The tragic killing of George Floyd has rightly angered the Twin Cities and the nation. Minneapolis’ police culture of using excessive levels of force against people of color and protestors demonstrating in the wake of Floyd’s death has been at the forefront of discussions.
In a community that views itself as liberal and tolerant, we must ask ourselves what isn’t working? Historical factors have ongoing consequences that have created a culture where police brutality is only one of a range of factors that inform the Black experience in Minnesota. The widening gap in homeownership rates between households of color and white households – a jaw-dropping 51% – along with disparities in educational outcomes and household wealth are others. They are more connected that you might think, and a common link is housing policy.
Here are five ways America’s history of housing discrimination contributed to the circumstances that led to the death of George Floyd.
- The U.S. housing market we know today was not a private market when it was created. It was shaped by the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) by Congress during the 1930s and 40s in response to the severe housing crisis seen during the Great Depression and World War II. Through the FHA, the U.S. government committed hundreds of millions of dollars to provide generous mortgage loans to American homebuyers, and millions more to subsidize the construction of suburban developments across the country. Without government dollars, these homes would never have been built, and the average consumer would not have been able to afford homeownership.
- Not everyone was allowed to purchase these homes. Influenced by powerful local real estate associations, government policy denied access to FHA mortgages to some potential homebuyers if they lived in certain neighborhoods, neighborhoods that almost always had majority-minority populations. This is the process we now call “redlining.” This happened in the Twin Cities as much as anywhere else.
- Redlining was not the only government housing policy that had actively discriminated against people of color. For much of the first half of the twentieth century, federal, state, and local government had enforced racial covenants: clauses written in property deeds that banned the sale of said property to people of color. Mapping Prejudice, a group based out of the University of Minnesota, is documenting the extensive use of racial covenants in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Among their findings is that suburban developers continued to use housing covenants even after the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 1949.
- With access to many neighborhoods restricted, the Twin Cities’ Black population was concentrated in a few, urban neighborhoods in North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis, and the Rondo neighborhood in Saint Paul. While white suburbanites found that their home values appreciated over time, opportunistic blockbusters and slumlords exploited Black communities’ lack of access to the suburban housing market and FHA loans by overcharging them for shoddy property, leading to housing stock deterioration, densification, and lack of economic opportunity.
- Heavily segregated neighborhoods, especially those deprived of resources, have been associated with high levels of implicit bias. Combined with heavier policing, this leads to more frequent interactions with a police force that is biased against the people they are policing. George Floyd took his last breaths on the border of one of these neighborhoods.
Housing discrimination, impacting where people live, has heavily influenced race relations in metropolitan areas, including the Twin Cities. Quite simply, it is much easier to hate or fear or harm a stranger than a neighbor.
About the Author:
I believe that working to support access to affordable housing is the only way to address our history of housing discrimination and residential segregation. As the Storytelling VISTA, my primary role is to collect and promote the stories of the customers who NeighborWorks has assisted in the past as part of our outreach. I enjoy listening to music, playing guitar, and reading history in my spare time.