Racism in NYC Housing

Sometimes people have the impression that New York City, because it is a global city and there is such amazing diversity here, is somehow more ‘tolerant’ or less racist than say, Texas, where I grew up. In fact, it used to really annoy me when, back in the day after I finished my dissertation about white supremacy at UT-Austin, people from New York and other points north of the Mason-Dixon line, would say things like, “oh, Texas…that must be a really good place to study white supremacy.” As if racism, white supremacy, and overt discrimination, for example in housing, don’t exist outside the South.

A couple of stories from the New York Daily News, one of tabloids here in the city, make this point for me. First up, all the ‘race-blind’ talk about the financial crisis in subprime mortgages disguises the fact that this is an issue steeped in racism. The news story from yesterday about eight Brooklyn homeowners, all working-class Blacks, who won a huge legal victory yesterday when a federal judge green-lighted their suits against a real estate company accused of targeting African Americans and other minority-group members with predatory lending practices.

The homeowners assert that they were victims of fast-talking salesmen for United Homes LLC, who pressed to close deals on dilapidated homes appraised at grossly inflated values without concern for the buyers’ ability to pay.

Sylvia Gibbons, who contends United Mortgage pressured her and her husband to take out two mortgages to buy a house in Bushwick, is quoted in the story saying, “It’s a nightmare we’re still trying to cope with.”

The second story from the Daily News, this one from this morning, highlights the kind of overt racism in housing that most people associate with the South. And, indeed, an unidentified “police source” in the story is quoted as saying: “It’s something out of the Deep South, or the backwoods, circa 1950,” a police source said.

But this is happening right here in New York City right now. According to the story in the News, Kris Gouden, who is of Guyanese descent, and his family are being harassed by white neighbors have launched a racist campaign to run him out of the neighborhood. Now, there is a constant police presence outside his home in Hamilton Beach and a neighbor has been busted on felony hate-crime charges.

Gouden says that his family was threatened while they were sitting on the deck in their own backyard. A white neighbor attacked Gouden and his family, “He comes back with a baseball bat,” Gounden said. “He said, ‘F–k you, n—-r. You don’t belong in here. I will burn this house. I’ll kill all of you.'”

This happened in a section of Queens known as Howard Beach, where several other racist attacks have occurred. But, rather than look at the way these attacks are connected to larger systems of racism, what I predict will happen here in New York is that people will dismiss it as an “isolated” incident precisely because it happened in Howard Beach.