Berkeley Talks transcript: A blueprint for housing reform
Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can follow Berkeley Talks wherever you listen to your podcasts. New episodes come out every other Friday. Also, we have another podcast, Berkeley Voices, that shares stories of people at UC Berkeley and the work that they do on and off campus.
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Hillary Hoynes: I'm Hillary Hoynes. I'm the associate dean at the Goldman School, where I'm also a professor of public policy and economics. And also, my chair lives in the Othering and Belonging Institute. So I have a lot of connections to all the sponsors today.
It's my pleasure to have the opportunity to introduce our speakers today. Before doing that, though, a few housekeeping notes before we get started. You can expect a conversation today for about an hour, and we're going to be collecting questions. We are definitely going to have a Q and A and we're going to facilitate that through collecting index cards, which perhaps many of you received on your way in, and we'll have staff coming to collect those as we make our way through the event. And for anyone on the live stream, feel free to submit your questions via the Google form that was provided along with the livestream link.
There will be no time for public questions, but we really do welcome your questions, so please go ahead and use that card that was provided for you. So now onto the program. So our moderator this evening, we are just delighted to have Tamika Moss here to moderate our in conversation event.
Tamika is the founder and CEO of All Home, a Bay Area organization that advances regional solutions to disrupt the cycle of poverty and homelessness, redress racial disparities and outcomes, and create more opportunity for economic mobility for extremely low-income individuals and families. Before founding All Home, Tamika was the CEO of Hamilton Families and directly served under the mayors of Oakland and San Francisco. Tamika is a member of the California Inner Agency Council on Homelessness alongside State Department heads. She is also the president of the board of directors for the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California and serves on the boards of Oakland Promise and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. So thank you so much for coming.
Leah Rothstein is the co-author of Just Action: How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law and writes a regular column at the Substack, Just Action, that's substack.com. Leah has worked on public policy and community change from the grassroots to the halls of government. She led research on reforming community corrections policy and practice to be focused on rehabilitation, not punishment, and has been a consultant to nonprofit housing developers, cities and counties, redevelopment agencies and private firms on community development and affordable housing policy practice and finance. Her policy work is informed by her years as a community organizer and labor organizer working on issues such as housing, environmental justice, workplace safety and youth leadership. And thank you, Leah, for coming.
Finally, Richard Rothstein is also the co-author of Just Action: How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law and the author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. He's a senior fellow at the Other and Belonging Institute here at UC Berkeley, a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a senior fellow emeritus of the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He's the author of many other articles and books on race and education. Thank you so much for being here, Richard.
It is my honor, and as a representative of the Goldman School of Public Policy, it is our honor to have you all here today for this incredibly important conversation on activism, advocacy, housing, and America's legacy of state sanctioned residential segregation. Please join me in welcoming Richard Rothstein, Leah Rothstein and Tamika Moss.
Tamika Moss: Well, thank you so much, Hillary, for that generous introduction. I'm so excited for this conversation. Every time I see Richard and now Leah, I have that fan girl moment where you're like, "Oh my God, you wrote that book." And so I'm so honored to actually be moderating this conversation today. I wanted to just understand who's in the audience. Before we get started. Raise your hand if you're faculty or students. All right, what about if you work in housing? All right.
What about if you're a housing nerd and you really like housing policy? Awesome, awesome. Well, welcome. We're really excited to engage in this conversation and part of why I'm such a fan girl is because I feel like Richard, when you wrote The Color of Law, it was really the first time that I was like, "Oh my God, right."
And it wasn't coming out of a person that looks like me's mouth. So it was a really powerful moment for me. So to have this opportunity that you and Leah put together an action guide for people to take community action and get involved in their communities around redressing segregation, residential segregation in communities is really exciting to me. As Hillary mentioned, my organization is really looking at the intersection of homelessness, housing security and economic security. And segregation is really at the root of homelessness. It's at the root of our affordability crisis, poverty and action is really what we need.
So I'm thrilled that this book sort of delivers on that. I appreciate that it's practical and action-oriented, and this is co-hosted by the Othering and Belonging Institute. And we know that so many of our brothers and sisters who are experiencing this crisis in our communities are othered and don't feel like they belong. And that is not by accident. And so I'm really excited to dive into this conversation.
Richard, maybe I'll start with you. You took the covers back and told folks that state sanction segregation happened and that had an enormous impact on the conversation. The book returned to the bestsellers list after the racial justice awakening of 2020. Can you tell us a little bit more about the impact of The Color of Law and what led you and Leah to write this book?
