Anyone interested in urban social problems and improving the quality of life for urban poor should read this astounding analysis of urban decay and rebirth. Toward the book's conclusion, Thabit sounds a faint note of hope to the emerging community groups. Events in East New York reveal in microcosm the turbulent national forces that have determined the fate of inner city ghettos across the country over the past 40 years. Perhaps if more planners like Thabit had told their stories, we might not have found oruselves in this predicament. In the years that followed, he experienced first-hand the forces that had engineered East New York's dramatic decline and that continued to work against its successful revitalization.
Walter Thabit eloquently tells the story of East New York, a neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn, complementing his close observation of events in the neighborhood with astute analyses of the bearing of larger forces on this big city slum.
How East New York Became a Ghetto - Mesa Refuge
Events in East New York reveal in microcosm the turbulent national forces that have determined the fate of inner city ghettos across the country over the past forty years. Since the mid-nineteenth century, East New York had been a neighborhood of working-class immigrants, of successive waves of Germans, Italians, Jews, and East Europeans. Life was hard for these people, at least until the prosperity spurred by World War II and the boom decades that followed. Somehow, the police never seemed to intervene effectively. They often stood idly by, on occasion waiting until a full-scale riot involving hundreds and even thousands of people developed as in Chicago, Detroit, Cicero, East St.
Louis, and Miami in the s before they acted, or they actively sided with the white community. In one incident in Chicago, police were reported showing young white men how to make Molotov cocktails. While they were in jail, their house was burned to the ground.
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As a result, minority newcomers and the existing ghetto population were forced to stay in or adjacent to the existing ghettos. By , the black population had tripled, but 95 percent of blacks still lived in those same three tracts.
Segregation and overcrowding increased while blocks were grudgingly yielded to the growing black population. A special federal census taken in the Los Angeles area after the Watts riot in found segregation increasing in each of the seven neighborhoods that make up the black ghetto of South Los Angeles, despite the existence of , apartment vacancies in the greater Los Angeles area. With 4 million blacks and millions of other minority people pouring into existing ghettos in cities across the country, there nevertheless had to be an expansion of black living areas.
This was done by expanding the ghetto into adjacent white areas. Blacks could move successfully into adjacent areas only after explosive pressures had built up in the existing ghetto. High unemployment, high rates of transience, and overcrowded housing meant more people on the streets, and more antisocial behavior. Senseless man-in-the-house welfare regulations encouraged the dissolution of the rural family structure.
Overcrowding also forced young people to leave their homes and to take up life in the streets or in vacant buildings. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and prostitution increased; muggers, petty thieves, and pushers multiplied and began to terrorize the community. Garbage loads were heavier, but less refuse was picked up; street conditions were appalling.
Policing became less effective and more vindictive.
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The ghetto became desolate and dangerous. This explosive situation spilled over into the neighboring white community. Desperate middle-income househunters visit brokers, while poor black renters haunt the adjacent white streets looking for a place to live. Black children enroll in neighborhood schools and begin to use neighborhood parks. Banks redline the area. Landlords neglect their properties, whites move out, and blacks move in.
Real estate speculators and blockbusters move in and speed the transition. Before long, another neighborhood is added to the ghetto.
Banks prefer to lend their money the deposits of their urban customers to suburban borrowers and generally restrict lending in older urban neighborhoods. They typically reject loan applications for mixeduse buildings, residences near industry, multifamily housing, and older buildings. As soon as it appears that blacks or other minorities are moving into an area, the banks promptly redline it, whether or not it conforms to their loan requirements.
While redlining has been outlawed, the discriminatory practices continue. Tenants move out and are replaced by minority families at higher rents. Maintenance and services are further reduced, eventually leading to abandonment. Redlining was the signal for the start of blockbusting and its associated ills, as described later. The theory states that, as the black population rises above a certain percentage generally estimated at between 17 and 30 percent , the remaining whites leave because they cannot or will not tolerate such a high percentage of blacks.
Blacks and whites can and do live together in greater proportions than the 17 to 30 percent black levels projected by real estate interests. Despite overwhelming segregation in public housing projects, many New York City projects have had mixed occupancy for decades. The U.
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Census found the population of Starrett City to be 32 percent white, 42 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent other ancestries. Despite high indices of racial segregation, researchers found mixed occupancy in dozens of census tracts in both northern and southern cities. As the black tidal wave crested in the ghetto and built its explosive pressures, and as the edges of adjacent communities began to be occupied by blacks, the banks, brokers, and various government agencies swiftly redrew their white-only boundaries.
One or more adjacent streets or whole neighborhoods were marked for black use.
Restrictions against renting or selling to blacks were lifted; whites were encouraged to leave and discouraged from coming in; city services were permitted to deteriorate. Open season was declared on the community, and both blacks and whites were mercilessly exploited.
The white community affected was not a party to the decision. If ghettos were not typically overburdened with desperate welfare and poverty-stricken families, they would be far better and safer places in which to live. Thus, it is not just race which characterizes ghettos; it is the concentration of poverty, as well. The sad thing was that none of them did. Their ire was directed against the incoming minority and sometimes against the real estate interests and the city that sold them out.
On the issue of racism, they were silent. They remained loyal to the racist creed, even as it destroyed their communities. The opening wedge came in the tenement area,13 where maintenance and services had suffered since World War II. As blacks began to move into the tenement area in the late s, the banks redlined the area.
The Rise and Fall of New York Public Housing: An Oral History
They then cut back on services to their minority tenants. Others sold to slumlords or leased to opportunists who milked both buildings and tenants; banks followed the same route with their foreclosed properties. White owners of two- and four-family houses in and around the tenement area were frightened and alarmed. This was a perfect setup for blockbusters who descended on the area like the plague. Agents offered ridiculously low prices for houses over the telephone, further worrying owners. Owners sold.
In the active blocks, from 30 to 40 percent of the properties changed hands in a year. One broker estimated that more than half the new homeowners were victimized by improvement schemes. The default rate in was estimated to be an unusually high 15 percent.