There is an article from a 1992 issue of the Atlantic magazine about the rise of the “Suburban Century”. The article details the remarkable growth of the suburbs alongside the decline of the urban sector, highlighting the difficulties of attracting residents and investment in cities. By the time this article was written, the “back to the city” movement had actually been going on (though unevenly so) for at least a decade. Nevertheless, as a historic artifact of sorts, this article reflects the scale and seeming endurance of the American middle-class migration out of the city.
If gentrification is the process by which poorer urban areas that have suffered from divestment see an influx of reinvestment and a wealthier class of people, an obvious question is: How did these poorer, inner cities neighborhoods come to be? Further, what created the racial division between the urban and suburban in the United States?
I’ll outline the history of policies creating out-migration of the middle class into the suburbs during the mid-20th century, with attention to some of the racist lending policies that came into prominence during the rise of home ownership that explicitly denied or increased interest rates on loans to the black population. Further, I’ll also look at the infrastructural and “urban renewal” schemes that were largely destructive for black and other minority inner city communities.
The roots of America’s racialized suburbanization can be traced back to a fear of communism taking root. The Department of Labor’s 1917 “Own-Your-Own-Home” campaign was created under the premise that property ownership would discourage communism from taking root in the country. The Association of Real Estate Boards president William May Garland said “ownership of the soil is the greatest insurance against Bolshevism.” These earlier campaigns to encourage home ownership gave little or no monetary incentive, however, with mortgages that required a 50 percent down payment and repayment in full after only five to seven years.
In 1933, the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation was created as part of New Deal era endeavors to rescue defaulting home loans. The HOLC purchased existing home loans and issued new loans that had a shorter, fifteen-year repayment schedule, amortizing payments, and low interest rates. Because the HOLC had to make appraisals on refinancing decisions, they created color-coded maps for cities across the country — the now infamous redlining maps that Sophia will discuss in her post (INSERT LINK HERE. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created sooner after in 1934 to provide new home buyers an affordable path to ownership through the insurance of bank loans, using the HOLC maps as guidance for their lending practices. Their loan provision process had explicit restrictions against non-white homebuyers and discouraged banks from making loans in urban areas.
“Racial segregation now became an official requirement of the federal mortgage insurance program”.
With people of color mostly locked out of government subsidized home ownership and the ability to build home equity, we can see how the practices of the FHA, guided by the HOLC maps, largely delineated along race and ethnic boundaries, has had a lasting impact spatial structure of inequality in the US. According to Richard Rothstein in in “The Color of Law”, “racial segregation now became an official requirement of the federal mortgage insurance program”.
It was after World War II, with the influx of veterans returning home coupled with the cessation of domestic construction during the war, that the housing boom came to fruition, with an estimated demand of 5 million homes nationwide. The Veteran’s Association (VA) adopted the same housing and appraisal policies as the FHA, using the same Underwriting Manual as the FHA. Together, the FHA and VA’s lending programs for home mortgage insurance as well as construction loans to builders made the rise of homeownership and suburbanization possible through government-backed guarantees.
Levittown, New York, named for its developer William Levitt, is one of the largest and earliest suburban housing developments, with its first developments built in 1947. The FHA and VA helped finance the construction and mortgages for these housing developments with the stipulation that the developments were not mixed race and that the homes could not be sold or rented to anyone of non-Caucasian races. The refusal to allow integrated developments was standard FHA/VA policy across the country.
Infrastructure and Urban “Renewal”
Another component that facilitated the creation of the suburbs was the construction of the Interstate Highway that came into full force during the 1950s under president Eisenhower. The road network, which was first fully mapped out in the Yellow Book, was planned both to facilitate ease of travel and to create a distributed transportation network for military and troop deployments in national defense scenarios. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was the largest public works project in US history at the time, giving $25bn dollars to construct 41,000 miles of highway.
With the government creating both a lending and transportation environment that created an ease to suburban home ownership during the period after WWII, it’s a wonder that homeownership only increased from around four to six in ten people between the 1940s and 1960s.