Richard Rothstein: Yes, thank you. The book, as you said, described how government policy, unconstitutional government policy on the part of federal, state and local governments created the segregation that we know in this country today, the apartheid system that we have in this country today, where every metropolitan area has clearly defined areas that either are all white, and mostly white or clearly defined areas that are all Black or mostly Black.
We had a myth, I shared it, a myth term we all use that what we had in this country was "defacto segregation," something that just happened because of private bigotry or discriminatory actions on the part of private businesses or people just liking to live with each other of the same race. They feel more comfortable that way. All of these individual, private non-governmental decisions, defacto segregation, something that just happened by accident.
And the reason that that distinction is so important is because if it just happened by accident that we might feel like it's too bad, we might not like it, but it's easy to think that the only way it's going to unhappen is by accident. But when we understand that this is the creation of explicit, racially explicit written public policy on the part of federal, state and local governments unconstitutional. If we take our responsibilities as citizens of this country seriously, then we know we have an obligation to fix it, to undo this unconstitutional system.
So the distinction between defacto segregation and government-sponsored unconstitutional segregation is critical to whether we move forward. People asked me, after I wrote this book and after I came to events like this, "What can we do about it now?" And that's why I asked my daughter, who knows more about what we can do about it now than I do. It's not a historical question, that's a practical forward-looking question. That's why I asked her to co-author it with me, and that's how it happened.
Tamika Moss: Great. Well, it makes so much sense to me because, Leah, knowing your background and your organizing roots, you all land on this perspective of local action and how so much of it is about relationships and being proximate to people who are different from you. Could you share some examples of how you describe that in the book and what you found helpful?
Leah Rothstein: Yeah, so our basic argument in Just Action or what we're advancing with that book is that we need a new activated civil rights movement around the country of local groups formed in their own communities to start to tackle this issue and advocate for change on the local level because there's a lot that can be done locally even though the federal government had a major role to play in creating segregated communities, in large part, that segregation is sustained and maintained by local policies. So there's a lot that we can affect on the local level to challenge and undo and remedy the harms of segregation.
Now, to do that, we need groups of residents of those communities activated, organized and advocating for that change. And to do that, those groups need to be biracial and multiethnic. They need to include, all of us are affected by segregation, whether we're Black or white, Latino, high- and low-income, we're all affected by this apartheid system we live in. And so we all need to be a part of the solutions, the organizing for remedies and for solutions.
Now, we also understand that that is not that easy. We live in segregated communities, so we don't necessarily come into regular natural social contact with people of other races going to the grocery store, picking their kids up from school. When you live in a racially homogenous community, you don't make cross-race relationships that way that easily. So you have to take some extra intentional steps. And we gave some examples of communities that have done that just to show that it's not impossible. It might not happen going to the grocery store, but it doesn't mean you can't take those intentional steps to build those relationships, build that in a social capital that can then be used to advocate for these changes.
(Inaudible audio, not included in podcast: So one of the examples that, I could describe a couple, but I'm not sure we have time, so I'll describe the most interesting one, which is from Chicago. It was started by a photographer named Tanika Johnson. Again, a photographer, not an organizer, although you could argue maybe she is more of an organizer than an artist, but are equally both. So she took the unique layout of Chicago, which is laid out on a perfect grid. So a street will go from the north side, the white side of town, to the south side. It's the same street, but north and south versions.)
And the houses have the same numbers, but they're north and south versions of the same street. So she took the map and folded it in half and houses sat perfectly on top of each other. And she called those houses map twins, and she photographed the houses to show visual representation of the consequences of segregation. The houses sort of similar, but the context that they exist in look very different. But these houses have the same number in the same city. So it was very compelling visual representation. And then she went a step further and introduced herself to the residents of the houses and asked if they wanted to participate in her project and meet their map twin.
And many of them did and they met their map twin and they agreed to take their map twin on a tour of their neighborhood and tour their map twin's neighborhood. And these are people, many of them had lived in Chicago their whole lives and hadn't been to the other side of town and didn't know anybody who lived there. And they developed relationships and learned that they had a lot in common. They weren't that different. And they started to learn how their neighborhoods were different and they developed block twin groups and did some neighborhood beautification efforts. So this is an example of just taking that extra step.
