Forbidden Neighbors: A Study of Prejudice in Housing, by Charles Abrams
According to a recent story in the New York Times, housing has emerged as the nation’s largest industry. Ten million new housing units representing “an addition of $100 billion to the nation’s real wealth” have been built in this country since V-J day; housing “starts” are at the rate of 1.3 million this year.
On the basis of such an account (which by the way omitted reference to the vast public subsidies that have gone into this increment in “real wealth”), one might suppose that the housing problem will soon be solved. Unhappily such optimism must pale before the facts. In his message of January 1954, President Eisenhower told Congress that “Millions of our people still live in slums. Millions more live in run-down, declining neighborhoods.” The deeper trouble was indicated in the President’s further statement that “many members of minority groups, regardless of their income or their economic status, have had the least opportunity of all our citizens to acquire good homes.” Very large numbers of the worst housed-notably non-whites-live in slums which are also ghettos, with their escape impeded by a wall of prejudice. For them the building booms have been in large measure only a mirage. To be sure, a large volume of building must help these classes in the end, even if the program is not directed toward their needs in the beginning or is indeed hostile to them. But if relief is to come with reasonable speed, we cannot look merely to a prolongation of the present building boom. And very much more must be done if the object is not only to eliminate slums by replacing them with more commodious ghettos, but to eliminate both slum and ghetto. What is needed above all is a recognition that the housing problem is predominantly, not incidentally, one of finding proper shelter in the community for those of colored skin; that this issue is intertwined with the eradication of bigotry; and that it requires for its solution not a succession of nostrums as in the past, but head-on planning of the most comprehensive character.
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