Cities Offer Housing Priority To Black Families Impacted By Urban Renewal

Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Some cities across the country are offering priority housing options to Black families impacted by urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s. Black residents who were forced out of their homes and neighborhoods to make room for highways and other infrastructure projects are being offered priority affordable housing options. 

One of the cities offering the program is Santa Monica, California which displaced thousands of Black families to build a civic center and a highway. 

“That whole community, predominantly African American residents, were uprooted and their homes later … burned to the ground,” local activist Robbie Jones told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “To me, that was sending a message,” the 63-year-old said. 

The city piloted a program earlier this month that sought to get displaced families or their descendants back to the city. 

“This sets an example of what a community can do –– not just talk about long-standing injustices but actually bring the displaced people back,” Kevin McKeown, former Santa Monica city council member who created the proposal, told the outlet. 

“When people say they live in an ‘exclusive’ neighborhood, do they think of who has been excluded?” McKeown added. 

Santa Monica opened the program to up to 100 families and applications are scheduled to open this fall.

Austin, Texas, Berkeley, California, and Asheville, North Carolina, have similar programs, which are sometimes called “right to return.” In 2014, Portland, Oregon created a program to address the historical displacement of approximately 10,000 Black families. 

Similarly, in Los Angeles, officials voted to return a beachfront property to a Black family who the city seized the land from back in 1924. 

Additionally, reparations programs like in Evanston, Illinois are seeking to atone for housing discrimination Black families faced half a century ago. 

“There’s nothing wrong with looking back, to use that knowledge of the past to make positive change,” Jones said, while cautioning that Santa Monica’s current housing market makes “affordable” out of reach for many families. 

“I love this city,” Jones said, “and I’d love for my friends who live here and need housing to have housing –– and not have to move out.”

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