Housing reparations

Evidence Rating  
Expert Opinion
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  

Reparations programs acknowledge and address harms caused by human rights violations such as slavery, segregation, or systematic denial of fair housing, education, and employment opportunities. The federal government has primary responsibility to repair the consequences of human rights violations that were legally sanctioned, enabled, and permitted. However, local and state governments, corporations, institutions, individuals, and other entities can participate in reparation efforts to atone for policies and events, especially discriminatory housing policies, redlining and residential segregation, racial covenants, segregated credit and financing systems, and property devaluing, theft, and destruction. Reparations programs require the participation of representatives of victims in program design and implementation. Reparations proposals outline who is eligible for compensation, for what injustice, who will provide compensation, and in what form1, 2, 3.

Housing reparations programs are multi-component interventions that support homeownership for people of color through down payment grants, housing revitalization grants, or access to government subsidized mortgages with very low interest rates and low or no down payment. Housing reparations programs often increase regulation to de-commodify the housing market, reform tax policies to discourage predatory housing speculation, restructure housing finance systems, and expand the social housing sector by increasing the share of housing resources owned by public, not-for-profit, or community organizations3. These programs include initiatives to invest in communities that were intentionally marginalized4, especially to improve housing and infrastructure resources, build community wealth, and increase home equity values3. Housing reparations include formal apologies and public acknowledgement of historical injustice and its current manifestations. Housing reparations programs can also develop political power, invest resources to enforce fair lending laws, and work to prevent and prosecute ongoing discrimination in the housing market3, 5, 6, 7. Government agencies can change mortgage insurance and finance regulations, tax benefits for homeowners, and industry norms to improve consumer protection, transparency, and public access to information to benefit homeowners in previously excluded and abused neighborhoods3. Housing reparations programs are one component of a broader reparations and racial equity agenda3.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased access to affordable housing
  • Increased asset accumulation
  • Increased community wealth
  • Improved neighborhood quality
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved health outcomes
  • Reduced stress

Evidence of Effectiveness

Housing reparations programs are a suggested strategy to correct past injustices, increase access to housing, invest in communities that were intentionally marginalized, and reduce the racial wealth divide3, 5, 7. Reparations for housing discrimination and residential segregation are suggested to reduce racial disparities in health outcomes4. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects and to determine the most successful combinations of policies, programs, and reforms.

Experts suggest that reparations are owed to Black people who were harmed by discriminatory housing policies and practices, in addition to reparations for slavery3, 5. One report documents the devastation of Black communities in North Nashville for the construction of Interstate Highway 40 and suggests local reparations policies are needed to undo the harms caused by this destruction of homes, businesses, and community wealth, followed by decades of neglect and increasing poverty8. The harms from racial residential segregation are cumulative and compounding with neighborhood disinvestment, concentrated poverty, high unemployment rates, and under-resourced, low-quality education opportunities7.

Racial residential segregation has several damaging effects on health and is one of the driving factors behind negative health outcomes and high mortality rates among Black Americans4, 9, 10. Living in a neighborhood with concentrated poverty is associated with high levels of chronic and acute stress for individuals, households, and communities3, 4. Racial residential segregation reduces opportunities for healthy choices; residents have limited food options, inadequate public transportation, minimal access to quality medical care, few options for safe places for physical activity, as well as heavily-marketed and overabundant alcohol and tobacco products4, 9. Data analysis suggests reparations would have reduced the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans in part through improved housing stability, which increases opportunities to comply with stay-at-home orders and social distancing11.

