One of the few paths to homeownership for Chicago’s black community in the 1950s and ‘60 was home sale contracts. African American buyers would make payments toward the purchase of a home, but the seller held the deed until the home was paid off in full. Buyers had the illusion of a mortgage without the protection of a mortgage.
In a study from Duke’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, researchers estimate that the black community in Chicago lost up to $4 billion through these predatory housing practices (adjusted to 2019 values). In addition to the study, the Cook Center also explores how home sale contracts compounded black wealth loss over generations. That story is told in the documentary “The Color Tax: Origins of the Modern Day Racial Wealth Gap.” It’s part of the bigger series “The Shame of Chicago.”
Host Frank Stasio speaks with Bruce Orenstein, co-director of the study, creator of the documentary and artist in residence with the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. They are also joined by Clinton Boyd Jr., a postdoctoral associate at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center. Orenstein will screen “The Color Tax” on Saturday, Sept.14 at 2 p.m. at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro.
Orenstein on how home sale contracts to black families worked:
They would make a downpayment — often times in excess of what they would have made if they had been white — and they also paid double the cost of the home. So they were [kind of] like locked in, in this closed market. And if they wanted to own a home or they wanted to live in a home, and they wanted to escape the conditions of what in Chicago is called the “Black Belt” — the ghetto in Chicago — this was a way to do it. So imagine making a payment of … A couple hundred dollars a month … Doing it for 10 years, and then deciding you wanted to move. You had no equity in the property.
Orenstein on the loss of wealth in black communities due to home sale contracts:
[We found that] the great, great majority — about 85% of the black population looking to buy homes during the 50s and 60s — had to buy them on contract. And it cost tremendous amounts of wealth accumulation and possibilities for black people.
Boyd’s reflections on the documentary:
For myself, growing up in a North Lawndale community, much of the information that was conveyed by way of the documentary was unknown to me as a child, primarily because I feel as if this was a hidden history, in many rights. And I think that's one of the beauties of the documentary, because it's really unearthing a phenomenon that needs to have a spotlight shined on it, so we can begin to think deeply about the type of solutions that we need to bring to bear to deal with what in many rights was a wealth drain that took place between those two decades, within the 1950s and 60s.
Boyd on the socio-economic ripple effects of plundered black wealth:
70 percent of the black males in the North Lawndale community today, in a contemporary sense, have a previous involvement with the criminal justice system … It has been estimated by a small group of researchers that because of the stigma that is typically associated with having a criminal record, these men have an annual [earnings loss] of roughly $50 million [collectively].