Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

by Beryl Satter
Metropolitan Books
Hardcover, $30.00
510 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-8050-7676-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Despite fair housing laws, prospective black home buyers are still ‘steered’ away from white neighborhoods. Low-income African-Americans in segregated neighborhoods remain subject to what Contract Buyers League attorneys called a ‘race tax’ and what my father referred to as the ‘million dollars a day cost of being black.’ As one recent study demonstrates, this ‘ghetto tax’ means that the urban poor pay considerably more for goods and services ranging from food to auto insurance.
The most striking evidence of the ongoing need to fight exploitative credit practices is the recent tidal wave of predatory lending known as the sub-prime mortgage crisis… ‘Ghetto-lending practices of the 1960s have metastasized… We are all in the ghetto now.””

  • Excerpted from the Conclusion (pages 372-374)

On April 3, 1964, in one of his most famous speeches, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X said African-Americans didn’t end up stuck and suffering in the nation’s ghettos by accident, but because of a government conspiracy to “deprive you of your economic opportunities, deprive you of decent housing, deprive you of decent education.” The late civil rights leader went on to conclude that the government was “responsible for the oppression and exploitation and degradation of black people in this country.”
45 years later, we now have a book chock full of evidence confirming many of Malcolm’s allegations, especially in terms of the real estate concerns. Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America was written by Beryl Satter, the daughter of a liberal Jewish lawyer who had dedicated his career to representing poor black folks being ripped off by a rigged housing market which favored whites while discriminating against blacks.
The basic problem was that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), from its creation in 1934, had a policy of refusing to insure mortgages in any African-American or integrated communities. Consequently, aspiring black homebuyers were routinely denied mortgage assistance and ended up dependent on unscrupulous lenders who resorted to a host of predatory practices knowing that the government wasn’t doing business with African-American customers.
Encyclopedic in scope, but narrowly-focused on the City of Chicago where her father had his law office until his untimely death at the age of only 49, Family Properties exposes as lies the conventional wisdom which would blame black folks for their inability to escape the ghetto and all of its pathology. Instead, here we have proof positive that the slums were created and maintained by design by a racist federal government.
A brilliant expose’ belatedly uncovering the ugly underbelly of another shameful, color-coded chapter of American history.

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