A Fair Housing Tour of Hartford - A Look into the Past to Help Us Prepare for the Future

 

Erin Kemple is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center

Last week, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center hosted a group of 25 people on our new Hartford Fair Housing Tour. The narrated bus tour is designed to illustrate how a complex range of federal, state, and local decisions over many years created the segregated city we see today.

In 1900, Hartford’s population was largely Caucasian, with immigrants from Italy, Poland, and Ireland. Over the next 60 years, area tobacco companies recruited southern African-American workers, followed by migrant workers from the British West Indies and Puerto Rico. The number of people of different races and ethnicities who arrived in Hartford after 1900 should have created a melting pot with many diverse neighborhoods. 

But, as the tour explains, federal, state, and local decisions prevented this from happening. In the 1930s, the federal government and private lenders began “redlining,” which discouraged mortgage lending in neighborhoods of color. As a result, Whites who bought homes moved to the suburbs; African-Americans and Latinos were left in Hartford.  In the ’40s, public housing projects like Charter Oak Terrace housed more than 1,000 families, but African-Americans were mostly excluded. These families had the opportunity to save money and buy homes in the suburbs, where meanwhile, developers of new homes were adding restrictive covenants to their deeds to prohibit the sale or rental of housing to anyone who was not White.  New highways were built, often displacing existing neighborhoods, to help transport the new suburbanites into the city for work. Once again, Hartford’s residents of color were intentionally excluded from the rest of the region’s progress.

After the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act, most of these discriminatory practices became illegal – but by then, greater Hartford had become deeply segregated, with no simple way to reverse the effects of decades of discrimination. In the ensuing years, policymakers and advocates have struggled to address this reality, often in the face of continued denial of the impact that the past has on current reality. In July, HUD issued a new regulation governing the use of federal financial assistance. Conservative pundits have railed against the new regulation, claiming it imposes quotas for the number of people of color which must live in every neighborhood. In fact, this regulation does no such thing. Instead, it provides guidance on how municipalities can finally reverse the decisions made over the last 100 years, to ensure that the Hartford of tomorrow embraces everyone.

Interested in experiencing the Fair Housing Tour of Hartford?  There is one scheduled for Thursday, November 19, 2015 from 10:30am-12:30pm. Contact Cesar Aleman at (860) 263-0728 or caleman@ctfairhousing.org.  

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