Less to Lean On, Part 2

This is the second part in a special series from Trending Globally exploring the housing crisis in the United States, and in Rhode Island in particular. The crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but as we’ll show, it’s a problem that has been with us for much, much longer.

In Part 2, we explore the role racism has played in this ongoing crisis, through policies and practices both unofficial and government sanctioned. We also look at how history is repeating itself today, as President Trump implies that white suburbs are facing an existential threat. But if the current inequalities are the result of deliberate actions, perhaps deliberate actions can also be used rectify them.

Listen to Parts 1, 3, 4, and the series epilogue.

Contributors to this podcast include students from Brown University and the media collective Signs of Providence. You can learn more about their organization here.

(Photo credit: Steve Ahlquist)


[MUSIC - HENRY BLOOMFIELD] SARAH BALDWIN: From the Watson Institute at Brown University, this is Trending Globally. I'm Sarah Baldwin.

REPORTER 1: A wave of coronavirus-related addictions.

REPORTER 2: Police and protesters packing the streets of our country. In New York, the city is still on lockdown.

REPORTER 3: African-American and Latinx people are nearly three times more likely to be infected.

REPORTER 4: The anger goes from coast to coast.

SARAH BALDWIN: The United States has entered another moment of reckoning in its long racist history. Racist legal decisions and public policies implemented since the emancipation have cleaved deep and wide inequalities between white and non-white Americans. And this affects every aspect of life from health to educational attainment to life expectancy, from who goes to prison to who walks free, from where you can work and play to where you can raise a family.

Our first episode of Less to Lean On began with a question, what impact will the coronavirus have on Rhode Island's many housing-insecure citizens, particularly when state and federal eviction moratoriums are lifted? In this episode, we'll try to explain the dangerously, even lethally, unfair racial and economic disparities that COVID-19 has revealed. To do that, we have to look at the ways in which anti-Blackness and racism more broadly have played a central role in shaping the landscape of housing in America including in Rhode Island. It turns out that those disparities are encoded in the very DNA of our housing system.


FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: I see millions of families trying to live on income so meagre that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

SARAH BALDWIN: You could start this story in a lot of places. But we're going to start here in Nineteen-Thirty-Seven at Franklin Roosevelt's second inauguration.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

SARAH BALDWIN: He used his second inaugural address to identify what was ailing American society and to commit to creating solutions. Through the Housing Act of Nineteen-Thirty-Seven, the United States Housing Authority funneled $800 million in subsidies into the construction of 170,000 homes.


SUBJECT 1: And from Levittown to Los Angeles, from Minneapolis to Miami, [? Great ?] [? Industry ?] provides better homes for modern American living.

SARAH BALDWIN: The idea was to address America's housing shortage and to push home ownership as a means of creating a solid middle class.


SUBJECT 1: --the home they've always dreamed of. The happiest investment they have ever made.

SARAH BALDWIN: But the government didn't just increase housing stock, it segregated it too. Like the water fountains and lunch counters of the South, opportunities like homeownership and suburban living might as well have been designated whites only. This was hardly a secret. The Federal Housing Administration created in the early '30s subsidized builders constructing subdivisions exclusively for whites even as it refused to insure mortgages in and around African-American neighborhoods.


SUBJECT 1: This is Levittown, Pennsylvania, a new suburban community of 60,000 people.

SARAH BALDWIN: In Nineteen-Forty-Seven, William and Alfred Levitt practically invented the suburb when they transformed 1,000 acres of Long Island potato farms into a settlement of more than 17,000 mass-produced houses. The development proved so successful that they quickly expanded their model across the nation from Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico.

SUBJECT 1: Levittown, Pennsylvania, attracted international attention when violence erupted as Negroes moved into an all white community.

SARAH BALDWIN: The Federal Housing Administration guaranteed loans to the Levitt's but insisted that William Levitt not sell homes to Black people. And each deed prohibited resale to Black people in the future. Levitt was completely onboard with this. "We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem," he said. "But we can't combine the two."

SUBJECT 2: I moved here, one of the main reasons was because it was a white community.

