5 Books and Films About Housing Discrimination to Put on Your List

published Jun 24, 2020
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Review of books
Credit: Search Results Web results Liveright | W. W. Norton & Company, Giorgio Angelini, UNC Press

Though it’s been more than 50 years since the Fair Housing Act of 1968 passed, housing discrimination is still alive and well. Often it happens in the field, with real estate agents shielding entire neighborhoods from prospective homebuyers with non-white sounding names, or only showing them homes in communities with people of the same ethnic background. Other times it’s systemic and a remnant of days gone by: the redlining, the blockbusting. To fight for fair housing, you have to know what housing discrimination can look like. The books and films below shed light on racism within housing and offer ways to help erase it from the system.

Richard Rothstein’s book “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” looks back on the ways regulators have divided the nation over the years. Rothstein aims to help readers to understand that what is typically considered de facto segregation, or segregation that isn’t created by policy but rather is a “choice” by citizens themselves, is a myth. The book’s 27-page bibliography is a testament to how well-researched this book is.

Credit: Giorgio Angelini

Filled with archival TV ads and infomercials, Owned: A Tale of Two Americas” tells the story of the American Dream of homeownership, tracing its forms from the Great Depression through the present day. There’s a focus on post-World War II housing, as well as real estate after the 2008 economic crisis. The film also defines terms like red-lining and other types of discrimination since the passing of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, pointing to their present-day repercussions. The award-winning film is available on Prime Video and other streaming platforms.

With gentrification, there’s a payout and a price. The payout, which excited Nikki Williams in 2002, was ridding her Portland, Ore. neighborhood of drug dealers and blight. But 15 years later, in “Priced Out: 15 Years of Gentrification in Portland, Ore,” she’s one of the last Black families left and the neighborhood she knew is no more. This film explores the false promise of revitalization without displacement, and how gentrification affects more than just a single neighborhood. It’s available to stream across platforms, as well as for free on Kanopy using a library card. There’s also a related animated series and a podcast.

Denying renters and homebuyers access to certain neighborhoods and relegating them to small sectors of a city is one of the most pervasive forms of housing discrimination. It’s all too common for people of color to be shown houses near polluted areas like industrial plants, for example, or ones in poorly funded school districts. Those possibilities are all place-related. “A Matter of Place,” a documentary from the Fair Housing Justice Center, explains several place-related problems renters and homebuyers encounter as a result of housing discrimination, and gives advice on how to use your privilege to help end those problems.

Credit: UNC Press

In “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Justice, Power, and Politics),” writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor sheds light on the predatory practices bankers and real estate agents employed in the mid-’60s. Many were encouraging Black women in particular to take out high mortgages so they could become homeowners. Once they fell behind on their mortgages, however, their houses were foreclosed on and sold for far more. Thus a profit was turned on their predatory loans. The book, like all histories of housing discrimination, highlights how this practice isn’t a thing of the past just yet.