Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Says There Is No Housing Crisis: ‘It’s Just Housing Under Capitalism’ - Jonathan Cartu Industrial & Residential Real Estate Firm
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Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Says There Is No Housing Crisis: ‘It’s Just Housing Under Capitalism’

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Says There Is No Housing Crisis: ‘It’s Just Housing Under Capitalism’

I met Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor at the High Point Café in Mount Airy, the leafy Philadelphia neighborhood where she lives. It was a beautiful day on a gorgeous street, so we decided to sit outside near the commuter rail station behind the café.

Every 15 minutes or so, a commuter train passed the bench where we were chatting. The trains carry passengers from Center City through severely impoverished North Philly neighborhoods to Chestnut Hill, until recently the richest area in the city. Taylor, an activist, historian, and professor at Princeton University’s African American Studies department, keeps a sharp eye on dynamics like these. In Germantown, one neighborhood over, a developer has bought a public school from the city for cents on the dollar and is now trying to turn it into a rental complex; Taylor’s been attending the organizing meetings for residents opposed to the plan.

Taylor’s new book, out in October, is Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, and last week it was long-listed for the National Book Award. It details the relationship between private industry and the federal government as they create crisis after crisis among black homeowners—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes not. Discrimination and horrendous housing conditions for black people are not evidence of a crisis within this public-private partnership, she argues; rather, they are its foundation. These problems persist well after legal segregation ends, as passengers on the Chestnut Hill West Line can attest. In our conversation, Taylor explained why public-private collaborations will never work, and where a better framework for housing justice could start.

—Nawal Arjini

Nawal Arjini: Your book focuses on the point where economic incentives meet the personal biases of real estate brokers, as well as public policies. One might think that any one of those might be at odds with the other two, but you show how they all work together.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: The problems are not just about the federal government, or real estate, or banking. It’s about their relationship, the ways that the private sector influences the direction of public policy. The real estate industry in the 20th century is consumed with segregating African Americans, because of the belief that black people pose an existential threat to property values. This precedes the development of federal housing policies in the 1930s, when the government recruited experts to shape policies and laws. At one point, they have a scale of which group is the most deleterious to property values, with blacks and Mexicans being the most harmful. They connect ideas of race, risk, and property, which becomes federal policy—discrimination is seen as critical to profit and property values. That’s why we see discriminatory practices even after fair housing is passed, even today, because it is still key to American real estate that race is a factor in property values.


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