SARAH BALDWIN: Between Nineteen-Thirty-Four and Nineteen-Sixty-Eight, 98% of the loans approved by the federal government went to white applicants. The trick to justifying this imbalance lay in the creation of residential safety maps. These were government-generated documents that color coded all major metropolitan areas in the country.

Now, if you like maps like I do, especially old-timey ones, you'll find these maps beautiful until you understand what they represent. They weren't depicting the safety of people. They were depicting the supposed safety of loans.

On the maps, all white neighborhoods were marked in green. These were places considered safe to make loans for mortgages. Blue meant a neighborhood was still mostly white and therefore, still mostly safe.

Yellow indicated declining due to, quote, unquote, "subversive racial elements." And red, well, red meant hazardous because red meant Black. This practice of color coding came to be known as redlining.

JUSTICE GAINES: Housing has been one of central structures of racism throughout the history of the United States.

SARAH BALDWIN: That's Justice Gaines, a community advocate and queer justice coordinator at Providence Youth Student Movement or PrYSM.

JUSTICE GAINES: Banks would literally draw red lines on the map and change interest rates, or say that Black people couldn't own property, or wouldn't get loans for those areas, or that the interest rates for those loans would be exorbitant. And so you're now financially moving Black people into certain parts of the city. And you're also diminishing their capability of generating generational wealth.

SARAH BALDWIN: To be clear, the maps didn't just use color. They used words. Here's how one described a section of Savannah, Georgia, "a cheap inferior grade of property inhabited by a fair class of Negroes and low type of white." Other descriptions warned against Italian, Jewish, or Asiatic infiltration.

A neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey, was described this way, "100% poor class Negroes practically all on relief. A high wall prevents their spread."


INTERVIEWER 1: Do you think a Negro family moving here will affect the community as a whole?

SUBJECT 3: Definitely.

INTERVIEWER 1: In what way?

SUBJECT 3: I think that, well, the property values will immediately go down if they are allowed to move in here in any number.

INTERVIEWER 1: Can you give a basis for that judgment?

SARAH BALDWIN: There is no basis for that judgment. But that didn't bother Frederick Babcock, who pretty much established early 20th century real estate appraisal standards, quote, "the infiltration of inharmonious racial groups tends to lower the levels of land values and to lessen the desirability of residential areas. Usually, such declines can be partially avoided by segregation," unquote.


And even if a person of color did come close to buying a home in a white suburb, many deeds, even beyond Levittown, explicitly stipulated that they, quote, "shall not be rented, leased, conveyed to, or occupied by any person other than of the white or Caucasian race. In some deeds, you can find the word Aryan.


SUBJECT 3: The whole trouble with this integration business is, it probably will end up with mixing socially. I think their aim is mixed marriages and becoming equal with the whites.


SARAH BALDWIN: That said, some developers actually wanted to build integrated housing. But the government denied loans to integrated projects. What's worse, the Public Works Administration went so far as to segregate previously integrated neighborhoods on purpose by building separate housing projects for Black families and white families.

So Black people were mostly kept out of white suburbs. But because of redlining, most Black people couldn't get a government-insured loan for property in a Black neighborhood either. It's not that nobody wanted to sell to aspiring Black homeowners.

In Nineteen-Fifty-Four, the US Department of Commerce and the publisher of Ebony magazine teamed up to produce a film called The Secret of Selling the Negro.


SUBJECT 4: I've got a story here that I think is big. I'm talking about a new market, millions upon millions of new prospects with $15 billion to spend.


SARAH BALDWIN: The film urged white business owners to embrace Black spending power.


SUBJECT 4: If Negroes own homes, they meet their payments faithfully. So why let a lot of old-fashioned ideas hurt profits?


SARAH BALDWIN: But too often, this resulted in widespread scamming. Aspiring Black homeowners became vulnerable to con men known as blockbusters. These developers would actually hire Black people to walk through a white neighborhood to scare owners into selling low before their property value collapsed.

They'd then sell those houses to Black families at a much higher price. The buyer had no choice but to buy on contract, a deal that came with the pitfalls of both homeownership and tenancy. The developer would keep the deed. And the buyer would make monthly payments.

