Posted: January 16, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Tanisha Wilson
Today we honor one of the most influential civil rights leaders and humanitarians in history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Looking back on Dr. King’s many timeless contributions, it is important to note the legacy he left not only in society but the impact he has had on real estate and helping ALL Americans achieve the American dream of homeownership.
After the great depression, when the country was working to pull itself up by the bootstraps, the practice of "redlining" significantly hindered the ability of people of color to purchase homes. Federal housing agencies determined whether areas were deemed unfit for investment by banks, insurance companies, savings and loan associations, and other financial services companies. The areas were physically demarcated with red shading on a map. In contrast, zones which were to receive preferential lending status were marked in green shading and intermediate areas in blue shading. Often these decisions were arbitrarily based on the area’s racial composition rather than income levels.
As a consequence of redlining, neighborhoods that local banks deemed unfit for investment were left underdeveloped or in disrepair. Attempts to improve these neighborhoods with even relatively small-scale business ventures were commonly obstructed by financial institutions that continued to label the underwriting as too risky or simply rejected them outright. When existing businesses collapsed, new ones were not allowed to replace them, often leaving entire blocks empty and crumbling. Consequently African Americans in those neighborhoods were frequently limited in their access to banking, healthcare, retail merchandise, and even groceries.
Redlining also led to a lack of employment opportunities in these neighborhoods as prospective small scale employers were not willing to build there. Crime often followed in the wake of these declining neighborhoods making future investment unlikely. These developments created a cycle which seemingly justified the initial redlining practices, without acknowledging that it was actually the cause of it.
Dr. King moved to Chicago in the summer of 1966 and participated in a series of marches, appealing to the city’s real estate practitioners, to end discriminatory housing practices. Through his actions he was able to demand open housing, which led to the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act. The Act declared a national policy of fair housing throughout the United States. The law makes illegal any discrimination in the sale, lease or rental of housing, or making housing otherwise unavailable, because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.
While today is the day we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, let this not be the only day that his work inspires us. Where you can make a difference, pledge to seek action and let Dr. King’s words be something to live by. Let us be motivated by Dr. King and his influential words, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Because of Dr. King and hundreds who worked on the front lines in the fight for equality, people of color could now realistically envision the American dream for their own family. Homeownership was now a possibility for ALL Americans. Realtors have the tremendous responsibility and honor of helping to make that dream a reality.