Tim and Lorraine were the same age. Both had recently finished college and moved to a new city to start a career. Tim quickly found an apartment and moved in.
But when Lorraine went to look at a place less than two hours after speaking to the landlord on the phone he took one look at her and said, "Sorry, it's been rented already."
Suspicious, Lorraine went back to her office and had a co-worker call the landlord. He said the place was still for rent. Lorraine knew without a doubt that he had refused to rent to her because of the color of her skin.
This was the story Senator Tim Kaine told at the 2018 Leckey Forum: Confronting Diversity—Housing Policies for a Truly Inclusive Community hosted by the Alliance for Housing Solutions on June 18. Lorraine was his first client out of law school and launched him into a 17-year career as a housing rights attorney in Richmond. (And yes, Lorraine won her case and found a home to call her own.)
"Home is an extension of your personality," Senator Kaine said. Therefore, discrimination based on the color of a person's skin is a "psychic punch."
While blatant housing discrimination has decreased since the 1968 Fair Housing Act, racial segregation of our neighborhoods still exists today. Panelists explored the history of this segregation, which included:
- Physical walls that were built in Arlington to keep white and African American neighborhoods separated. A portion of one wall still exists as a historical marker in the Hall's Hill/High View Park neighborhood.
- Deed covenants that expressly stated that a home could only be rented or bought by Caucasians.
- Denial of mortgages and insurance for people and communities of color, or "redlining."
- Government public housing and suburban developments that created racial segregation. (Read more about the history of housing segregation.)
The experiences of racial discrimination were varied among panelists. Adriana Torres, an architect and co-owner of Café Sazon on Columbia Pike, said "I didn't know fear growing up in Arlington." After moving to Arlington from Bolivia as a child, she grew up in a diverse neighborhood that allowed her to learn about herself and others. She didn't experience discrimination until after college.
But other factors besides racial bias keeps Arlington neighborhoods from being fully inclusive. Young adults on the Voices of the Future panel pointed to affordability issues, such as student loan debt and income levels, as barriers for people of all backgrounds to find homes they can afford.
"Many young professionals are working two jobs," said Tania Bougebrayel, who works for a security consulting firm and is the president of Arlington Young Democrats.
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, noted that income segregation is on a rise in the U.S. "not just because of capitalism but also because of government policies. Exclusionary zoning laws effectively discriminate based on income."
Kahlenberg and several other panelists suggested that redefined zoning policies that allow for more multi-family homes such as duplexes or additional homes (or accessory dwelling units) on large lots could help alleviate both the cost of homes in Arlington as well as the shortage of housing available.
Senator Kaine noted several other issues that need to be addressed to create more inclusive communities:
- Broadening the protected classes in the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Increasing the number of accessible homes for people who have disabilities, which will also benefit those who would like to stay in Arlington as they age.
- Loan access and regulations that help both banks and lenders.
- Ensuring that landlords will accept housing vouchers from lower-income renters.
When participants were asked what policies Arlington should pursue the responses included suggestions about tax credits or allowances, living wages, rent control, housing cooperatives, by-right incremental development near transit, accessory dwellings and other home sharing options, and increased collaboration between housing and schools.
"We held up the mirror to our segregated past, examined the impact of our current policies on fair housing, and took further steps to inspire change in truly fulfilling Arlington’s vision of being a diverse and inclusive world-class community," Koube Ngaaje, Alliance for Housing Solutions board treasurer, said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I've never been prouder to be part of the Arlington community."
In order to complete that work, Kitty Clark Stevenson, who was raised in Hall's Hill community and spoke on the Voices from Our Past panel, gave a clear call to those in attendance: "Come to the table."
This is the first in a series of posts that will explore lessons from the Leckey Forum on creating more inclusive neighborhoods. Watch videos and see pictures of the event and make sure you're signed up for our newsletter to find out about upcoming events.
Miss the event or want to refresh your memory on what was discussed? View the slides.