But on the way to paying off the house, the buyer accumulated zero equity. And if he missed one payment, the seller kept everything, the down payment, every monthly payment the buyer ever made, every repair he ever paid for, and the house itself. After evicting one Black family this way, the developer would sell to another Black family under the same conditions, and so on, making huge profits along the way.


Denied the loans, the homes, and the jobs that would enable them to invest in their own communities, many poor and working class African-Americans were left in dense often poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Later, redevelopment agencies and municipal governments were only too eager to designate those neighborhoods as slums.


In his Nineteen-Forty-Nine State of the Union, President Truman identified, quote, unquote, "slum clearance" as a way to combat the nation's post-World War II housing shortage. That year, Congress passed the Federal Housing Act to help cities replace blighted areas with middle class, that is mostly white housing. This approach made it possible to erase entire historic Black neighborhoods.

Black residents who were removed from their homes were told they could buy the units that replaced them. But redevelopers knew that most couldn't afford to do so. Generations of Black homeowners were forced into tenancy. Their ticket to the middle class had been confiscated.


SUBJECT 5: This is the American dream of freedom on wheels.

SARAH BALDWIN: Building highways helped this plan. In Nineteen-Fifty-Six, President Eisenhower signed into law the largest public works project in American history to date, the Federal Aid Highway Act. It called for the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highway.

One of its goals, in addition to national defense, was to ease traffic congestion in large part caused by people driving out of cities to all those suburbs we talked about. Some urban planners actually saw highway construction as a twofer, a way to ease traffic and wipe out slums using federal money to boot.


So while it would eventually connect the lower 48, America's highway system also cut off many African-Americans from opportunities that lay in the beating hearts of their cities, either by creating a physical barrier to city centers or by obliterating their communities altogether and scattering the people who lived in them. One Detroit resident named Helen Kelly put it more succinctly.

HELEN KELLY: I say it what divided so they could conquer. That's what I would call it.

JAMES BALDWIN: --and some of our urban renewal, which means moving Negroes out. It means Negro removal. That is what it means.

SARAH BALDWIN: That's James Baldwin in Nineteen-Sixty-Three.

JAMES BALDWIN: We're talking about human beings. There's not such a thing as a monolithic wall or some abstraction called the Negro problem. It is Negro boys and girls who at 16 and 17 don't believe the country means anything that it says. They don't feel they have any place here on the basis of the performance of the entire country.

SARAH BALDWIN: From this nation's earliest beginnings, municipal governments have been financed through property taxes. So it's in their self interest to increase property values. The higher the value, the higher the tax revenues. And how do you increase property values? By pushing out poor people.

Urban renewal was a form of social engineering based on the belief that, in American cities, one of the best ways to promote public safety, public health, and economic growth was to target older economically-depressed neighborhoods and simply wipe them out, clearing space on which to build buildings that would generate more income. Remember those maps? The federal government lending institutions and the real estate sector essentially constructed a system in which Blackness came to be seen as synonymous with poverty.

In Nineteen-Sixty-One the social scientist Joshua Fishman wrote in an academic journal no less that, quote, "Negroes represent all of the dirt, grime, haste, sweat, and unlovliness of city life," unquote. By the way, he included Jews in that assessment too. In this racist system, pushing out the poor to increase property values meant labeling Black neighborhoods slums destined for the bulldozer.


What's important here is that, it's not as though municipal and federal governments were simply reacting to racism on the ground. Plenty of Americans including some Levittowners wanted to live in an equal integrated society.

INTERVIEWER 2: Do you feel that the [INAUDIBLE] will lead to other Negroes coming here?

SUBJECT 6: I hope because I would like to see an integrated group here. And I would like to see my children live in a group that is representative of the world.

SARAH BALDWIN: The policies dictated by the FHA and others ensured that racism and segregation would continue well into the 21st century. Once economic and physical segregation was established, it could be upheld by policies like tax codes and zoning regulations that at face value had nothing to do with race.


DORIS DAY: (SINGING) Bless this house, oh, Lord, we pray.

SARAH BALDWIN: By the time Doris Day covered this song in Nineteen-Sixty-Two, the single-family home had become an almost religious symbol of stability and prosperity for white America.