Now you don't need a perfect grid map to do something like this, but just introducing people to each other and realizing that they actually have a lot in common and can start to build groups together. Now, Tanika again is a photographer, so this is her project, but an organizer could come in and work with these blocked twin groups to start to think about what they could do to advocate for change in Chicago around the causes and consequences of segregation. So that's an example that we could replicate everywhere.
Tamika Moss: I love that. Richard, you talked when we started this conversation that you partnered with Leah to create the forward action. What do we do now? But the historical context is actually equally important to helping people activate around the changes they want to see in their community. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about, one of my favorite parts of the conversation was highlighting Cleveland Heights. I'm from Cleveland, any other Ohioans out there, and the journey that the residents of Cleveland Heights went on, as well as Oak Park. My auntie's from Oak Park in Chicago. OK. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about those examples and how one can have that historical context as they do what Tanika did right now.
Richard Rothstein: Well, those are two very good examples, because we're all familiar. I think with the term "white flight" as entering suburbs in cities all over the country begin to have a few Black residents. The typical story is that real estate agents come into those communities, they terrify the white homeowners that their property values are going to decline, the whites leave the community. They sell their homes at discounted prices to speculators because they fear that their value of their homes will decline even further if they don't get out quickly. And then the speculators turn around and sell them to at highly exploitative prices to African Americans who have no other choices of where to live because they're excluded from so many other neighborhoods. Well, Oak Park and Cleveland Heights are two communities that made a deliberate effort to make sure that they stabilized their desegregation, that they resisted and prevented white flight.
I'll give you one example of something very creative that the community of Oak Park did. It's a suburb of Chicago. They adopted a property value insurance program, the city did, so that homeowners could pay a small premium to ensure that the property values of their homes, the values of their homes, would not decline as the community desegregated. The program lasted about 20 years.
It finally was closed by the city of Oak Park, which they never had to pay a single claim, no home ever. But Oak Park today has a racial composition that mirrors almost exactly the Chicago metropolitan area, and it's been that way for the last 30 or 40 years since this effort began. And they have many other programs in Oak Park that we describe in the book. They have an agency that has both rental and owned homes in the community, and it has an agency that recruits landlords to agree to hold out apartments until they get applicants for those residences that will maintain a stable desegregation and integration, a diverse resonance of the apartments.
The agency will subsidize the landlords for holding out their homes. Landlords aren't required to accept tenants — they're referred to them by this agency — but they frequently do. And so both the rental and the home-owned communities areas are diverse today, as well as the overall metropolitan area.
I'll give you one other example, if I may, going back to Tanika Johnson because she has another project, this photographer in Chicago, and it relates to the same thing. Because of the white flight in Chicago back in the 1950s when African Americans began to move into surrounding suburbs, speculators pursued the kind of program that I just talked about. On top of that, the federal government would not issue mortgages to Black families at that time so that the speculators were able to sell homes that had been abandoned by whites who were fleeing in schemes that were called contract sales, where the homeowners got no equity.
They were frequently told that they had real mortgages, but it turned out they didn't. And when the time came when they had expected to be able to assume ownership of the homes, the speculators evicted them, they then were able to find new victims who had to pay new down payments, and the same process started all over again.
Well, this contract scale system was commonplace not only in Chicago, but in a number of other cities. Tanika Johnson, the photographer that Leah named, went around and started photographing homes that had been sold on contract and put plaques, pedestals of plaques, in front of the homes describing the realtor or the speculator who had sold the home, the name of the family who had been exploited, and the bank that had financed this speculation.
Well, an organizer could be assembling a campaign to get those banks, which still exists today, sometimes in success or form to make recompense for the exploitation of the families that they had done half a century ago. And this is an example of how the history can inform specific campaigns that a reinvigorated civil rights movement could undertake in particular communities.
Now, as Leah said, the policy of refusing to issue conventional mortgages to African Americans was a federal policy, that was federal policy. But the actions that need to be taken against these banks are purely local to get them to compensate the community and the residents of that community who are exploited.
Tamika Moss: Absolutely. So Leah, we're going to nerd out here and talk about zoning. One of my favorite passages in the book is when you all talk about single-family zoning. And we know that about 66% of the land in California is zoned single family. We know that Black folks, in particular, often live in rental multifamily housing, and this is the primary tool of residential segregation.
And you all say the elimination of restrictive land use rules is a necessary first step to undo residential segregation. Single-family zoning may be the most powerful policy that perpetuates racial inequality. Its end will not itself fix things much more as needed, but its persistence guarantees permanent apartheid for America. Talk to us a little bit about what you've seen happen around single-family zoning around the country.
