Professor: Discriminatory housing practices of the past impact the way neighborhoods look today

News 3 Investigates housing segregation
Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.PNG
Posted at 10:11 AM, Feb 28, 2022

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - For almost all areas around the country, segregation is part of the history and make up of the region.

News 3 looked how previous housing segregation and how it impacts the way communities look today.

“It saddens me that people really have not been around to know this history,” said Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, the Norfolk State Dean and Professor of History.

Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander met up with News 3 on Leo Street which is the block where she grew up in Norfolk.

Digging through the old city directory from 1946 at the Slover Library, the News 3 Investigations team found her families name listed.

We also went through dozens of photographs from the Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Pictures that highlighted extreme poverty for many in the black community at the time.

“Norfolk had a strict residential segregation policy, so blacks could not live anywhere else but in the neighborhoods designated as black neighborhoods,” said Dr. Cassandra Newby- Alexander. These city rules were in place for decades after the turn of the century.

News 3 uncovered video of poor housing conditions along with civil rights demonstrations when people were protesting for full integration at the Norfolk YMCA.

Dr. Newby- Alexander said most African American families tried to protect their children from seeing the worst aspects of segregation and racism but she witnessed the harsh treatment from neighbors and even teachers.

“I was well aware at the age of 12 when my homeroom teacher was being an absolute racist,” said Dr. Cassandra Newby- Alexander. “When my father was a prominent physician and wanted to buy a waterfront property, he had a hard time finding it because even in the late 1960’s a lot of people would not sell to African-Americans.”

Today the laws are much different, but still many areas throughout the region are predominantly white or black.

“Overtly racist federal state and local public policy from our past, it reverberates, and it continues to shape urban life in Hampton Roads in the present, said Dr. Johnny Finn from Christopher Newport University. He is also the director of- Living Together/Living Apart – a project that examines racial segregation in Hampton Roads. He created interactive maps to show racial inequalities.

To understand why our community and others across the county looks the way they do, Dr. Finn said you need to understand the history and discriminatory housing policies.

Designed by the government after the Great Depression to promote home ownership, neighborhoods deemed worthy got federally back loans, the other neighborhoods not given the same support and considered what’s called Redlined.

“The maps literally show us, that black neighborhoods were not protected from foreclosure and many white neighborhoods were protected,” said Dr. Finn.

Dr. Finn said there were 30 neighborhoods Redlined in Hampton Roads.

He said the impacts of this and other discriminatory housing policies of the past are still felt today.

“Neighborhoods that were redlined in 1940, today still have poverty rates that are two and a half times higher than neighborhoods that weren't Redlined in Hampton Roads,” said Dr. Finn.

Redlining and other discriminatory policies of the past affect more than just housing issues, Finn said.

“The legacy of Redlining and housing segregation, it doesn't just live only in economic inequality in the present day, it kind of compounds into environmental inequality and also into health inequality,” said Dr. Finn.

Dr. Cassandra Newby- Alexander said many of these neighborhoods tend to have fewer resources, and “there tends to be a brokenness to the neighborhoods.”

Dr. Newby- Alexander said we need to do a better job of addressing the wrongs of the past.

“We can’t just move on because the damage has already been done, all it will do is get worse,” said Dr. Cassandra Newby- Alexander.

She said Norfolk and other communities have historically been divided between blacks and whites.

“Let’s go back and heal our city from harm that was done to almost half of our citizens. That’s the path moving forward,” said Dr. Cassandra Newby- Alexander.

Click here to read more from Living Together/Living Apart.