Residential segregation increases racial disparities in housing stability, homeownership, and property values3. A significant part of the racial wealth divide at all income levels is related to lower rates of homeownership and the lower value of homes for Black Americans3, 7. Structural racism in the housing market has created undervalued, marginalized neighborhoods with under-resourced, lower-quality schools, inadequate housing, fewer job opportunities, limited services, deficient food supplies, and neglected public infrastructure3. Schools in these neighborhoods receive billions of dollars less than schools in predominantly white neighborhoods, since school funding is substantially based on local property taxes12. By reducing education and employment opportunities, residential segregation prevents socioeconomic mobility, preserves wage gaps, supports the racial wealth divide, and keeps generation after generation of Black Americans in poverty4. People of color living in these neighborhoods are frequently exploited by predatory landlords, overcharged for goods and services since there are limited options available, and targeted for fines and tickets to generate revenue for the city, even though the city neglects the streets, sidewalks, publicly-owned vacant lots, and housing and building code enforcement in these neighborhoods3. Additionally, people of color live with more violence, greater exposure to pollution and environmental toxins, fewer community resources, less political representation, and more stigma than residents of predominantly white neighborhoods3, 4.

Multiple policies implemented simultaneously are suggested to promote homeownership and community investment; establish long-term affordability; increase community wealth; reduce displacement caused by gentrification; increase community control through community land trusts, public housing, nonprofit managed housing, and resident cooperatives3; and remove restrictive housing zoning ordinances10. A comprehensive plan should include financial supports for homeowners with low incomes and less job security. For example, a matched insurance or savings program similar to Individual Development Accounts can be established to save money for home repairs or mortgage payments in case of temporary job loss3. Many existing programs and policies can be used to address historic injustice and provide access to credit and favorable loans, offer down payment assistance, and increase opportunities for homeownership. For example, Special Purpose Credit Programs (SPCPs) can establish fair and equitable credit markets and provide financing to purchase a home for those who were previously excluded3. Revisions to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) could increase lending in formerly-redlined neighborhoods, provide access to fair, sustainable mortgages for Black households, prevent banks from receiving CRA credit for loans to borrowers with high incomes that can encourage displacement and gentrification, and promote both racial and economic integration3. Successful reparations efforts invest in Black leadership and organizations to shift power and resources to Black communities and support their plans and proposals to improve housing equity3.

In legal settings, experts suggest the real estate industry should bear the burden of demonstrating equal treatment of all clients, instead of asking victims to prove discrimination in the housing market. New reporting and documentation requirements could be established, including client information, outcomes of interactions between buyers and sellers, properties discussed and shown, prospective client leads, mortgage lender or bank recommendations provided, offers received, etc. These requirements are similar to those in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act3. This data could be used to compare how real estate firms treat Black and white clients and set a benchmark for the costs of discrimination and the basis for fines. Any revenue collected from fines could be used for fair housing enforcement or be paid directly to victims of discrimination3.

Housing reparations programs should be implemented carefully, especially when it comes to integrating exclusionary neighborhoods. Otherwise, policies may end up rearranging where individuals and families live without dismantling underlying systemic racism3, which may lead to more experiences of fear, stress, and unequal treatment for people of color9.

Apologies and recognition of historical wrongs are considered a critical component of reparations programs, though they are not sufficient by themselves13. Experts suggest reparations programs support education to develop and maintain national consciousness of America’s racial history14, 15, 16. When genuine expressive reparations are combined with monetary investments, reparations programs can offer hope and begin the healing process, which may help victims and perpetrators work together productively to achieve common goals13, 17, 18.

Surveys suggest that reparations programs are politically unpopular in the US; however, the degree of support or opposition to reparations proposals varies dramatically from one survey to the next—often based on question wording, framing of the proposed reparations, and who conducts the interview2. Some experts suggest that group compensation from the federal government to restructure systems and invest in devastated communities may be more politically feasible than individual payments19. Public opinion appears to be shifting in response to increased awareness of racism and discrimination, racial inequity, and the role of governments in addressing these issues20.