As a consequence of people moving to the suburbs, with businesses and retailers that following suit, urban centers, especially older industrial centers, experienced a capital flight that forced a cut-back on public services in the city due to the decreased tax revenues. The city of Detroit is a good example of this, experiencing approximately 150,000 jobs lost to the suburbs in the 1950s. 
At the same time that housing policies and infrastructure construction was enabling a move into the suburbs, primarily for white populations, highway construction in the city and other “urban renewal” schemes were largely taking place in predominantly black neighborhoods in the city, causing the destruction and division of many inner city communities. For instance, in Detroit, the construction of a new Edsel Ford Expressway in the 1950s went through the densely black populated neighborhoods in the city. With the power of eminent domain, the city destroyed almost 2,800 buildings, including jazz clubs, churches, businesses and homes. In Pittsburgh, the city destroyed the homes of 8,000 residents and 400 businesses in the Hill District between 1955 and 1960 to construct the Civic Arena. In LA, the infamous Battle of Chavez Ravine entailed a slow ten-year tiered buyout of the homes of the predominantly poorer Mexican American residents of the Chavez Ravine neighborhood. The city’s intention was first to build public housing under the National Housing Act of 1949, but later, with the election of the conservative mayor Walter O’Malley, to build Dodger Stadium there.
What were the consequences for families of urban renewal schemes? The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab has a visualization detailing the regions and levels of displacement due to urban renewal projects from 1955–1966. (In particular, check out “The People and the Program” section for a great overview.) The Lab acknowledges that these numbers do not reflect the true breadth of displacement, as the time period is limited that it doesn’t take into account the effects of infrastructure projects, for instance. Nevertheless, from the numbers we do have, we can see there is a racialize disparity to the tens of thousands of families displaced each year, across cities of all sizes, during the height of urban renewal projects. As a side note, the neighborhood of Hyde Park, Chicago, where Sophia and I grew up was actually part of the fifth largest urban renewal project at the time, with the University of Chicago initiating an urban renewal plan for $26 million in federal funding. The neighborhood experienced a seventy percent increase in incomes but a forty percent drop in black residents.
The more I read, the more I feel completely dismayed by the racial housing and development practices of the US in the mid-century: I realize that their impacts are deep and lasting, and course-correction would require a monumental effort, probably on the scale of government efforts during the New Deal era, which is hard to imagine in our time. In 2017, the median net worth of white families is 10 times the size of black families, with homeownership being amongst those factors that contribute to the wealth disparity. More than 70 percent of white families own their homes, versus the sub-50 percent in black and Hispanic families, with white families also having higher levels of home equity. Many of these numbers are impacted by more recent mortgage lending practices and the so-called Great Recession that began in late 2007. However, there is no doubt that the earlier post-war housing patterns, which allowed white populations to build on home equity through government subsidies while excluding and even destroying black and other minorities wealth, in the case of urban renewal schemes, exacerbated this wealth gap. Not only did these policies influence access to home equity, but it also excluded minorities from receiving better education, access to better employment opportunities, a healthier and safer living environment, amongst other things that make me angry.
 Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publishing, 2017.
 Nicolaides, Becky, and Andrew Wiese. “Suburbanization in the United States after 1945.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, April 26, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.64.
 There are actually Levittowns in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and Maryland
 Weingroff, Richard F. “Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, Creating the Interstate System.” Public Roads 60, no. 1 (1996). http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/96summer/p96su10.cfm.
 Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. Oxford University Press, 1987.
 Thomas Sugrue wrote book called “The Origins of the Urban Crisis” detailing this scenario in Detroit; in particular, he is interested in the mix between race, capital flight, and housing.
 Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton University Press, 2014.
 Trotter, Joe W., and Jared N. Day. Race and Renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.
 Lab, Digital Scholarship. “Renewing Inequality.” Accessed April 14, 2018. //dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/renewal/.
 Jan, Tracy. “White Families Have Nearly 10 Times the Net Worth of Black Families. And the Gap Is Growing.” Washington Post, September 28, 2017, sec. Wonkblog. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/28/black-and-hispanic-families-are-making-more-money-but-they-still-lag-far-behind-whites/.