Leah Rothstein: Yeah. Well, to back up first, just to base us all in the history as we've been talking about. Zoning is how a jurisdiction decides what can be put where in the city, how its land use is allocated. It used to be that cities could zone their residential areas by race, say this neighborhood is zoned only for whites, and this area is zoned only for Blacks. That then became illegal in the early 1900s.
And so what took its place was single-family only zoning to do the same thing through an economic tool without being racially explicit. So if they could say, this area can only have single-family homes, that limits the amount of homes that can be built in that area, artificially jacking up the prices, because as demand increases, the supply of the housing can't increase. So the houses will get more expensive.
Now, for all of the reasons Color of Law described, and we described in Just Action, when housing is very expensive, it's less likely that African American families can afford that housing. They don't have the intergenerational wealth because they were kept out of home ownership when it was affordable.
So this is like the compiling, compounding issues of all of the policies that went into creating segregation. So single-family only zoning has been used in communities all across the country. Seventy-five percent of residentially zoned land in the country is zoned only for single-family homes. It's part of the reason why we have a homelessness crisis, a housing affordability crisis, because we've limited how many homes can be built in communities.
This was shocking to me when I researched this book, that the motivation of that came from a racially exclusive motivation on the part of cities and suburbs. So in order to counter that, we need to change single-family only zoning and require that communities, like suburban communities that are considered high opportunity areas that have well-resourced public schools and access to jobs and transportation and clean air, that those communities have to build a variety of housing types.
So not just one house per lot, but two, three, four, five houses per lot that are different sizes. So therefore different ranges of affordability levels to allow for a range of income levels of families to live in that community. It's a necessary first step. Now, if we do that, it doesn't mean that African American families will be able to buy those homes. So we argue for applying preferences to those newly built homes in upzoned communities to ensure that families who've historically been excluded from those communities can access those homes.
So it's sort of a yes, and zoning is very important, but first the changes in single-family only zoning have been very recent. So we don't have the data yet to know how effective it's been at increasing housing supply or decreasing segregation of those communities. But we suspect that without intentional efforts to ensure that upzoning is a tool of desegregation, it won't be. And so we both need to change single-family only zoning and allow more housing, a variety of housing to be built in these areas and then also be very intentional about who can access that housing.
Tamika Moss: Absolutely. And Richard, we know that we've been talking a bit about how so much of the state-sanctioned segregation has resulted in the impoverishment of African American folks, but not all Black folks are low-income. And so what other desegregation tactics in the book are there that are not income-based?
Richard Rothstein: Well, I don't think we're talking about income-based policies. I think the point that we're making is that most African Americans in this country are not poor. This is a terrible myth that we have, that the African American and poor are somehow synonyms.
Most African Americans in this country have jobs. They're not paid enough, but they have jobs. They're stable, they need housing. And the same thing is true of white middle class families. The housing, just like so many institutions in this society, we've hollowed out our housing market so that we have some subsidies for the lowest-income families. Market rate housing can be afforded only by the most affluent families and the people in between, white or Black, can't afford housing.
So the point that Leah was making, I'm just going to elaborate on it a little bit. If we take a single-family zone neighborhood and authorized duplexes and triplexes, which is the common kind of rezoning that's being discussed now, white middle class families are going to outbid African Americans for them. There's no guarantee that simply because you increase the amount of housing that you're building in this very tight housing market, that you're going to do much for desegregation.
I gave a talk like this just a month or so ago, maybe two months ago in Massachusetts, where the state had passed the law requiring the rezoning, upzoning is the term that's used when you abolish single-family zoning, of all communities along the roots of mass transit in the suburbs of Boston. And the town manager of one of the communities that was affected by this thought it was a great idea and he gave an interview in the newspaper and he said, we need to do this kind of rezoning because the children who grew up in this all white community can't afford to come back and live here in the place where they grew up.
So that's what the target is for much of this rezoning. A wonderful group in this area, that started in this area called YIMBY — "Yes, in my backyard" — has been an important force for pressing for upzoning in the state of California. But their motivation is primarily to allow tech workers and other professionals who are not primarily African American, to be able to find housing in communities that are presently single-family zoned. So we need to have both a racial intent and a zoning reform intent in order to make this kind of policy successful.
