Week 10: Housing: My Address, My Future
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50 weeks of Action Archive


Week 10: Housing: My Address, My Future

Week ten 
Housing: My Address, My Future 
(Left) Coretta Scott King at the Homan Avenue tenement her husband's Chicago campaign had taken control of. (Right) King fixing up one of the building's apartments.  PHOTOS: JAMES MAYO/CHICAGO TRIBUNE
In Dr. King's notes about the Chicago Campaign he said, "It is reasonable to believe that if the problems of Chicago, the nation's second largest city, can be solved, they can be solved everywhere." His original intent was to address segregation in education, but found a more complex problem, "the potentially explosive ghetto pathology of the Northern Negro." The slums of urban centers were systemic, a result of the racial and economic disparity then as it is now. King set out to make Chicago an open city and eliminate the poverty of African-American ghettos like Lawndale in which he moved his family in 1966.  It was a brutally tough transition from his southern, middle-class experience, and he soon saw a transformation in his children.
"During the summer, I realized that the crowded flat in which we lived was about to produce an emotional explosion in my own family. It was just too hot, too crowded, too devoid of creative forms of recreation. There was just not space enough in the neighborhood to run off the energy of childhood without running into busy, traffic-laden streets. And I understood anew the conditions which make the ghetto an emotional pressure cooker," King said. (1)
There seems to be a direct correlation between where a person lives and their education, and therefore, their future.  A 2016 study of Cleveland kindergarteners confirms that housing conditions can shape a child's literacy and readiness to learn, as well as their social and emotional development.  Moreover, there is hardly a distinction between poor neighborhoods and those inhabited by people of color, specifically African Americans. The study also found most adversely affected were children in low-income houses built before 1978 that likely included lead paint, which is associated with public health issues. (2)  It seems the simplest solution would be to improve quality of housing in urban centers, and more importantly, increase affordable housing opportunities.  Here's the rub.  
PHOTO CREDIT: Flynn, Laura. KALW, Public Radio, March 27, 2016. kalw.org.
Recent efforts to revitalize urban centers traditionally inhabited by working poor African Americans have been left to developers who gentrify neighborhoods.  African Americans can no longer afford to rent or own in these upgraded neighborhoods and the cultural aesthetics that made their community are often destroyed. These properties trend toward a Caucasian population who can afford the higher cost of living, and displaces a good number of the existing residents. Even Harlem, once considered the Black Mecca of the 20th century, has succumbed to the complexity of race and real estate.  There has been an outcry against gentrification, demolition of historical buildings, and the developers whose plans intentionally do not include African American residents whose roots are tied to neighborhood. A telling example is a young African-American boy's statement to his friends upon learning about his neighborhood renovations, "You see, I told you they didn't plant those trees for us." (3)  

Some may argue gentrification is about economics, not race. The result is the same, when economically the odds are against people of color.  Others maintain that with more integration and better housing, neighborhood improvement is good for everyone, right?  That may be true, but as long as there are neighborhoods that lack resources for decent housing, it could simply be a transfer of the same problem. Over the next 5-10 years, we'll see the long-term effects.  
As Dr. King stated, "All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."
(1) The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., Chapter 28: Chicago Campaign, edited by Clayborne Carson.
(2) "How a House Can Shape a Child's Future," The Atlantic. June 29, 2016. 
(3) "The End of Harlem," The New York Times, May 29, 2016. 
  1. To understand the challenges Dr. King faced in addressing poor housing in Chicago, read Chapter 28 of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and share your thoughts on the 50 Weeks of Action Facebook Group page. 
  2. Identify possible examples of gentrification around you. Is there a platform from which the residents can voice their concerns on community changes? What governing body is held accountable for addressing them? 
  3. Join a grassroot neighborhood improvement group in your city and be accountable for addressing the areas that need it the most.
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