Part III of IV
by Williams D. Brack
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
The first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is indeed a problem. In parts one and two of this series, we presented evidence of historical and ongoing discrimination that affects African-American wealth. This discrimination manifests itself in nearly every aspect of black/white disparities.
But there are signs of hope.
Earlier this year as part of the MLK 50 commemoration, Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis City Council awarded $70,000 grants to the surviving sanitation workers from 1968 to atone for the discrimination of ex-Mayor Henry Loeb. However, the City of Memphis still needs to atone for the destruction of ex-Mayor “Boss” Crump against its African-American citizens.
“Boss” Crump initiated the federally funded “slum clearance” that cleared the area west of Lauderdale from Vance Ave. to Mississippi Blvd. That “clearance” brought the destruction of houses that ranged in size from the Robert Church mansion to the Hooks’ family single-story, single-family home. “Clearance” also uprooted small businesses such as flower shops, groceries, cafes and funeral parlors.
The truth is that the targeted area was no slum at all, but rather a stable, middle-class, African-American neighborhood.
The Memphis Housing Authority also leveled a 46-acre area and replaced the single-family homes with a low-rise, 900-unit public housing complex known as Foote Homes. Now that area is making way for multi-use development being branded as South City.
South City will cost $210 million, financed primarily by a $30 million HUD grant, more than $30 million in city funding, nearly $83 million in federal tax credits and about $25 million in loans. As envisioned, it would be mixed-income apartments and rental-homes project that the core of Memphis needs.
Regardless, however, of who relocates to this development, it will not contribute to the much needed wealth and financial stability of the displaced residents of Foote Homes.
While homeownership rates in Memphis for non-Hispanic whites is about 73.9 percent, for African-American households, that number is lower at 42.1 percent, according to the Urban Institute. Similar to how ex-Mayor Crump specifically targeted African-American homeowners and businesses for destruction, the City of Memphis must allocate funds dedicated specifically and unapologetically to rebuild African-American wealth.
We can start with dedicating funding to increase African-American homeownership from 42.1 percent to 75 percent. In the United States, “wealth and financial stability are inextricably linked to housing opportunity and homeownership,” said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance.
A framework of this program already exists with the City of Memphis’ down payment assistance program. The evolution of this program should include dedicated funds to African Americans for down payment assistance, funds for credit improvement, interest free loans for homes under $60,000, and student loan reduction lump sums to entice millennials to homeownership faster.
Increasing the homeownership rate for African Americans will create more long-term property tax revenue for both the City of Memphis and Shelby County. With more homeowners, values will increase, creating wealth. This wealth can be leveraged to put children through college, or contribute to the start of a business.
NEXT, PART IV: Solutions – Entrepreneurship and business.
LAST WEEK: Ongoing discrimination – connecting the dots.
(Williams D. Brack is a commercial banker, civic volunteer and community activist. He can be reached at [email protected].)