Tamika Moss: That's great. We have some really great questions from the audience that I'll start asking in a moment, but I wanted to ask one last question about what you both sort of talked about, which is we need zoning reform, we need intent that's racially conscious, but we actually see that the courts, with the decision on affirmative action here in California, there's race-based guaranteed income programs that are being legally contested. In your chapter, "Dare to Defy," can you talk about how do we go about promoting racially specific policies in a time where courts and some communities are hostile to the idea? This is for both of you.
Richard Rothstein: OK.
Leah Rothstein: Well, he'll preach that.
Richard Rothstein: We have to proceed and it'll be challenged. But if we decide in advance that we're not going to try to do anything that's accepting defeat before we're even challenged. You mentioned Cleveland Heights. Did you say you grew up there?
Tamika Moss: I grew up in Cleveland.
Richard Rothstein: All right, Cleveland. Well, the state of Ohio in those days, we're talking about the 1980s, the state of Ohio had a program that enabled Cleveland Heights to remain diverse. The state of Ohio subsidized with lower interest rates, whites who had moved to predominantly Black neighborhoods and Blacks who had moved to predominantly white neighborhoods. It was so uncontroversial, it was never even challenged in the 1980s. It was better supported constitutionally than the kinds of policies that we're dancing around today. And what our argument in Just Action is that if we're serious about challenging desegregation, we've got a Supreme Court that doesn't believe that we have any segregation anymore.
The way to end discrimination on account of race is to stop talking about race according to the current Supreme Court. If we accept that rationale, we might as well acknowledge defeat. So I think we need race-conscious policies, let them be challenged. Sometimes they'll be overturned, but if we have enough of them, we'll have a wave that will make some progress and we'll get some good dissenting opinions from lower courts, from appeals courts that will lay a foundation for a victory sometime in the future.
Leah Rothstein: I'll just add that he's right, and if we want to remedy policies and actions of our government that were explicitly race-based, we can't do that with race-neutral policies. If we tie our remedies to the specific actions of the government that were racially explicit, that is a more promising way forward than just a policy that helps everybody. It doesn't address a racially explicit crime that our government committed in the past. So, as we argue, racially explicit crimes require racially explicit solutions.
I'll give an example that came about since we wrote Just Action, but we wrote about it in our Substack column comes from Washington State. So they started a bunch of volunteers at the university there did research and inventoried all the racially restrictive covenants in the state. These are the covenants written into the deeds of homes often required by the federal government that said that the home could only ever be owned or occupied by whites. They've inventoried over 50,000 throughout the state.
Using that information and context, they then organized a broad coalition of advocates, and even realtors, that supported the state to pass a law to provide a remedy for that state-sponsored discrimination in housing and it passed the first time it came through the legislature. So it applies a $100 fee on every real estate transaction in the state that goes into a fund that will then be a race-based down payment assistance program for people who were excluded from housing when those racially restrictive covenants were in place. Now this is allowed under the federal government. It's a program called the Special Purpose Credit Program that has been on the books since the '70s, and only recently started to be used. But it is starting to be used and it allows financial institutions, and in this case, this is the first state government to use this program through their housing finance commission.
So it allows financial institutions and lenders to create race-based programs, down payment assistance, mortgages, small business loans that are targeted by a specific race if they can prove that that race has been disadvantaged by the financial institution in the past. So Washington is undergoing a study to justify the use of this program. I don't think it'll be hard to prove this. They have the 50,000 restrictive covenants and then they can have a race-based down payment assistance program in the state. So even within the confines that we have, it's possible to advance these kinds of solutions now.
Tamika Moss: That's super helpful. I get some snaps for that one. Well done, Washington State. All right, the first question. How do you think the pandemic has affected racial segregation and the actions you proposed given the movement of white collar workers to the suburbs? Richard, why don't we start with you.
Richard Rothstein: Well, I never really thought of it that way about the pandemic. When I think of the pandemic, the main thing I think about is the way in which it created greater inequality, particularly for children who were forced to learn at home without the benefit of experienced teachers to teach them.
And we know that the achievement gap between Black and white children has widened enormously as a result of the pandemic because it shouldn't have taken a genius to figure out that if you tell children they have to be educated at home, children of college-educated parents are going to do better than children of high school-educated parents. And African Americans' educational attainment, on average, is lower than white's educational attainment.
But you're right. It's also a case that at-home work, virtual work, that is particularly in this area, in the San Francisco Bay Area, has created the opportunity for more of those tech workers that I was talking about before who were the main base of the YIMBY movement to move to non-urban areas and increase that competition for housing. So it really accentuates, I think the problem that we are describing, that even if you create more housing opportunities, so long as the only people who can afford market rate housing are the affluent, you're going to have intense competition for the limited number of additional units that you create.
