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Looking for stories about foreclosure and minorities
July 16, 2012 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for stories, books, and anecdotes about banks, landlords, and judges bending the law to evict or foreclose on poor people and minorities, especially in the pre-civil-rights era, and especially on black land-owners. Within the U.S., no particular geographical restrictions.

This is for a personal research project that I am starting on. I'm not looking for an academic discussion of the above issues, but for narrative, whether anecdotal or not. Ideally I would learn from this thread that Studs Terkel once wrote a book called Black and Foreclosed-Upon in the 1950s but I don't think that book exists. If you know a personal story on-topic, I'd love to read it, either in-thread or in memail.
posted by gauche to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Robert Caro's The Power Broker details how Robert Moses did this to build the Cross-Bronx and other roads, with bonus material on how he screwed farmers on Long Island by bisecting their farm to build the Northern State (or LIE?), making it go out of its way to do so rather than acquire tiny bits of land from the robber barons.
posted by troywestfield at 7:11 AM on July 16, 2012

As far as foreclosures go, you're not likely to find much data, period. Two reasons.

First, black home ownership was less than half the national average, 34.5% compared to 73%. Considering that there were only 15 million black Americans in 1950, and only a third of them owned homes, that's only a few million homes, total. It's not five million, because that would be assuming all one-person households. There were three people in the average household in 1950, so that's about 5 million black households, of which only a third owned their own home. Call it 1.6 million households.

Second, foreclosure rates were really, really low during the 1950s. 0.04% to 0.12% for the decade. If we assume just for the purposes of argument that blacks were foreclosed on about as often as whites, we get something like... 650 to 2,000 foreclosures on black-owned mortgages per year. Really not all that many.

Now evictions, on the other hand, are an entirely different kettle of fish. I'm not sure where you'd get much data about that. But there were twice as many black renters as black homeowners in the 1950s, and evictions happen all the time, but it's not really recorded anywhere. We know about foreclosures with surprising accuracy because each and every foreclosure represents a transfer of an ownership interest in real property, all of which are recorded in property deeds. Evictions... not so much. The county recorder's office doesn't care who lives where, only who owns what. So we'd need to look for scholarly research, as those numbers aren't just floating around out there. If you're looking for anecdote or narrative, it's going to be in academic discussions. I'd start in sociological and legal journals. For instance, I already found one article from 1951, 60 Yale L. J. 600, which purports to be a study in the regulation of eviction.

Note though that while foreclosure and eviction are superficially similar--both involve getting kicked out of your home--they are legally quite distinct. Property law is complicated, and anything which affects ownership in real property is going to fall in an entirely different category from things which don't. You'll really need to decide which one you're going to look at, because most writing is about one or the other, not both.
posted by valkyryn at 7:55 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to research using the term "blockbusting" - which is an old, terrible real estate technique used to get minorities out of a certain area.

Doing a quick search on amazon reveals some books on the subject, like this one. I don't know anything about this book, but it appears to be on your subject
posted by Flood at 7:59 AM on July 16, 2012

Yeah, ditto valkyrn. Foreclosures only become widespread when home values are declining, which didn't happen on a nationwide level between the great depression and 2006 or so.

There have been more localised housing booms and busts --- California and Massachuseets had them in the early 1990s. You might find some stuff in newspaper archives like Lexis Nexis if you search for "condo conversion" in the 1980s --- the popularization of condos and conversion of older apartment buildings resulted in a lot of knock-down drag out fights that might generate some of the anecdotes you're looking for. I know Massachusetts tennant law was substantially revised to make it more difficult for landlords to boot tenants in response.
posted by Diablevert at 8:11 AM on July 16, 2012

"Blockbusting" is really the reverse of the above comment - it is putting trashy blacks and/or trashy whites into a stable white (or sometimes black) neighborhood to drive values down to force the stable people out and sell or rent to trashy people at higher rates. Although this was usually done in white neighborhoods, just by population numbers, it was also done in stable black neighborhoods.

Stable, clean, black neighborhoods, of homes, were common at one time, when families with husband and wife and kids was the norm for black families. Roughly and arguably from 1920-1968, to give some dates. I don't think eviction rates in these areas - the majority of the black homeowners of the times - was much different than in white areas. The black areas were served by "black" banks and S&Ls.

(The bank I use today is a smallish "historically black" bank founded as a black S&L - and it is way better than any of the TBTFs. Oh - when it was a black S&L it did not serve whites.)

The changes to and huge expansion of the Section 8 program starting in 1974 basically replaced - pushed out - blockbusting by private profiteers. It has caused continuous disruption of neighborhoods of stable blacks and whites.

At least private profiteers had a profit motive, to make continuing profits and stability, in its way. The motive of Section 8 now is to buy votes and expand government bureaucracy and control with no regard to social destruction.

Anyway, for your question, researching the evolution of the Section 8 program would be a good starting point which could lead to the rare sources closer to your target. I think Section 8 is a more compelling and tragic story.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:52 AM on July 16, 2012

I listened to a radio podcast last weekend concerning the history of home ownership in the US. It had a segment on this topic. There are more resources at that link.
posted by caryatid at 10:10 AM on July 17, 2012

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