A Black and White City: How Race Continues to Define Real Estate in Chicago

by James F. McClister

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In 1955, Albert and Sallie Bolton, an African American couple living in Chicago’s “Black Belt” on the South Side, purchased their first home for $13,900. A single-family property in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood, the home seemed like an opportunity – the couple had four children, and the area’s schools were among the city’s best – but the Boltons were, in fact, victims of contract buying, one of the many methods of housing discrimination that would come to define the Chicago of today.

Little did the Boltons know that the white real estate agent representing the home, Jay Goran, had purchased the home himself for only $4,300 a week before. Or that additional fees and costs would be added to the home’s monthly payments after the purchase. Or that after they fell behind on a payment, Goran would immediately start the eviction process, and they would stand to lose the $3,000 they had invested in the house. Their troubles are told in detail in “Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America” by historian and Rutgers professor Beryl Satter.

The Chicagoland region’s problems with race are well documented. What is less known is how closely racism and housing policy are intertwined, and how things like restrictive covenants, redlining and contract buying were the city’s (and the North’s at large) answer to the Great Migration. And while interventions at various levels and various times have helped disavow the practices once called “prudent planning,” their effects remain as real as they are stark.

In order to even begin to heal the decades-old racial boundaries carved deeply into this city and its suburbs, every agent must understand their historical context. Past policies and prejudices, both local and federal, have influenced housing and real estate in Chicago at every level, and as you will read in our cover story, effective solutions require a sobering look at the causes of the outcomes we live with now.

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  • Chetara Nolan says:

    Excellent article! Very well written and researched.

  • Kevin Rocio says:

    Excellent article. I had heard stories about this from my mother. It’s great to read about it. Well done!

  • jeannie waddell says:

    excellent written article and very informative

  • Kimberly Offord says:

    This is a wonderful article that was well written and researched. it gives a great historical perspective and lesson on Fair Housing practices of today. NOW, what we need is an article on the disparity of opportunities among minority agents in the more thriving communities. We need to also look at how we view “opportunity” areas and areas that get more marketing and news time in real estate publications as a result of a different form of discrimination directly related to the fair housing.