Bless these walls so firm and stout, keeping want and trouble out.

MARIJOAN BULL: We have a fetish around a single-family home. And we've come to sort of this promise that homeowners are superior types of beings to renters.

SARAH BALDWIN: That's Professor Marijoan Bull from episode 1.

MARIJOAN BULL: When you're a homeowner, your housing costs are subsidized because you can take your housing costs off of your income before calculating your income tax. It's just the greatest irony that so many folks including myself have to admit that we live in subsidized housing.

SARAH BALDWIN: The American government created a system in which citizens would participate in the national economy by owning homes but only some citizens. The government decided that Black people would be excluded through policies backed by physical violence. This is why it's impossible to talk about housing without talking about race and why it's impossible to talk about solutions without imagining policies that target race specifically.


So far, we've sketched out the first half of the 20th century chapter of race and housing at the national level. But how was all of this playing out in the Ocean State. To find out, we have to look back a few hundred years.

NICHOLAS MATTIELLO: I originally did not think we had actual slavery in this island. And that may not be accurate.

INTERVIEWER 3: No, we did.

NICHOLAS MATTIELLO: I do believe in respecting history. Just if you forget history, you are doomed to repeat it.

ate in the nation. But by the:

KEITH STOKES: I think what's most important to recognize is that, Africans arrived very early in Rhode Island. Many arrived by the mid part of the 17th century via Massachusetts and Boston enslaved.

SARAH BALDWIN: That's Keith Stokes, a fourth-generation native of Newport, Rhode Island. He's an expert on historic preservation with a special focus on early African and Jewish history.

Flower, arrives in Newport in:

SARAH BALDWIN: Newport, also known as the City by the Sea, is renowned for its yacht-filled harbors, tennis Hall of Fame, and Gilded Age mansions.


SUBJECT 7: In the old sections of Newport, history comes alive along the narrow streets.

SARAH BALDWIN: But in the 18th century, it was also home to a lot of rum distilleries.


Molasses to rum to slaves.

H BALDWIN: Remember the movie:


EDWARD RUTLEDGE: (SINGING) Who sail the ships out of Boston laden with bibles and rum? Who drinks a toast to--

KEITH STOKES: It's the rum that is the gold. And what's ironic is that, rum is distilled from molasses and sugar, which is harvested by enslaved Africans in the sugar plantations of the West Indies. So what we call today a triangle trade is Rhode Island merchants taking rum and hogshead barrels to West Africa, trading with African tribal leaders and kings for enslaved Africans with rum. That is the commodity.

And then those enslaved Africans were placed on the ships. And then sent by the Middle Passage to largely Jamaica and Barbados, where they would be the enslaved workforce in sugar plantations. And then once the molasses is boiled, it's brought to Newport or Bristol or Providence and distilled into rum and then going back out into the market.

Rhode Island rum men. Between:

SARAH BALDWIN: Translated into human terms, that's more than 100,000 children, women, and men.


EDWARD RUTLEDGE: (SINGING) Molasses to rum to slaves.

ial name which it acquired in:

ansett Bay. There, by the mid:

Rhode Island had more people of African descent per capita than any New England state. So yes, Mr. Speaker, Rhode Islanders not only enslaved human beings but they also profited enormously from their enslavement. And some of our most prominent institutions bear the mark of this sin to this day.

NICHOLAS MATTIELLO: Just if you forget history, you're doomed to repeat it.


SARAH BALDWIN: Keith Stokes reminds us that, the story of African heritage people in this country is not one of abject submission but one of creative survival.


KEITH STOKES: That's not about chattel property. It's not about slaves and beasts of the field. It's men, women, and children who persevered, who survived. My grandmother would say repeatedly, "slavery is how we got here, but it tells you little to who we are as the people."


[? Okuma ?] [? Mariko ?] who is from what is today Ghana, he arrives here at the age of 14 enslaved. He learns to read, write, and compose music. Today, he is recognized as the first African or African-American music composer.


[? Zingales ?] Stevens is a stone polisher in the John Stevens Stone Shop, who is recognized today as one of America's first true artist.