Equity Analysis

Potential to decrease disparities: Suggested by expert opinion

Housing reparations programs are a suggested strategy to reduce racial disparities in housing stability, homeownership, and property values3. Housing reparations are suggested to reduce the racial wealth divide by improving rates of homeownership and the value of homes, especially among Black Americans3. Multi-component housing reparations programs can also reduce disparities in community wealth and resources and include policies to mitigate the negative effects of residential segregation and structural racism in the housing market. Housing reparations programs that invest in previously excluded neighborhoods have the potential to reduce disparities in education and employment opportunities, the food environment and neighborhood infrastructure, and exposure to violence, pollution, and environmental toxins3, 4, 5, 7.

Reparations for housing discrimination and residential segregation are suggested to reduce racial disparities in health outcomes4. Residential segregation has several damaging effects on mental and physical health and contributes to disparities including higher levels of chronic and acute stress3, higher rates of chronic disease, and higher mortality rates among Black Americans4, 9, 10. Housing reparations programs may also reduce inequities in the built environment and increase opportunities for healthy choices4, 9. Data analysis suggests reparations would have reduced the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans in part through improved housing stability11.

Historical Context

In the US, discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies were explicit in the era of Jim Crow and government-sanctioned segregation7, 9. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established with the premise that racial segregation protected property values for white neighborhoods. The FHA’s redlining policies were the most influential factor that entrenched racial residential segregation. Redlining denied people of color access to government-insured mortgages and labeled homes in neighborhoods where people of color lived as uninsurable, thereby guaranteeing that property values in those neighborhoods would be less than those in white neighborhoods7. Contract sellers took advantage of Black Americans who were ineligible for government mortgages and had no other paths to homeownership available. Contract sales required buyers to make large down payments as well as monthly payments at high interest rates on inflated purchase prices; however, buyers were not given the deed to the property or any equity until the contract was paid in full. Buyers had to pay for any home repairs or emergency expenses, but the seller was the owner and could evict the buyer, even for one missed payment. Buyers could not get out of contract sales before the contract term ended without losing all of their investment. One study of contract sales during the 1950s and 1960s, conservatively estimates that contract sales in Chicago alone account for between $3 and 4 billion dollars (in 2019 dollars) plundered from the Black community41.

After WWII, the GI Bill supported white veterans becoming homeowners, but Black veterans were unable to access those benefits. Local housing authorities under white leadership implemented the GI Bill and discriminated against Black veterans, while FHA redlining and racial housing covenants continued to block Black people from homeownership in neighborhoods with good resources and increasing property values. Racial covenants were declared unenforceable in 1948; however, many still exist in neighborhood and homeowner association records7. Violence and intimidation were also used to enforce neighborhood segregation. The twentieth century has thousands of examples of riots, destruction, and violence against Black communities that killed Black people and destroyed their homes, properties, businesses, and entire communities42. Efforts to reduce discrimination in housing and federal lending in the 1960s and 1970s were unsuccessful. National and urban area audits show the persistence of widespread racial discrimination7. The 2008 housing crisis revealed racial disparities in housing and lending and how Black homeowners and neighborhoods were targeted for predatory loans3, 7, 43. Even with regulation after the housing crisis, homeowners with lower credit scores and smaller down payments continue to pay higher interest rates3.

Equity Considerations

• Which educational outreach activities can increase your community’s understanding of what housing reparations entail, who they are for, and why they are needed? How can your community increase awareness about local history and the role policies have in determining which neighborhoods have resources to thrive?
• What neighborhoods in your community are under-resourced? What are the underlying reasons why those neighborhoods are under-resourced? Which housing and infrastructure investments could be prioritized in these neighborhoods to improve community conditions?
• What local housing policies could your community adopt or reform to increase paths to homeownership for residents of color? How could down payment or housing revitalization grants be funded locally?
• How do local property taxes or housing market regulations support or hinder homeownership for people of color in your community?
• How can your community increase support for community land trusts or other social housing initiatives?
• How do housing reparations fit into a broader racial equity agenda in your community?

