No multi-generational wealth transfer for you: the shameful history of housing discrimination in America.

Robert Snedden Edwards (Rob)
6 min readFeb 1, 2021

Lehigh University, Fall 2020
“Remote Classes Taught by Alumni”
Audience: Real Estate majors and minors

“White privilege” is a hot topic that is something many white folks don’t care to understand. Or want to talk about.

What we know is this: very few adult Americans were educated, in any of their schooling, that Black Americans have been proactively prevented from buying homes in the 20th century by a very disorganized — yet effective — coalition of banks, real estate brokers, government policies, and others.

The why and how is complex.

And what you first need to understand as undergraduates studying real estate, or law, sociology, or city planning is how these discriminatory practices have hindered many Black American families in their quest for long-term financial stability.

Fact: For the vast majority of White Americans, owning their own homes, or any real estate, is by far the predominant way White families have transferred their wealth from generation to generation.

White Americans have been sending their kids to college — expensive private colleges — because of the equity they have in the homes they own. Maybe you are one of them?

The question for us this semester is: how do we all — at least — acknowledge that inherently damaging history has affected Black Americans?

This series of documentaries should inform you and hopefully inspire you to participate in future solutions. No matter what profession you pursue after graduation.

“No one is free until we are all free” … to by a house … anywhere they want.

Films we will watch together (not listed in their intended order.)

ADAM RUINS EVERYTHING: THE DISTURBING HISTORY OF THE SUBURBS (2017) 6 minutes. Adam uses humor to explain the racist history of how the suburbs came to be (so white): redlining, blockbusting, racially restrictive covenants, etc. Also digs into the connection between residential and school segregation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETR9qrVS17g

  1. OWNED: A TALE OF TWO AMERICAS (2018)

Owned is a fever dream vision into the dark history behind the US housing economy. Tracking its overtly racist beginnings and its unbridled commoditization, the film exposes a foundational story that few Americans understand as their own. https://vimeo.com/259100919

2. BRICK BY BRICK: A CIVIL RIGHTS STORY (2008)

54 minutes. Accessed via Kanopy. Create a profile; it’s free. This is a documentary about housing and school discrimination in Yonkers, NY, and the 1980 federal litigation brought to fight it. The drama of this particular case provides a great context for filmmakers to explain how ghettos [culturally or ethnically homogenous places] were created in the US, as well as the human impact of the deep social isolation of the people forced to live there. One of the characters in the film, a vocal opponent of integration in her neighborhood, forces us to grapple with how individual racism can intersect with and strengthen structural racism, while the other characters shed light on the human cost of racist housing policy.

3. THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH (2011)

84 minutes. This is an essential film for understanding the history of public housing in the US and how racism infected our public housing policy from the beginning, guaranteeing its failure. The uniquely American mythology surrounding the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis and other high-rise urban public housing projects continues to influence housing policy today, making meaningful public discussion of publicly-funded affordable housing nearly impossible. Knowing this history is crucial to moving forward and pushing for equity and justice in the realm of housing. Watch for free on Kanopy or for $5 on Vimeo.

4. HOMES FOR ALL (2012)

56 minutes. Homes For All is a joint project of Twin Cities PBS and the Minnesota Housing Partnership that looks at the current issues surrounding affordable housing: land trusts, government funding, fear of low-income people, and the limits of the market for providing housing at all income levels. The film looks at three different affordable housing developments through the eyes of the residents that live there. Stream for free on PBS.

5. A MATTER OF PLACE (2014)

27 minutes. A Matter of Place is a film by the Fair Housing Justice Center that digs into the present state of housing discrimination based on race, source of income, sexual orientation, and disability. This film also provides a good overview of the root causes of housing discrimination as well as other inequities that remain common in spite of the existence of fair housing laws. FHJC provides a toolkit on their website for those interested in planning a public screening of the film. https://vimeo.com/77785957

6. HOUSING IN VIENNA, HIGH QUALITY AND AFFORDABLE (2016)

26 minutes. Several buildings and units are showcased to show how elements of design, architecture, ecology, and social sustainability are used to make beautiful high-quality affordable rental housing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrDflyccNxQ&t=172s

7. AMERICA DIVIDED: A HOUSE DIVIDED (2016)

45 minutes. Part one of a five-part series exploring inequality in the US, America Divided. Norman Lear explores the housing divide and affordability crisis in New York City. Tenants tell stories of what it’s like to live in a building owned by a landlord who is trying to attract higher-paying tenants. Nicole Hannah Jones (NY Times Magazine) describes how entrenched racial segregation and the racial wealth gap. Lear and LB Williams, a black actor/activist with the Fair Housing Justice Center, attempt to rent the same apartment in order to see if the landlord discriminates based on race.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXIClKpf7k4&t=107s

8. POVERTY, POLITICS, AND PROFIT: THE HOUSING CRISIS (2017)

55 minutes. This episode of Frontline looks at why the billions spent on housing low-income people continues to fail. The film investigates taxpayer-funded housing programs like Section 8 vouchers and the Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program and introduces the watcher to some of the people benefiting, as well as those left behind. Stream free on PBS.

9. SOLD OUT: AFFORDABLE HOUSING AT RISK (2017)

56 minutes. Affordable Housing At Risk looks at how structural economic forces impact low-income people looking for housing. Interviews several tenants who were evicted when a new owner purchased their building who increased rents by 30% and implemented new rules designed to get rid of poor, Black and Latino Americans.

10. SHELTER (2018)

80 minutes. Shelter is a Vice Documentary that looks at the lives of homeless teens in New Orleans, as seen through the eyes of the residents and staff at Covenant House, America’s largest non-profit shelter system. This film humanizes some of the most vulnerable citizens of this country, leaving the viewer with a sense of just how important housing security is for people trying to claw their way to stability while struggling with trauma, poverty, and mental health issues. https://youtu.be/KUfNbNBFwRI

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~Rob Edwards, Lehigh ‘90
Intern supervisor via “Lehigh Alumni Contributors to the University”

During the first 15 years of his career Rob was executive director or CEO of four neighborhood revitalization and/or redevelopment corporations, 501c3 or 501c6 organizations. His work across seven cities brought derelict and underperforming main streets, abandoned historic buildings, and neglected public spaces back to life. He is a past chair of the California Main Street Alliance and board member of the California Downtown Assoc. Rob attended Lehigh on a full-scholarship and was an Army ROTC cadet, a student senator, and secretary/treasurer of the student government. Rob majored in urban studies and economics, (beer and water polo), and went on to study city planning at UCLA and Penn, and non-profit financial management at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He’s been published a dozen times and/or interviewed as an expert resource on: the restoration of downtown property values by way of historic preservation of major architectural assets like theatres and fraternal organizations’ buildings, recruitment of indie retailers to vacant main street storefronts, and law enforcement’s role in maintaining or improving a sense of order and safety on city streets. He also spent five years as a police officer in the District of Columbia “just for fun.” Thanks to 23andMe and Ancestry.com Rob has discovered his forefathers provided consistent shelter to slaves on the Underground Railroad and fought the Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg and survived. His father Laurens was a chemist and led the team that developed the rocket fuel that put Apollo on the moon. Rob was raised a small family farm in the anthracite coal region of Schuylkill County, PA. He is now a real estate agent in San Francisco.

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Robert Snedden Edwards (Rob)

San Francisco. Real Estate Agent. City planner. Historian. Birder. Golfer. Surfer. Swimmer. Hiker. Editor. Writer. Donor. Pisces. Lehigh > UCLA > Penn > Harvard