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“The Right to Housing Is a Civil Right Due Without Discrimination”: Racial Bias in Public and Private Housing

The New Deal Public Works Administration, created in 1933, built public institutions, but failed to ease the severe housing shortage by constructing homes. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure home mortgages and loans for home repairs at low-interest, long-term rates. While the FHA helped middle-income homeowners, it refused to insure mortgages in poorer inner-city areas where the risks of default were seen as greater than in the suburbs. FHA guidelines also by supporting racial covenants that prevented African Americans from moving into “white” neighborhoods. The following statement by a Newark, New Jersey, African-American newspaper to a joint Congressional committee on housing—created by anti-housing reform legislators to stall passage of a public housing bill—charged that policies of racial discrimination denied access to people of color for housing in both private and public facilities. The Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that restrictive covenants were not legally enforceable and FHA subsequently banned restrictive covenant clauses in contracts. Racial discrimination in housing continued, however, in sales of existing houses and through unwritten “gentlemen’s agreements” between realtors and buyers. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred discrimination in public accommodations, but de facto segregation continued in many parts of the U.S.


In submitting this statement to the committee, the New Jersey Afro-American acts because it believes that this committee is anxious to get a well-rounded picture of housing conditions to help guide it in proposing legislation to relieve the most pressing needs faced by the people of New Jersey and other States.

We are not moved by any desire for personal gain and have nothing to sell. We are moved particularly by the tragedy visited upon our colored citizens and other minority groups by municipal and State policies as well as by private groups and individuals in limiting and denying housing opportunities to an important segment of the people because of prejudice.

As members of the working press we have had the unhappy privilege of observing that the people who need more and better housing most are the ones who suffer the most cruel discrimination in obtaining housing.

What is happening in New Jersey is happening throughout the country to a large extent. President Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights has just published its report, which shows that housing is one of the fields in which the colored citizen finds the sharpest discrimination. This denial of the elementary rights due citizens has been so flagrant that we now find our Attorney General intervening on behalf of the Government in a suit against racial covenants in housing before the Supreme Court.

In our work in covering the news, distributing and selling our newspaper in 18 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, we have been able to find only three private housing developments in which colored people have been able to buy or rent homes constructed since the beginning of World War II.

Members of our staff have visited more than 125 municipalities in this period. They included all counties except Cape May, Warren, and Sussex. Except for a private project formulated at Lawnside since the war and still in the planning stage, we have found no new private housing projects offered in whole or part to colored people except in Rahway, Roselle, and Orange. These three projects which are now occupied by colored people have less than 60 units. In Rahway and Roselle, where the units were built by Philip Levy of New York, the houses were constructed only after overcoming the most strenuous objections of municipal officials as well as white private individuals and organizations.

Although the discrimination has not been as severe in the area of public housing, it has been and still is acute.

The announced intention of the planning boards of East Orange and Montclair to employ the Preiser Municipal Development Act of 1945 to rid those municipalities of colored people and poor white minorities in areas adjoining sections with higher property values so alarmed our only colored assemblyman, Dr. James O. Hill, that he introduced a bill March 24, 1947 to amend the Preiser Act to prevent discrimination. Dr. Hill was among the assemblymen who had voted for the act . He learned that there were substantial forces far more interested in depriving colored people of some of their most substantial homes and replacing them with residents who would offer handsome tax yields than they were in providing decent housing for those who need it most.

The Weequahic Park housing development for veterans in Newark, which is scheduled for completion in April 1948, with 435 units, will cost $1,875,000, of which the State will pay $1,725,000. Like other temporary housing for veterans, it is sponsored jointly by the department of economic development and the municipality.

On October 1, 1947, although more than 200 units had been completed, only 29 eligible families of colored veterans had been chosen. On October 15, 1947, there were 337 units scheduled to be completed, yet it was November 3 before the first 10 colored families had been certified and the first two had moved in.

This was due to the fact that the plans called for segregating the families of Negro veterans in one section of the project and completing and filling many of the other units before completion of the segregated section.

Despite the assertion of William T. Vanderlipp, State deputy housing administrator, that there will be no discrimination, we find that race is being placed above need.

As far as we have been able to determine, this pattern is being followed for temporary veterans‘ housing throughout the State. Yancey S. Thompson, colored veteran, who served on the veterans’ committee arranging for housing in Bloomfield, said that he was informed flatly that not only would housing for colored veterans be put in colored areas but also that selection would be on a percentage based on race.

In Newark the general picture has been no more heartening than in Bloomfield. In April 1947 the Newark Housing Authority was certifying colored veterans for temporary housing at the rate of 4.4 percent of the total. The city has selected families for 190 units, and colored veterans and their families occupied only 8 of them.

Dr. Carl Baccaro, executive director of the authority, told the Afro-American, April 1947, that the authority was following a policy of placing tenants in accordance to the complexion of the neighborhoods. He said that policy had been in effect since 1938. In 1946 Dr. Baccaro had told the Afro-American that need would be the only and sole basis for placements in temporary housing and in the permanent Franklin D. Roosevelt Homes, where veterans are given preference.

On April 15, 1947, there were 60 colored families in the Roosevelt Homes project, which has 275 units. Dr. Baccaro told the Afro?American that although there were 40 vacancies available at that time no more colored families would be permitted to move into the project. Showing that this policy was carried out, the municipal yearbook, Newark—City of Opportunity, released recently, states on page 29 that colored families occupy 60 units, which shows they were kept out of the 40 available units.

Roosevelt Homes cost $1,590,000, according to the contract estimate, and the Federal Government is furnishing most of the money.

There is no necessity for us to elaborate on what the Newark Housing Authority itself has often stated so graphically in its publications—that Newark is 30 percent slums and that the majority of the colored citizens are housed in slums, that crime, delinquency of juveniles, child-birth mortality, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases are more rampant in the slum areas where colored people are jammed than in the housing projects operated by the Newark Housing Authority.

At the same time we find that the authority has permitted the colored tenants to live in only four of its eight permanent projects, and has given over none of these projects wholly to colored people. It operates 3,008 units, with 638 units given over to colored. These eight projects cost $16,308,373.

The position of the Afro-American is that even if the united efforts of the Government and the private housing industry produce enough housing units to meet the needs of a substantial number of these veterans and others without decent homes, colored citizens in New Jersey can look for little improvement in their lot without legislation and enforcement to guard them against merciless discrimination.

We urge this committee to propose that the right to housing is a civil right due without discrimination, without race, color, class, and religious restrictions imposed by anyone, whether the discrimination is advanced by builders, buyers, owners, housing authorities, city commissions, or state commissions.

Source: Congress, Study and Investigation of Housing: Hearings before the Joint Committee on Housing, 80th Congress, 1st Session, Proceedings at Newark, N.J. November 14, 1947 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948), 3255–56.

See Also:"The Ruins of Their Postwar Dream Homes": Housing Reform Advocates Testify before Congress
"A Decent Home . . . for Every American Family": Postwar Housing Shortage Victims Testify before Congress