Implementation Examples

Reparations initiatives are emerging across the US. For example, in Evanston, Illinois, the city council passed a local reparations program for Black residents. The first initiative of the city’s initial $10 million reparations fund is the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program. The program provides eligible households up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs21, 22. In Detroit, Michigan, a resolution in support of community reparations apologizes for slavery and post-emancipation discrimination. The resolution outlines and commits to several human rights, including the right to housing. The Detroit reparations process is intended to support these human rights by building intergenerational wealth and increasing economic mobility and opportunity for Black residents23. In 2021, the city council in Saint Paul, Minnesota passed a resolution that apologizes for the city’s role enabling housing discrimination and the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood and business district. The city council also established the Legislative Advisory Committee on Reparations to recommend actions to build wealth and increase economic opportunity for the Black community24.

In the southern US, Asheville, NC passed a resolution in 2020 apologizing for slavery, for the city government’s role in enforcing segregation, and for implementing an urban renewal program that destroyed multiple, successful Black communities. Asheville’s reparations commission plans to identify and implement policies to support Black homeownership, affordable housing availability, and intergenerational wealth development. They allocated $2.1 million to support these efforts. The resolution also calls for reparations at the state and federal level25, 26. In Durham, NC, the city council passed a resolution in 2018 calling for local and federal reparations, formed a racial equity task force, and in 2021, the city council approved $6 million for local reparations efforts including affordable housing and green infrastructure projects in Black neighborhoods27.

Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE) is a coalition of city mayors committed to local action for reparations and dismantling structural racism, which can serve as a model for larger scale change. As of 2022, MORE includes 13 mayors who have committed to form their own local reparations commissions; to pilot reparations programs once funding has been identified; and to support the federal bill on its way to the House of Representatives. This bill, HR 40, would create a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations for slavery and discrimination in the US28, 29.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation in 2021 that records the unjust and racially-motivated theft of oceanfront property and destruction of Bruce’s Beach resort. The legislation requires ownership of the land be returned to the descendants of its original owners, Willa and Charles Bruce30.

State legislatures can support efforts to prevent housing discrimination. For example, the New York State Legislature passed nine bills to address housing discrimination. These bills establish and identify resources for an Anti-Discrimination in Housing Fund; require training on implicit bias, fair housing laws, the history of segregation and unequal access to housing, and cultural competency as part of license renewals for all real estate professionals; increase maximum fines for misconduct; improve the reporting process for housing discrimination incidents; increase regulations and reporting requirements for the real estate industry; and commit to fair housing, equality, and integration in communities31, 32.

Across the country, local reparations efforts can address damages from local injustices and human rights atrocities. For example, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission created the historical record of the massacre and destruction of the Greenwood community. The commission recommended reparations and economic justice at the local, state, and federal level that have not yet been realized33. However, a federal Congressional bill, the Tulsa-Greenwood Massacre Claims Accountability Act, was introduced in 2021 and aims to make it easier for the three still-living survivors of the Tulsa massacre to seek reparations34. In Elaine, Arkansas, reparatory justice groups call for reparations for descendants of the 1919 massacre and to increase wealth building opportunities and investment in the Elaine community. These efforts also include plans to restore a building that will become the home of the Elaine Museum and Legacy Center35.

At the federal level, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act. The proposed legislation includes improvements to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to increase investments in marginalized communities and a down payment assistance program specifically for people of color who have been denied access to credit and live in formerly-redlined communities36. Multiple federal policy proposals also support efforts to increase social housing investments and improve affordable housing quality. For example, in January 2021, Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced the Public Housing Emergency Response Act to allocate more funds for public housing repairs37. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing to address green housing improvements for energy efficiency, electricity, and water quality upgrades, while also increasing workforce development and high-income employment opportunities for individuals with low incomes38.

