Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 10, 1974
Sister Janet Reports
When Blacks Move In Happy New Year! This is always an interesting, hopeful kind of time, especially for those who really do believe in the potential of New Years resolutions. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we can experience is an attempt to look closely at the things weve come to believe, and to be open to the process of demythologizing.
A myth is usually defined as a fictitious story; any imaginative person or thing. All sorts of myths pervade our lives; some of the deepest we are influenced by affect our attitudes toward our fellow man. And there is perhaps no other current social issue as subject to myths as is the housing issue.
This four-week series should be enlightening to all of us. For contrary to pernicious myth, property values in integrated areas usually keep pace with those in white areasand sometimes rise faster.
Written by Avery Comarow and appearing in MONEY magazine, (November 1973), It Pays to Stay When Blacks Move In will say a lot to us about the challenge, the necessity to begin demythologizing in many areas of our life. The article reads: In white American neighborhoods there thrives a conviction, as irrepressible as crabgrass, that the arrival of black homeowners drives down property values. Even some integrationists accept the truth of it. As recently as 1969, the politically liberal ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, in a two-part series on housing, called it a fact of life. Contended the newspaper: No one likes to talk about the racial factor in the real estate market, but buyers and sellers are keenly aware of what happens to home values in integrated neighborhoods.
What really happens, as study after study has shown, is that houses usually go up in price at least as fast in racially mixed areas as in areas where almost everybody is white. Nevertheless, the belief that the opposite is true remains a potent force in keeping the number of integrated number of integrated middle-income neighborhoods still relatively small. Earlier this year the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated that although there is no substance to the view, the property value argument is the most frequent reason advanced for the exclusion of racial minorities from a neighborhood.
The evidence has been piling up for some time. In 1960 the Commission on Race and Housing, a privately funded group that sponsored five years of research into housing problems, released a massive report by economist Luigi Laurenti comparing price movements between 1943 and 1955 in San Francisco, Oakland and Philadelphia. Laurenti focused on 9,914 housing transactions in 39 neighborhoods, of which 20 had become racially mixed. His findings: houses in the integrated areas sold for more than comparable ones in white areas 44 per cent of the time; both sets of houses sold for about the same price 41 per cent of the time; houses in the white neighborhoods sold for more only 15 per cent of the time. Considering all of the evidence, Laurenti wrote, the odds are about 4 to 1 that house prices in a neighborhood entered by nonwhites will keep up with or exceed prices in a comparable all-white area. More recent investigations in three areas-including St. Louissupport Laurentis conclusion. Property values in racially changing neighborhoods of Plainfield, New Jersey, a 1968 study found, were rising about as fast as in white neighborhoods. In Atlanta integration has had a positive effect on prices. The higher the number of blacks who moved into any neighborhood between 1960 and 1970, the more property rose in value, Howard Openshaw of Georgia State University discovered. Comparing price changes from 1960 to 1971 in an integrated and a white part of the city, he found that property values in the integrated area ended more than 20 per cent higher than in the all-white area are. In University City, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb, property appreciated at the same rate in integrated and white areas between 1958 and 1967, according to the findings of Donald Phares and economics professor at the University of Missouri.
Despite this kind of evidence, Blacks continue to be deflected from the suburbs just when many of them are beginning to earn enough to buy decent houses in decent surroundings. According to the real estate axiom that a family can afford a house costing 2½ times its yearly income, it takes earnings of around $12,000 to buy a $30,000 house and $30,000 is currently the median price of an American house. In March 1972, 19 per cent of all Black families in which both husband and wife were present earned $12,000 or more. The figure rises to 22 per cent for Black families living in metropolitan areas, and as high as 32 per cent for families in which the age of the male breadwinner is 25 to 44 the prime house-buying years. Clearly, the good life is within financial reach of an increasing number of Blacks.
Yet William H. Powe, housing supervisor for the Philadelphia Human Relations commission, a municipal agency, says it is almost impossible for a Black family to buy a house in his citys mostly white suburbs. He tells of a Black friend with a responsible, well-paid government job, who scoured the suburbs for seven years before finding a suitable house. If you have a particular house in mind when you walk into a real estate office, theyll show you the house, Powe says. But when you call them back later theyre never in, or the owner decided not to sell, or the price was raisedand after a while you get the picture.