to know why this happens. Why do whites run from blacks, and why do neighborhoods see a decline in value when significant numbers of blacks move in? In Memphis there is the perception that when blacks move in trouble comes with them. It seems that no matter what you do whites are going to move out. I might sound racist myself, but that is not at all my intention. I am just throwing out some thoughts that I hope someone will address in a thoughtful manner. I just see a never ending cicle contune in my part of the country, and something needs to be done to stop it.

Richard C

Anonymous said...

I think at least part of the never ending circle goes something like this: Blacks experience much higher rates of incarceration than Whites, so Whites think Blacks commit more crime, so Whites leave, then ever poorer Blacks move in. Now, nobody in this situation is asking why Blacks experience higher rates of incarceration. To many Whites, it's just evidence of criminal propensity, not of any particular Black person, but at least as a group. The increasing poverty is also unattractive. Who wants a boarded up window or cars on blocks in your next door neighbor's front yard?

But, when Richard C says "something needs to be done to stop it" I must ask "how" and "what"? Legislate where people live? When we tried that in reverse (excluding Blacks) it didn't work too well.

What we need is more understanding, and that's a long, slow, sometimes tedious process that won't always succed.

Larry James said...

Richard C, thanks for the post.

I don't mind your challenge at all, especially regarding my decision to leave the seminar early. I guess I am getting old, maybe I'm just tired, I know I am too busy!--but, I've decided that time is precious and lots is going on. So, I just made the choice to leave and go onto something more important in my day. I am sure the seminar had some worthwhile things to offer, I just made a decision to do something else.

Of course the question you raise and the situation you describe is both simple and complex. Obviously, race plays a role in property value--the point of my post--and the obvious underlying force back of your own observations about Memphis.

Other factors also are at work, thus the complexity. Class is very big as well. But, race is the starting point here.

When the demographics of a neighborhood begin to change (read here "racial makeup" changes), some homeowners exit in an effort to protect their equity/investments against the anticipated slide in property values due to racial integration--some of this reaction is social/racist and some is economic, I expect in personal terms there is a continuum of motivations, many mixed and overlapping in a not so positive way. Sad, isn't it, when you have to admit that progress on racial understanding is measured against the increasing role of class in discriminatory actions and policies in our urban areas?

As these homeowners leave, real estate prices drop, making it possible for lower-income home buyers to enter the market. Usually, these folks are dispropotionately persons of color, which over time has had a tendency to further devalue property values--sense the snowballing affect here?

As the community becomes poorer, the major institutions are affected--school, busineses, tax base, city services, infrastructure spending decisions, etc. Poverty is further concentrated, racial segregation deepened and you have neighborhoods as you describe.

Solutions are difficult. Only strong, and usually unlikely, public will that shapes new public policies can begin to add benefits to change these dynamics. Affordable housing set asides and inclusionary zoning (illegal in Texas today) could help mix communities in ways that could be more attractive and beneficial to everyone. Mixed-use, mixed-income communities are growing up around the central cities of the nation--a very good development. Much more needs to be done to incentivize such developments. Again, what you describe goes a long way toward making the original point of my post.

c hand said...

When the white racist sell to blacks at devalued prices, which of them is the victim?

Larry, why do you believe black communities can't need white leaders intergrated amongst them? You want the government designing ebony and ivory neigborhoods with zoning and set asides?
People are more than colors on a keyboard.

c hand said...

Rather, why do you say blacks can't thrive without whites?

Anonymous said...

Thanks as always for your response. To be honest, I am at a loss as to what to do. There are so many incorrect perceptions out there, but in Memphis, at least, when blacks move in whites move away, and they take there churches with them. I actually preach in the nothern suburb of Millington and the community is intergrated as well as the church where I work. We intergrated in 1962 with no incident. I guess being near a military base was helpful.

R. Corum

Larry James said...

R. Corum, your experience--and there are other examples of this right here in Dallas--provides us hope for what can be.

chand, my point is that we all need each other to achieve the best overall value. Options in predominately white communities almost always exceed those in neighborhoods that are predominately black or brown--just a fact. Carving out places in better neighborhoods is one way to achieve progress economically, educationally, etc. for persons who have been left with few or no positive options. I think we have proven as a nation that separate is seldom if ever equal.

Anonymous said...

I should have said "their" instead of "there." I do know the difference. I promise.

R. Corum

Anonymous said...

c hand, I think you're missing the point. The issue is not who-is-selling-to-who and which individuals are winning or losing, it is the drift of overall neighborhoods. And the issue is as much about poverty as race. Blacks don't need Whites to have good neighborhoods, but poor Blacks may need resources to improve their poor neighborhoods. If they can improve their neighborhoods, maybe others would even be willing to move back in.

Anonymous said...

Neighborhoods to a great extent reflect the values and attitudes of the inhabitants. Pumping government money into these blighted neighborhoods is only a bandaid. Without a “change of heart” by the inhabitants, any fix is only temporary at best.