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Why the history of real estate matters

Last month, The City Club joined the Cuyahoga Place Matters team to take a deeper look at the legacy of mid-twentieth century real estate development and lending practices. The event was ostensibly to hear the results of a report by Jason Reece and his colleagues at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. 

I've been talking to people a lot about this event, and I have taken to describing it by saying, If you look at the old red-lining maps and overlay present day public health data, you see lead poisoning hot spots and infant mortality hot spots in exactly the neighborhoods where federal lending policy and private sector policy forced African Americans to live. 

In short, it's jaw dropping data (check out slide 25), and it lays out a clear challenge to be addressed. After the event, it was clear we needed to put everything together in one place, the report, the slide presentation and the video of the event, which is the primary purpose of this blog post. 

The secondary purpose is to explain why this matters and how it's connected to other issues we've been working on here at the City Club. Last summer, Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates delivered a forum regarding his landmark essay "The Case for Reparations." A large part of what he discussed was not slavery but was actually the federal redlining policies that were in place throughout the country. Those policies along with informal practices by bad actors in the mortgage world combined to transfer wealth out of African American communities creating the concentrated poverty our leaders so often decry. What we found as we began developing this program was that it would allow our community to localize that conversation.

Brian Smedley of the National Collaborative for Health Equity held up the Cuyahoga County and Greater Cleveland community as many steps ahead of other communities in addressing these issues. He warned, though, that the case still needs to be made to those who may not see what the connection to their own lives might be. "Our fates are truly deeply intertwined here," he explained, "particularly with the demographic change, with the increase of people of color in the United states. Increasingly, young people of color are going to define our economic stability and our ability to compete internationally. And increasingly, the nation's health status is reflecting the health status of people of color. So again, we can't afford to allow some communities to be marginalized or left behind from a health or an economic standpoint."


Smedley and Reece were joined on the panel by City of Cleveland Director of Planning Freddy Collier, who laid out the challenge in terms of public policy and social justice. "One of the things we have to understand is… a lot of our values have been driven by a supremist value system, and part of what we're doing locally is we're coming back with an equity agenda," Collier said. "We're trying to push back against that value proposition of supremacy. Our societal structures are where we're going to have to infuse this equity agenda."

Lastly, local pubcaster 90.3 WCPN ideastream also provided some much needed conversation on the topic.

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