SUBJECT 8: Duchess Quamino is a slave in the household of the Channing family. She later becomes a free person. She was literally sought after by all the leading families in Rhode Island to cater or to provide food for their banquets and their services. She was later called the pastry queen of all of colonial Rhode Island.


than the city as a whole. By:

and working class whites. In:

SUBJECT 9: It was a devastating riot. They burned homes to dislodge people. And they pushed the Black community a little bit further North and West to about where the Providence Marriott is in the river.

SARAH BALDWIN: Seven years later, it happened again. This time in a neighborhood called Snow Town. There, the shooting death of a sailor sparked another race riot in which white mobs torched Black homes again.


INTERVIEWER 1: Do you think the Negro family moving here will affect the community as a whole?

SUBJECT 3: Definitely.

SARAH BALDWIN: The violence of Snow Town spilled over onto Olney Lane now Olney Street. To this day, Olney serves as a divider between one of Providence's most affluent communities and one that's more working class. We'll hear more about that neighborhood later.


In the early 20th century, more and more Black people from the South began traveling North to escape Jim Crow and find better job prospects.


SUBJECT 10: The new Negro families today are moving into more populated areas, to the cities where there are more stores, more buying opportunities.

SARAH BALDWIN: At the time, Little Rhody was becoming a manufacturing hub with vast factories producing precision tools, screws, steam engines, and silverware. It was also the largest producer of textiles in the country. These well-paying factory jobs were a ladder to the middle class. But for the most part, they were off limits to Black workers.

In Nineteen-Ten, 17,000 women were employed in Rhode Island textile mills but only 36 were African-American, not 36%, 36 total. Of the 1,200 men working in those mills, only three were Black. And then what was true on a national level was also playing out in Rhode Island. Black families were locked out of federally-subsidized housing.

In Nineteen-Forty, the Providence Housing Authority had announced it would build two low-income housing projects, the Chad Brown and the Roger Williams. The problem was, all 312 units of the Chad Brown project were designated for white families. And of the 744 units in Roger Williams, only 30 would be for Black people. The PHA did plan for an all Black project in Providence's West End, by then, a down hill section of the city.

In Nineteen-Forty-One, the agency evicted 60 Black families there in order to demolish 39 buildings, only to postpone the project indefinitely so federal funds could be redirected to war-related projects elsewhere. Five years after it opened, Chad Brown had no Black residents. And Black people occupied only 4% of the units in Roger Williams in a separate building.

And remember how the federal funds for the Interstate Highway System were used to demolish Black communities? This also happened in Rhode Island as Keith Stokes knows well.

KEITH STOKES: If you've been to Newport, America's Memorial Boulevard, that was all redevelopment efforts. And that just completely dissected the waterfront from the working communities, which were largely people of color.

SARAH BALDWIN: In Nineteen-Fifty-Eight, Providence too was bisected by highways. The city was sliced in two by Interstate 95 which separated the tony East Side and the downtown area from the West Side. Today, this cut still runs deep. Eviction rates on the West Side are at least three times higher than on the East Side.

The construction of Interstate 195 had a particularly devastating effect on the East Side neighborhood known as Fox Point.

KEITH STOKES: And the exact same thing happened to Fox Point. When 195 went in, it literally dissected India Point, which was a working waterfront providing thousands of jobs for working people who lived in Fox Point, largely Cape Verdean, African-American, poor white, and Portuguese.

SARAH BALDWIN: A few years later, a redevelopment project cut a tightly knit neighborhood off from the very source of its livelihood.

DANNIE RITCHIE: This is how it happened here. In the '50s, the largest Black population was on the East Side. And they just moved people out. And they built the highway. And they've created a barrier.

SARAH BALDWIN: Dr. Dannie Richie is a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Brown University. She teaches undergraduates how the intersections of race, class, gender, and policy produce health disparities and inequities. And she teaches medical students about the social and community contexts of health.

DANNIE RITCHIE: They play this game over and over. And they say, we're going to develop this. And you'll get the first rights to come and move back. But then they price it. And people can't afford to move back. And people will talk about, well, we used to have really tight communities. Well, that was effectively demolished.

