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History maps of Milwaukee, Denver, Charlotte a first step for the national repair movement

Although best known for focusing his gaze on the past, the Milwaukee historian Reggie Jackson uses this expertise to change the future.

Jackson participated in the research and production of a Milwaukee Story Map which illustrates the city’s journey to become one of the most segregated cities in the country.

His work was in service of a national racial justice movement, the repair movementdesigned to document and reverse the effects of segregation in the cities of Milwaukee, Denver and Charlotte.

Opinion piece:Redress Movement aims to undo the damage caused by decades of racism and discrimination in Milwaukee

The movement aims to educate members of the public about their city’s history of racial segregation, support the formation of groups that will form reparations goals, and conduct “reparations campaigns” with these groups.

Brown University Research Diversity and disparitiesProject rated the Milwaukee-Waukesha area as the second most segregated metro in the nation.

Henry Louis Taylordirector of the University at Buffalo‘s Center for Urban Studies, said the Redress Movement aims to undo decades of disenfranchisement.

“The value of white homes and neighborhoods established on the basis of its exclusivity and whiteness. As a result, this valuation of white spaces automatically triggers the devaluation and underdevelopment of black spaces,” he said. “Knowingly or not, what the Redress Movement is trying to do is deconstruct the property assessment system that is creating the kind of conditions people are talking about in Milwaukee.

The Redress Movement formed in response to revelations in Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book, “The Color of the Law” which detailed how the government and communities used laws and fear to relegate non-white residents to overcrowded and disinvested areas.

The book crystallized what is often a vague acknowledgment of the existence of segregation.

But John Comerthe national director of the movement’s grassroots organization, said too many Americans view segregation as a piece of history firmly rooted in the country’s past and often confined to southern states.

Few people, Comer said, realize the pervasive nature of segregation, the various policies and tactics used to perpetuate it, and how it has led to cycles of generational poverty and scarcity in many neighborhoods.

“People knew segregation was bad,” Comer said. “People knew that segregation could contribute to barriers to wealth creation, even barriers in properly funded school districts for equal education.”

A codified type of segregation could be found in the racially restrictive clauses of property deeds. These deeds mandated that homes be sold only to white owners and occupied only by white residents, except resident servants. Most Milwaukee suburbs contained such clauses at one time.

But Jackson said moving to the suburbs isn’t necessarily the goal of the residents who will drive that move.

“What people want is to have the same opportunities where they currently live,” he explained. “They want the same opportunities for homeownership…they want to look at some of the organizations that have been responsible for creating the disparities and hold them accountable and ask them to do something about the problem.”

Segregation is the guideline for each city’s StoryMap, Jackson said.

“It helps people, from a contextual perspective, to understand how we got to segregation and then to mitigate the damage,” he said.

Historically, at the beginning of the 20th century, access to the purchase of housing was often denied to potential black buyers in almost all municipalities in the country. After World War II, black residents were segregated into tenement-type social housing, while white residents had access to loans for single-family housing. Today, some real estate agents engage in piloting, which involves showing clients only homes in neighborhoods that are predominantly populated by their racial/ethnic group.

Milwaukee’s black neighborhoods in particular were devastated by the destruction of a thriving black business district along Walnut Street and the sudden and rapid loss of well-paying factory jobs.

Decades after official segregation ended, the majority of residential neighborhoods still have clear racial boundaries, and there are stark racial disparities in ownership between the two groups.

As a result, downtowns today are predominantly black and have become saturated with tenants.

Rising rents have hurt this demographic especially hard, while rising house prices have made buying a home out of reach.

dynasty caesarthe main field organizer in Milwaukee, said fear of being overpriced is prevalent among landlords and renters.

In black neighborhoods that have built their own quasi-suburbs, many seniors told him they had difficulty adjusting to the higher property taxes associated with high property assessments. From adjacent downtown Halyard Park in the historic district of Sherman Parkresidents feared gentrificationdue in part to downtown development and rising home values, will increase their tax bill and force them to sell.

Tenants are also depicted overpaying for their accommodation.

“Many schools in these areas have children who go to the breakfast program and then their parents pay $1,000 for rent,” she said. “Many apartments don’t include heating in the rent, sometimes not even water. It is simply absurd because our communities are suffering.

And the tenants who are lucky enough to receive Choice of accommodation Vouchers struggle to use them, despite anti-discrimination laws.

“As I comb through countless listings on Craigslist and Trulia, there are landlords who openly say they don’t accept Section 8 vouchers,” she said.

Comer said while the tactics for maintaining separate spaces may change, the goal hasn’t.

“Without a doubt, some of the same things are happening in different areas, whether it’s discriminatory policies in assessments, zoning, (and) new gentrification efforts are happening,” he said.

The impact of segregation goes far beyond housing, according to Comer.

“It allowed a lack of resources to happen, over-policing, so many different things that come out of poverty and segregation,” he said.

The ultimate goal of the movement is to mobilize residents and public officials to reduce housing inequalities.

Other cities have tried it, notably through alternative models of home ownership. Cooperative housing, known as co-opsinvolve a corporation or group that owns real estate and whose shareholders are the residents who pay to live there.

In the Bronx of New York, “Cooperative City” was developed in 1968, and it is one of the largest in the country with over 15,000 residential units and 50,000 residents. The cooperative has its own power plant, garbage collection, public security and even a newspaper. Even in Milwaukee, community land trusts are under explorationwhich involve a trust acquiring and permanently owning land with prospective owners renting it out and receiving a small share of the increased value of the property.

Taylor said these ownership styles represent a more sustainable workaround for the exclusivity and affordability of high-opportunity neighborhoods.

“We need to look at co-op housing, limited dividend housing and creating greater levels of land ownership inside these communities,” he said. “(We need) a common space that belongs to the state but is controlled by the people and not by the city. We must fight to establish affordable housing in these exclusive suburban areas.

Comer said he wants the movement to last beyond housing.

“If we were to connect the dots on how we got to certain social ills and levels, it all sort of goes back to historic times and segregation dungeons,” he said. “People have to be open to solving these problems as well in order to solve current problems, because everything is connected.”

Taylor said his research has shown the best outcome involves race/ethnicity and class integration.

“I am opposed to all these forms of rigid income segregation which are also inherently racial segregation,” he said. “What we’re talking about are class- and race-inclusive groups, where low-income groups and high-income groups can be together.”

Talis Shelbourne is an investigative journalist specializing in affordable housing, environment and equity issues. Do you have any advice? You can reach Talis at (414) 403-6651 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @talisseer and send him a message on Facebook at @talisseer.

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