(BRIDGE Blog) One of the most compelling and insightful books I’ve read recently is “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.” Author Richard Rothstein, a notable housing policy expert, helps us understand the roots of discrimination as laws and policy decisions at all levels—state, local, federal—have systematically kept out people of color.
In the 1930s, America saw thousands of units of public housing constructed under the Public Works Administration. “Of the PWA’s 47 projects, 17 were assigned to African Americans,” Rothstein writes. “Six others were segregated by building. The rest were for whites only.”
Across the country, from Boston and New York to Detroit, San Francisco and Richmond, CA, African Americans were segregated and concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. This was more than an issue of where public housing was sited and who was permitted to live there; it was also a result of racial zoning and covenants that deliberately excluded African Americans from buying or renting or properties in specific locations.
As Rothstein writes, “…with the segregated projects, African Americans become more removed from mainstream society than ever, packed into high-rise ghettos where community life was impossible, where access to jobs and social services was more difficult…”
These are appalling, shameful and yes, unconstitutional pages in American history. It angers me to see the heartbreaking effects of these policies continue to ripple through our country. However, I am committed to working that much harder on BRIDGE’s integrative developments on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, and at Jordan Downs in Watts, Los Angeles. Together with our partners, we are intentionally creating communities where everyone has access to housing opportunities, regardless of income. In places like these, as well as the Mission District in San Francisco and Northeast Portland’s Eliot neighborhood, we are proud to be creating new anchor points for people of color and longtime, vulnerable residents who are at risk of being displaced.