SARAH BALDWIN: Remember Olney Street, where Black people moved after the Snow Town riots? It was the dividing line between College Hill and a 30-acre neighboring community known as Lippert Hill. In the middle of the 20th century, this history-rich community was dense and diverse but mostly African-American and Cape Verdean.

In Nineteen-Fifty-Nine, Providence condemned Lippert Hill. And the Providence Redevelopment Authority deployed a major urban renewal project that bulldozed 560 houses and displaced 5,000 people.


In their place, a developer built the enticingly named University Heights, which included almost 500 middle- to high-income apartments and an adjoining retail strip anchored by a supermarket. Today, that retail strip features a Starbucks, a gym, and a Whole Foods.


And then they did it again in a section of West Elmwood. Mashapaug Pond, which was possibly the first integrated neighborhood of homeowners, was home to mail handlers and warehouse workers, tool makers and teachers.

JUNE SIMMONS-MCRAE: The neighborhood was very, very integrated. Everyone was the same. And we always looked out and reached out to everyone. It was a very, very closely-knit neighborhood.

ED HOOKS: People tended to interact with their neighbor, whomever their neighbor was.

SARAH BALDWIN: That was June Simmons McRae in Twenty-Thirteen and Ed Hooks in Twenty-Fourteen. We'll also hear from Dave Tallon and Cliff Montero. Residents fondly recall markets, churches, gardens, playgrounds. They recalled doctors who made house calls. They recall safety, harmony, community. Here's Ed again.

ED HOOKS: All the trees, peach trees, plum trees, apple trees, grapes, and raspberries, I mean, [LAUGHS] you could eat your way through the-- [LAUGHS]

SARAH BALDWIN: They also recall growing up in houses on streets that were wiped off the map.

ED HOOKS: The house was here. And we had a garden.

SARAH BALDWIN: Because in Nineteen-Sixty, analysts who, by the way, were paid by the Providence Redevelopment Agency or PRA labeled it a slum, even though the metrics they used were generally the same all over the city.

JUNE SIMMONS-MCRAE: The area was not downtrodden by a long shot. It was a lovely lower-income community.

SUBJECT 11: It was because they considered it a bad neighborhood. When I was a kid, I mean, it seemed perfectly fine to me.

SARAH BALDWIN: Black residents didn't take this lying down. They filed suit against the PRA. They argued that being displaced would expose them to a racially-discriminatory housing market. Their lawyer even pointed out that, on the list of rentable properties provided by relocation services, 97 out of 100 said they would not rent to non-whites.

The judge ruled in favor of redevelopment. Forced to relocate, the formerly tight-knit community was dispersed. Their homes were demolished and replaced by an industrial park.

SUBJECT 12: It was a disgrace because many people used to be homeowners, after losing their homeownership in the Mashapaug Pond area, became renters.

SUBJECT 13: There was limited opposition. But I think a lot of people, they saw what happened in Lippert Hill. People were not stupid. They saw what was happening in other parts of the city. It didn't matter. They were going to do what they were going to do. And you just had to live with it.


SUBJECT 14: I guess acquisition of the most inexpensive land is where we grow in America.


SARAH BALDWIN: Between Nineteen-Forty-Nine and Nineteen-Seventy-Four, at least 660,000 Black Americans lost their homes to urban renewal.

DANNIE RITCHIE: The housing is a reflection of a toxic system feeding off of inequality. You have to understand what the patterns are so that you know where to intervene. How did we create a segregated society. And there was a system that created that.

SUBJECT 13: And I'm sorry that the people who made the plans were not more sensitive to the needs of the people who live in the community, that they were destroying and relocating. Maybe some of you ought to pay them. Maybe there should be reparation to the people that used to live in Mashapaug Pond.



MAHALIA JACKSON: (SINGING) Bless this house, oh, Lord, we pray. Make it safe by night and day.

SARAH BALDWIN: Mahalia Jackson was part of the great migration. Yet despite being considered the greatest gospel singer alive, when trying to buy a house in Chicago, she was repeatedly turned away by white owners and realtors. When she finally did buy a house, shots were fired at it. Listening to her sing "Bless This House," it sounds like a prayer for protection against the very forces that made Doris Day's home safe.