People’s Action is a national, grassroots coalition leading the campaign for a Homes Guarantee to transform housing from a commodity to a public good and to guarantee housing as a universal human right. The Homes Guarantee campaign aims to build 12 million social housing units, end homelessness, improve public housing, solidify tenant protections, increase green building and sustainable infrastructure investment, and repair damages from centuries of racist housing and zoning policies39. The Urban Democracy Lab proposes creating a new federal social housing agency to oversee the purchase and rehabilitation of housing that became distressed during the COVID-19 pandemic and transition those homes to the social housing sector, for example into cooperatives, non-profits, community land trusts, or public housing40.

Implementation Resources

National Equity Atlas - National Equity Atlas. America’s report card on racial and economic equity: We equip movement leaders and policymakers with actionable data and strategies to advance racial equity and shared prosperity.

Urban-Pendall 2016 - Pendall R, Hendey L, Turner MA, Poethig E. Revitalizing neighborhoods: The federal role. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2016.

NAARC-Resources - National African-American Reparations Commission (NAARC). Resources: Reparations FAQ’s, news, commentaries, videos, useful links, and more.

Footnotes

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 ICTJ-Reparations - International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). Reparations.

2 Craemer 2009* - Craemer T. Framing reparations. Policy Studies Journal. 2009;37(2):275-298.

3 PRRAC-Haberle 2021 - Haberle M, House S, eds. Racial justice in housing finance: A series on new directions. Washington, DC: Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC); 2021.

4 Williams 2004a* - Williams DR, Collins C. Reparations: A viable strategy to address the enigma of African American health. American Behavioral Scientist. 2004;47(7):977-1000.

5 Brookings-Ray 2020 - Ray R, Perry A. Why we need reparations for Black Americans. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute; 2020.

6 Darity 2008* - Darity WA Jr. Forty acres and a mule in the 21st century. Social Science Quarterly. 2008;89(3):656-664.

7 Kaplan 2007* - Kaplan J, Valls A. Housing discrimination as a basis for Black reparations. Public Affairs Quarterly. 2007;21(3):255-273.

8 Brookings-Perry 2021 - Perry AM, Barr A. Michigan wants to increase residents' college enrollment, but student debt is holding them back. The Avenue Blog. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2021.

9 TCF-Quick 2019 - Quick K, Kahlenberg RD. Attacking the Black-white opportunity gap that comes from residential segregation. Washington, DC: The Century Foundation; 2019.

10 Lens 2021 - Lens M. Low-density zoning, health, and health equity. Washington, DC: Health Affairs; 2021.

11 Richardson 2021 - Richardson ET, Malik MM, Darity WA Jr, et al. Reparations for Black American descendants of persons enslaved in the US and their potential impact on SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Social Science & Medicine. 2021;276:113741.

12 Brookings-Ray 2021 - Ray R, Perry AM, Harshbarger D, Elizondo S, Gibbons A. Homeownership, racial segregation, and policy solutions to racial wealth equity. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2021.

13 ICTJ-Carranza 2015 - Carranza R, Correa C, Naughton E. More than words: Apologies as a form of reparation. New York: International Center for Transitional Justice; 2015.

14 Saillant 2016* - Saillant F. Recognition and reparations. Interfaces Brasil/Canadá. 2016;16(2):27-53.

15 McKeown 2021* - McKeown M. Backward-looking reparations and structural injustice. Contemporary Political Theory. 2021.

16 Craemer 2018* - Craemer T. International reparations for slavery and the slave trade. Journal of Black Studies. 2018;49(7):694-713.

17 Walker 2010a* - Walker MU. Truth telling as reparations. Metaphilosophy. 2010;41(4):525-545.

18 McGary 2010* - McGary H. Reconciliation and reparations. Metaphilosophy. 2010;41(4):546-562.

19 Henry 2007* - Henry C. The politics of racial reparations. In: Martin M, Yaquinto M, eds. Redress for Historical Injustices in the United States: On Reparations for Slavery, Jim Crow, and Their Legacies. New York: Duke University Press; 2007:353-370.