Leah Rothstein: Couple of other things I can think, repercussions of the pandemic, we talk about things we can do to prevent displacement in gentrifying communities, to protect renters against evictions. And I know that is a big deal after the eviction moratorium is wearing off, that evictions are spiking in a lot of communities for lower-income tenants. And so having programs in place like a Right to Counsel program, which provides a free right to an attorney for low-income tenants who are facing an eviction, goes a real long way to helping them stay in their units or keeping an eviction off their record, finding funds to help pay for back rent that they weren't able to pay because they were unemployed.
We give an example of Cleveland, again, Cleveland keeps coming up, that started this program, a partnership through the United Way and the Legal Aid Society there. So there are things that can be done to address the other ongoing repercussions of the pandemic. And another piece is the unused office buildings now that a lot of folks are thinking about how to incentivize turning those into housing or how to think about doing that as we're face a housing shortage and all this unused office space since people are working from home. So there's both challenges and opportunity I see represented with the aftermath of the pandemic.
Tamika Moss: We had a question from one of our audience members from livestream. So hello livestreamers, thank you for joining us. But Leah, I think you answered this question when you talked about what's happening in Washington state, so I'll pose another one to you first.
How do you see the housing recommendations from the reparations report impacting desegregation efforts? And there are two questions around that, that reparations report, what should be prioritized? And Richard, you mentioned the YIMBY movement. So Leah, maybe starting with you, what do you think we should prioritize in that body of work?
Leah Rothstein: I am not completely familiar with the 1,000-page report that came out of the reparations' committee.
Tamika Moss: You didn't read it all?
Leah Rothstein (Laughs): But I would say that there's a lot that we can do, in terms of remedies, for all of what was discussed in The Color of Law and that we continue to talk about in Just Action, that includes down payment assistance. I keep mentioning that, but it's extremely important if we're talking about closing the home-ownership gap between African Americans and whites, which is a consequence of the policies that created segregation, that whites have more intergenerational wealth to be able to pass down to their children to pay a down payment for a home. As a result, they're more often homeowners than African Americans are.
So to address that and remedy and provide a reparation for that particular policy is starting down payment assistance, grant programs or forgivable loans so that African Americans can close the gap in their down payment needs and be able to get into home ownership.
And there's a lot of different ways of doing that that we talk about to increase home ownership for African Americans, addressing the down payment gap or land trusts that provide affordable home ownership opportunities in communities with high housing prices is another example. And then there's a lot that we need to do around the issue that even once African American families get into home ownership, home ownership is not the same wealth building tool for Blacks as it is for whites. And there's a lot of reasons for that.
We have been hearing a lot lately about appraisal bias. So bias in the property appraisal system, where African American homeowners will get their property appraised for a refinance loan or to be able to sell their home and it appraises at a lower value if the appraiser thinks the owner is Black than if the appraiser thinks the owner is white. So this limits the wealth building potential of those Black homeowners.
And then on the flip side, in the property tax assessment process, homes in Black communities are over assessed. So their value is seen as higher than it actually is when calculating those homeowners' property taxes. So African American homeowners are paying more than their fair share in property taxes compared to white homeowners. So there's all of these ways that we're limiting the wealth-building potential. We think, just get Blacks into home ownership and we'll address the wealth gap through that one move. But we have to, in order to really repair all of the harms that are continuing to accumulate, we have to address all of these pieces.
So we can do that by all of the reforms that are being suggested now in the appraisal industry and addressing our local issues around the property tax assessment process, which is a purely local process on the county level. And we can find out that disparity that exists between Black and white neighborhoods in our counties and demand that our tax assessors do something about it and create a more fair assessment process. And also, consider advocating for providing remedies or repayments to those Black homeowners who have overpaid in property taxes over the years. So again, a lot that can be done, a lot of pieces to this puzzle.
Tamika Moss: Richard, you good?
Richard Rothstein: Oh, same question?
Tamika Moss: OK.
Richard Rothstein: Yeah?
Tamika Moss: Yes. Or another. You tell me.