MAHALIA JACKSON: (SINGING) Keeping want and trouble out.

SARAH BALDWIN: We've looked at a lot of history in this episode, tracing the myriad ways that our federal, state, and municipal governments from the country's earliest days have thwarted Black family's ability to own and accumulate property. But is it really history if it's still so very much alive today?

DONALD TRUMP: So they want to defund and abolish your police and law enforcement while at the same time destroying our great suburbs. Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left, they're absolutely determined to eliminate single-family zoning.

INTERVIEWER 1: Do you think a Negro family moving here will affect the community as a whole?

SUBJECT 3: Definitely.

DONALD TRUMP: Your home will go down in value. And crime rates will rapidly rise--

SUBJECT 3: Well, the property values will immediately go down if they are allowed to move in here in any number.

DONALD TRUMP: --just as they have in Minneapolis and other locations that you read about today. People have worked all their lives to get into a community. And now, they're going to watch it go to hell. It's not going to happen, not while I'm here.

INTERVIEWER 4: What course of action are you going to follow?

SUBJECT 15: Dynamite, [LAUGHS] dynamite. [LAUGHS]


SARAH BALDWIN: Just last year, an investigative team at Newsday found that real estate agents in Long Island, the birthplace of the American suburb, discriminated against potential Black homeowners almost 50% of the time. And remember, in Nineteen-Sixty, that lawyer representing Black residents of Mashapaug Pond pointed out that 90% of apartment listings wouldn't rent to non-white people. In Twenty-Eighteen, researchers at South Coast Fair Housing and Brown University found that, in Rhode Island, people with housing vouchers, that is tenants with a federal rental subsidy, were denied from 93% of available units throughout the state. The overwhelming majority of voucher holders of people of color.


And then there's eviction. As we noted in the last episode, nationally, Black women are at least two times more likely than white women to be evicted. But in Rhode Island, we don't know these numbers because the courts don't collect demographic data. But we do know that, the East Side, once home to generations of Black homeowners, has an eviction rate of less than 2% of renter households. Across the river and the highway in Upper South Providence, the eviction rate is between 6% and 9%.

And the gap in family wealth between Black people and white people, wealth whose seeds could have been planted by homeownership, is staggering. Today, white family wealth is 10 to 13 times greater than Black family wealth, a disparity as high or higher than it was in Nineteen-Sixty-Three. But this is about more than money in the bank.

SUBJECT 16: When you have areas of concentrated color and of concentrated poverty, people will now have less access to jobs. They have less access to healthcare. They have less access to good education. And that housing segregation, that injustice, that moves into education also moves into the criminal justice system. All of these things cannot actually be siloed away from each other.

SARAH BALDWIN: And ultimately, neither can people. A city after all is only as stable as its most unstable citizens.

SUBJECT 16: Money and business are not what makes the world actually operate. It's community and relationships that make the world operate. This city is not its profit margin or its debt or its business ranking. This city is the people who live in this city.

So that is adopted. We're not going to see policymakers change what they do because they're not thinking with passion. They're thinking about compensation.


SARAH BALDWIN: We started this podcast by talking about the looming eviction crisis in Rhode Island. But as we've said, you can't understand who is vulnerable to eviction and why without taking a good hard look at the attitudes and intentions that have shaped housing policy in America. From slavery to the Great Migration to urban renewal, Black people have been uniquely, systematically, and often violently excluded from safe, dignified, affordable shelter.


In the next episode, we'll show how all these policies from the past are shaping our present through the huge racial disparities in health and wealth and yes, eviction rates. We'll hear more from [? Katya, ?] that mother of two who knows what it's like to be turned out of her home. And we'll learn why Rhode Island is a particularly hard place to be left out in the cold with or without a COVID-19 pandemic.

This episode of Trending Globally was produced by Oscar [? Donjack ?] with help from Dan Richards and Jackson Cantrell. We also received valuable input from [? Dhruv ?] [? Singh, ?] Gabe Mernoff, Steve Bloomfield, Lucas Fried, and Amelia Anthony. The theme music is by Henry Bloomfield. I'm Sarah Baldwin.


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The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

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Dan Richards

Host and Senior Producer, Trending Globally