What a Southerner Learned about Housing Discrimination in the San Francisco Bay Area

Andrew Hening
8 min readJun 3, 2020

Despite growing up in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, it took living in the San Francisco Bay Area to understand the deep-seated, systemic nature of racism in America’s housing system.

Housing isn’t the sexiest realm of public policy, but it is the cornerstone of countless other systems affecting our lives — where our kids go to school, the jobs around us, where policing takes place, wealth appreciation.

Racist government policies corrupted America’s housing system until the late 1960s, and 50 years later, communities across the country are still dealing with the consequences.

The Explosive Growth of America’s Suburbs

As World War II started drawing to a close, President Harry Truman began calling for a “Fair Deal”, which included “a decent home in a decent environment for every American.”

This vision — this goal — was the driving force behind our modern housing system, and suburbia became the vehicle to achieve it.

In the years immediately following World War II, less than 25% of Americans lived in the suburbs. Today, over 50% of Americans live in the suburbs. This explosive growth was not an accident.

To unleash suburbia’s full potential, suburban homes had to be cheap, and they had to be easy to get to. To start to make this a reality, governments reached to three tools that had been developed during the Great Depression:

  1. Federal mortgage insurance & assistance
  2. Publicly-funded infrastructure projects
  3. Slum clearance

As famed suburban housing developer William Levitt testified before Congress in 1957, “We are 100 percent dependent on Government”

Mortgage Insurance & Assistance

A mortgage is just another word for a loan. When banks give loans, they want to make sure that the borrower has the ability to repay the money that is being lent.

Mortgage insurance is amazing for a lender because it means that if the borrower cannot repay the loan, some other entity (e.g. the government)…

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Andrew Hening

UC Berkeley MBA and Harvard-recognized culture change leader sharing tools, strategies, and frameworks for untangling complex and messy challenges.