20 CWF-Schneider 2021 - Schneider EC, Blendon RJ, Benson JM, Shah A. After a year of pandemic and crisis, how have Americans’ values changed? The Commonwealth Fund Blog. 2021.

21 Evanston-Reparations - City of Evanston, Illinois. Evanston local reparations: Restorative Housing Program.

22 NPR-Treisman 2021 - Treisman R. In likely first, Chicago suburb of Evanston approves reparations for black residents. National Public Radio (NPR). March 23, 2021.

23 DCC-Reparations - Detroit City Council (DCC). Resolution supporting community reparations for Black Detroit. April 23, 2021.

24 Saint Paul-Reparations - Saint Paul, MN. Saint Paul Reparations Legislative Advisory Committee: City council passed Resolution 21-77 on January 13, 2021 and Resolution 21-886 on June 16, 2021.

25 Asheville-Reparations - Davis N. Asheville reparations resolution is designed to provide Black community access to the opportunity to build wealth. Asheville Office of Equity and Inclusion. City of Asheville, North Carolina. July 20, 2020.

26 AP News-Reparations - AP News. North Carolina city commits $2.1M for reparations. June 9, 2021.

27 Zolotor 2021 - Zolotor A. Durham budget for 2021-22 fiscal year includes $6 million for reparations through green infrastructure projects. The Chronicle; Duke University. June 22, 2021.

28 MORE - Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE).

29 HR 40 - 117th Congress 2021-2022. House of Representatives (HR) 40: Commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans act.

30 CA-SB 796 - California Legislative Information. Senate Bill (SB) 796: State parks: State beaches: County of Los Angeles: Manhattan State Beach: Deed restrictions: Taxation. 2021-2022.

31 NY-S538B - New York State Senate, 2021-2022 Legislative Session. Senate Bill S538B: Requires real estate brokers and salespersons to receive implicit bias training as part of their license renewal process.

32 NY-Kavanagh 2021 - Kavanagh B. Governor Hochul signs legislative package to combat housing discrimination. The New York State Senate newsroom, Committee on Housing, Construction, and Community Development. December 22, 2021.

33 HRW-Tulsa reparations 2020 - Heath D. The case for reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma: A human rights argument. New York: Human Rights Watch (HRW); 2020.

34 HR 3466 - 117th Congress 2021-2022. House of Representatives (HR) 3466: Tulsa-Greenwood Massacre Claims Accountability Act of 2021. Introduced May 21, 2021.

35 NAARC-Elaine 2021 - National African-American Reparations Commission (NAARC). Press releases & statements: National groups continue to aid descendants of Elaine massacre. March 25, 2021.

36 S 1368 - 117th Congress 2021-2022. Senate (S) 1368: American Housing and Economic Mobility Act of 2021.

37 HR 235 - 117th Congress 2021-2022. House of Representatives (HR) 235: Public Housing Emergency Response Act.

38 HR 2664 - 117th Congress 2021-2022. House of Representatives (HR) 2664: Green New Deal for Public Housing Act.

39 Homes Guarantee - People’s Action. A campaign for a national Homes Guarantee.

40 UDL-Baiocchi 2020 - Baiocchi G, Carlson HJ. The case for a social housing development authority. New York University, Urban Democracy Lab (UDL); 2020.

41 George 2019 - George S, Hendly A, Macnamara J, Perez J, Vaca-Loyola A. The plunder of Black wealth in Chicago: New findings on the lasting toll of predatory housing contracts. Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, Duke University; Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement; the Policy Research Collaborative; and the Center for Urban Research and Learning; 2019.

42 Craemer 2020* - Craemer T, Smith T, Harrison B, et al. Wealth implications of slavery and racial discrimination for African American descendants of the enslaved. The Review of Black Political Economy. 2020;47(3):218-254.

43 Coates 2014 - Coates T-N. The case for reparations. The Atlantic. 2014.

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