A segregated city

Jack L. Levin

March 12, 1992|By Jack L. Levin

IT HAS BEEN 25 years, a quarter of a liberating century, since President Johnson on Feb. 15, 1967, sent to Congress the Civil Rights Act of 1967, with its special emphasis on ending discrimination in housing by 1969.

It did not end in 1969. It has not ended today.

According to a recent nationwide study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of the home-seeking experiences of blacks and Hispanics, illegal discrimination is still widely practiced throughout the United States. The Urban Institute of HUD conducted the study in 3,800 tests in 1989. It examined discrimination in renting or buying houses in 25 selected metropolitan areas. It was the first to measure housing discrimination against Hispanics.

It found that 56 percent of potential black renters and 59 percent of potential black buyers experienced discrimination. The figures were similar for Hispanics.

The method of the study was the same as that used by Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., which works to eliminate housing discrimination in Maryland.

Black, Hispanic and white "testers," in pairs and matched in all respects except race, posed as potential renters or buyers. HUD tested everything from initial inquiries to final negotiations on lease or purchase terms. Discrimination was found at every stage. There was little outright refusal by a real estate agent to show a house or apartment; discrimination is often so subtle that victims don't know it is happening. The study found that steering of blacks and Hispanics to neighborhoods of their own race occurred in one out of five cases.

The HUD findings were similar to those of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. in studies it has conducted in the metropolitan area over many years. Racial steering and outright discrimination have helped make Baltimore a heavily segregated city.

A few neighborhoods have integrated. Whites and African Americans have lived together for decades in Bolton Hill, Belvedere/Evesham, Waverly/Loch Raven, Cedonia, Charles Village and elsewhere.

But the walls between and around most Baltimore neighborhoods have not come down -- a quarter century after Lyndon Johnson predicted that they would and more than two years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Baltimore, the city of friendly neighborhoods, would be even friendlier if the neighboring enclaves would get together to address problems that know no boundaries. Crime, pollution and unemployment cannot be walled out.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore businessman.

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