Richard Rothstein: That's OK. I will say something about reparations. We don't use the term reparations specifically in this book because the reparations movement, which is based on a recognized history of subjugation of African Americans in this country, covers both the period of enslavement and the period after the Civil War. Slavery was constitutional when the constitution was adopted, but after the Civil War, the 13th and 14th Amendments not only abolish slavery, but required that all people in this country, formally enslaved, Black or white, be treated equally. If the 13th and 14th Amendments had not been annihilated by the Supreme Court, we would have a racially egalitarian society today, the prior history of slavery not withstanding. And so the focus of our book is on remedies for specific constitutional violations that took place subsequent to the adoption of the 13th and 14th Amendments.
And as Leah described in the Washington State program, attaching remedies to specific constitutional violations that we have an obligation regardless of whether the pre-Civil War constitution was pro-slavery, we have an obligation under our current Constitution to remedy. I don't want to take a lot of time. I'll give you one example. In 1866, following the 13th Amendment, the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which not only abolished slavery, but required Congress to enact laws to eliminate any vestige of slavery, any form of second-class citizenship, Congress passed a law prohibiting any discrimination in the sale and rental of housing, of property.
In 1866, the Supreme Court struck it down. Following that we established a segregated system of housing in this country by state fiat. Once that segregation system was established through policies mostly in the post-World War II period, but before that, as well, by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration in 1968, the Supreme Court said, "Whoops, we were wrong. The 1866 law really was constitutional, we really should have had no discrimination in the private sale and rental of housing for the last 102 years."
But, of course, by then it was too late, without specific efforts to remedy it. So our focus is on remedies for specific constitutional violations and we appreciate the momentum and the motivation behind people who are talking about reparations, but we think we can be much more specific about what needs to be done and tie it to specific crimes of the past.
Tamika Moss: Is that why you both in this book focus on the Black-and-white paradigm? I mean, there are lots of marginalized communities across this country who are being discriminated against in housing. Why the Black-and-white paradigm, and how is that foundational to what else is happening in other marginalized communities? Leah, maybe start with you.
Leah Rothstein: Sure. I mean, for the very reasons my dad discussed, is that we are very particular about tying our solutions and the remedies that we think we need to advocate for to the specific crimes of the government. And that those were very explicitly targeted at African Americans. And so it's not to say that the remedies that we propose in this book wouldn't also benefit other communities. They probably will, and that's great. But if we want to be specific about the remedies, we have to be specific about the crimes that they're remedying for. So other communities have suffered discrimination and might need different remedies to address the specific discrimination that they've suffered.
But the segregation of African Americans and whites has been the most pronounced, the most explicit and the most persistent in our country. Other communities, as generations go on, Latinos tend to integrate into white communities three generations in from immigrating here, African American and white segregation has not changed much even since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. So if we want to really remedy that specific crime, we have to focus on that community. And so that's why we do it. It's not to say someone else shouldn't write another book about focusing on the segregation of other groups that have been discriminated against, but we advocate for being very specific in our solutions.
Tamika Moss: And I love that you call it what it was, crimes. I mean, that language actually feels super powerful to me. I can imagine that it's intimidating for those of us who are trying to do this work across the various stakeholders that we engage, but I think it's really important to use that language and it brings me to the next audience question. And Richard, why don't we direct this one to you. How would you advise activists and policymakers to handle local opposition to rezoning and racially conscious housing policies?
Richard Rothstein: Well, you should have directed this to Leah because she wrote another terrific column in our Substack. We write a regular column on Substack. The Color of Law was a book of history. It was published in 2017. I could write it today. It would be exactly the same as it was then. The facts haven't changed, but Just Action is an ongoing story and new things are always happening what Leah wrote a column about. Do you mind if I tell them about it?
Leah Rothstein: Go for it.
Richard Rothstein: ... was a community here in Northern California, mostly white, overwhelmingly white, where the school district found that it couldn't keep teachers because they couldn't afford to live in their community and they had long commutes to get to the suburban community where they were teaching. And so they had a 30% annual teacher turnover rate. The community also couldn't attract service workers that they needed to maintain the community.
So the school district had empty buildings, excess property, and it proposed to build housing, not single-family housing, but multiunit, not high rises, but the low rise, attractive projects that working families could afford. People who earn teacher salaries or nurse's salaries or carpenter's salaries could afford. The opposition was enormous of the kind that you're describing the question people said it was going to change the character of their community. They talked about how crime was going to increase, all the kinds of things you always hear from these people. And they put a proposition on the ballot not only to prohibit the school district from building this housing, but to prohibit any future projects of this sort of multifamily housing to be built in the community without approval of a vote of the entire population of the community.
