The National Association of Realtors and Former President Calvin Coolidge
You may have heard of redlining, restrictive covenants, highway clearance, or urban renewal. If you’ve already read Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law (2017), you’re likely well aware of the role that the federal government has played in creating racially separate, and unequal neighborhoods. What you might not have heard is that the National Association of Realtors (NAR), even more so than the federal government, orchestrated these foundations of modern-day segregation, stitching them together from the grassroots upward.
Reaching back to NAR’s 1924 Code of Ethics, in which it stated that “a Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to the property values in that neighborhood,” and going even further back, when the institution supported racial zoning ordinances, it appears clear that NAR’s process of professionalization from the early 20th century onward institutionalized racism in real estate. That NAR only barely changed its Code of Ethics in 1950 when the federal government began taking a stand against explicit policies of segregation testifies to this connection; that it continued to fight open housing laws opposite of Civil Rights activism after supposedly revising its code to deter its members from discrimination further underscores it.
But that was then, and this is now.
In November 2020, NAR apologized for the first time about its racial steering practices and its opposition to the 1968 Fair Housing Act. While apologies and promises are always laudable in some way or another, the facts of the historic and persistent damage of NAR’s actions are still present. They require actions, more so than words. Today, the racial homeownership gap remains virtually the same as when the Fair Housing Act came into effect in 1968. The racial wealth gap, so closely tied to the ability of families to build wealth through their homes, has correspondingly stagnated, and in fact expanded since 1980. Reckoning with the full history of NAR’s involvement in perpetuating these inequities in our nation will involve more than incremental change, but equal levels of political and economic capital to those that NAR formerly applied for decades toward segregation. NAR, with 1.5 million members, is currently our nation’s largest trade organization and its single-largest federal lobbying spender. In 2022, NAR members collected over $100 billion in commissions.
In this StoryMap, we will map out how real estate boards, both national and local, turned housing into one of the most consequential tools of racial inequality from the twentieth century to today. From the standard zoning policies NAR helped co-author, to the discriminatory lending policies that they designed and implemented, this history helps us understand how national patterns of segregation and racial inequality did not represent an anonymous, top-down imposition, but a process implemented and occasionally innovated upon by local community leaders from realtor groups to politicians, developers, and banks.
This history proceeded chronologically in the way we’ve ordered the subsections available for exploration below. However, we encourage you to explore this resource in the way that makes the most sense according to your own understanding of segregation.
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American Civil Liberties Union Illinois Division Records at the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago.
Joseph Barnett, Express Highway Planning in Metropolitan Areas (Washington, D.C.: Public Roads Administration, 1947).
Hal Burton and the Central Business Committee of the Urban Land Institute, The City Fights Back (Citadel Press: New York, 1954).
California Realtors Association and National Association of Real Estate Boards, Property Owners’ Bill of Rights (1963).
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Records, located in the Goldmine digitized archives of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Charlotte Redevelopment Commission Records, located in the Goldmine digitized archives of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Records, located in the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library.
Denver Urban Renewal Authority, Urban Renewal Goes Forward in Denver (1965).
Leon M. Despres Papers located at the Chicago History Museum.
Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual (1936).
Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual (1938).
Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia Records, located in the New York City Municipal Archives.
Wilfred Owen, The New Highways: Challenge to the Metropolitan Region (Hartford: Published by the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 1956).
Metropolitan Council on Housing Records, located in the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University.
Proceedings of the National Conference on City Planning (1909-1922).
Real Estate Board of New York Papers, located in the LaGuardia & Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College.
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (1959).
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Housing: Book 4 of the 1961 Commission on Civil Rights Report (1961).
Robert Clifton Weaver Papers, located at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Francesca Russello Ammon. Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).
Sara C. Bronin, “Zoning by a Thousand Cuts,” Pepperdine Law Review 50 (2023): 719-784.
Lawrence T. Brown, The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021).
Jennifer L. Burke, “The National Association of Realtors® and the Fair Housing Mandate,” Ph.D. Dissertation (University of California Santa Cruz, 2016).
N.D.B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).
Richard E. Fogelsong, Planning the Capitalist City: The Colonial Era to the 1920s (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).
Lance Freeman, A Haven and a Hell: The Ghetto in Black America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019).
David M.P. Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
Jeffrey D. Gonda, Unjust Deeds: The Restrictive Covenants Cases and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
Nolan Gray, Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2022).
Rose Helper, Racial Policies and Practices of Real Estate Brokers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969).
Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
Irene V. Holliman, “From Crackertown to Model City? Urban Renewal and Community Building in Atlanta, 1963-1966,” Journal of Urban History 35, no. 3 (2009): 369-386.
Jeffrey M. Hornstein, A Nation of Realtors: A Cultural History of the Twentieth-Century American Middle Class (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).
Destin Jenkins, The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021).
Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, Race Brokers: Housing Markets and Segregation in 21st Century Urban America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022).
Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Private Government (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).
Todd Michney, “How the City Survey’s Redlining Maps Were Made: A Closer Look at HOLC’s Mortgage Rehabilitation Division,” Journal of Planning History 21, no. 4 (2022): 316-344.
Zorita Mikva, “The Neighborhood Improvement Association: A Counter-Force to the Expansion of Chicago’s Negro Population,” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Chicago, 1951).
Raymond Mohl, “Planned Destruction: The Interstates and Inner City Housing,” in From Tenements to the Taylor Homes, edited by John F. Bauman, Roger Biles, and Kristin M. Szylvian (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), pp. 226-245.
Andre M. Perry. Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2020).
Adison Quin Petti, “Mapping Prejudice in Denver,” published by the Denver Public Library, 4 April 2023.
Wendy Plotkin, “Deeds of Mistrust: Race, Housing, and Restrictive Covenants in Chicago, 1900-1953,” Ph.D. Dissertation (University of Illinois at Chicago, 1999).
Gail Radford, Modern Housing for America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright, 2017).
Alex Schwartz, Housing Policy in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2021).
Gene Slater, Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America (Berkeley: Heyday, 2021).
Sara Stevens, Developing Expertise: Architecture and Real Estate in Modern America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020).
Robert Weaver, The Negro Ghetto (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948).
LaDale C. Winling and Todd Michney, “The Roots of Redlining: Academic, Governmental, and Professional Networks in the Making of the New Deal Lending Regime,” Journal of American History 108, no. 1 (2021): 42-69.