Well, a group of racial justice activists organized to oppose this referendum. They went door to door, they knocked on doors. They thought they were going to lose. They didn't think that in this community they would get majority support. But they did such a good job of going door to door, talking to their neighbors about how important the diverse community was, how much better their children would be if they went to diverse schools. And they wound up defeating the referendum. So that's why that's the whole theme of this book, that if we simply begin to do this kind of grassroots organizing around racial justice, there's a lot more support for it than we think. Even in communities like that.
I don't know specifically, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Black Lives Matter demonstration somewhere near that community or in that community. But the people then went home and put window signs about Black Lives Matter and maybe on their lawns and did nothing further. And we need to find those people and get their support.
And I'll say further that without organizing both in Black and white communities, we cannot succeed because African Americans cannot win these victories on their own. They're simply not numerous enough in this country to do that. And so it needs to have white support. The examples we talked about earlier, the Cleveland Heights and Oak Park and places in the 1950s and '60s and '70s that created desegregated communities were biracial and we need to duplicate that effort today.
Leah Rothstein: One more detail of that story is the Silicon Valley community. Before this referendum was put on the ballot, the group was starting to organize and they did that through a workshop about the history of how their community came to be segregated. So they developed a group of people who were interested and educated and understood that their community didn't look the way it did by accident. That their housing affordability crisis that they were in wasn't an accident, that it came from this series of policies. And so they could see that this ballot measure was another one in a series of policies meant to keep their community exclusive and expensive.
So I think talking about the crimes of the past, basing our organizing and our advocacy and understanding that history is very important. It helps people see that this wasn't an accident. We actually have some agency to do something about it 'cause once we start to see that intentional action created it, it didn't just happen, that we could start to see that intentional action can do something about it. So I think that's also an important piece of that story.
Tamika Moss: That's great. So we're almost at time and I want to open it up just to each of you for your last comments. But before that, I just wanted to say there are a lot of examples in this book about how to take action. And those of us who work on this issue every single day, there's a lot happening in California in the Bay Area. So I want folks to feel really hopeful that the steps we take every day to disrupt the cycle of residential segregation, poverty, all the things that we care about, starts with taking steps forward.
And we are working on a regional housing bond across the nine County Bay Area to generate $10 to $20 billion for affordable housing. That's going to be happening in 2024. And a companion piece of work we're doing is ACA 1, which is a constitutional amendment to lower the voter threshold for local jurisdictions to put housing bonds on their local ballots to be able to generate local dollars for housing.
So there are great things happening and I just wanted to make sure I flag that for you all because we're going to be in a battle, just like you've heard from Leah and Richard, this is not easy work and we have to stay vigilant about what we're doing together. Leah, why don't we start with you? Any closing remarks and we'll end with Richard.
Leah Rothstein: Yeah, to follow up on what you said, I started this project, I'm a little embarrassed to admit now, it took my dad a while to convince me to write this book with him. And part of the reason why I hesitated was that I wasn't sure what we would be able to say because it feels like racial segregation is just the way our country is and how can we ever change it. It's decades in the making. It's entrenched, it's overwhelming. There are so many pieces. How can we actually affect change on it?
And in researching this book and talking to groups all over the country, because every example we give in the book, we give an example of a group, a community somewhere in the country successfully implementing that strategy really has given me hope. There is a lot happening. There's a lot of these smaller steps, and that's what it's going to take. It's not going to be one policy or one vote that's going to change all of this. It's going to take all of these small pieces, but each of those pieces are very important. And so we just have to start with one of them. That's it.
Richard Rothstein: I'll only add that we talk about dozens of policies in this book. It's not a nerdy book. We do, as Leah says, we do give real examples of people doing things and stories from their lives. But there are dozens of things, different local policies that can be addressed.
They generally fall into two groups: There are policies that improve conditions in existing African American neighborhoods, which is a very important aspect of this work. For those of you who are students of this kind of policy, you know them as place-based policies. And then we also talk about policies that open up existing segregated predominantly white neighborhoods to diverse residents. They're called mobility policies.
Both of them have to be done. They both require biracial groups to attack them, but there are so many of them, we don't recommend where you start so long as you start somewhere in your own community. Every community is a little bit different. There are different opportunities that arise in some communities at first and not in others. The important thing is to start somewhere, not to look for the best thing to do.
Tamika Moss: All right. On that note, please help me thank our guests. That was awesome. Appreciate it. And I think there's a book signing just outside, so please, you'll get a chance to interact a bit more with Leah and Richard. Thank you all so much.
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