No Wealth Creation for You.

Robert Snedden Edwards (Rob)
8 min readApr 28, 2022

The shameful history of housing discrimination in America.

This educational film series is a collaboration between the San Francisco Association of Realtors’ DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) committee and the Education & Events committee on the history of racial discrimination in lending, housing, urban design and city planning.

Each month in 2022 real estate agents gather together on zoom and watch a documentary film with discussion before and after. Some films are free, some require a small fee. All are welcome — no matter your location or profession. Third Wednesday of each month at 7pm Pacific. The evergreen link to register is here:

Who is this film series for? Everyone. But it’s intended audience is: mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and anyone involved in the sale of real estate.

A message from the host: Rob Edwards, San Francisco real estate agent.

My class for undergrad real estate majors on the history of discrimination in lending, housing, and urban design was first taught in autumn of 2020. Since then, with the help of the SFAR Education and DEI committees, we have launched a monthly film series to share these ten significant documentaries on the topic.

The introduction to my college-level course began with this:

“White privilege” is a hot topic. And is something many Caucasian folks don’t want to talk about. Or worse, even care to understand.

What we know is this: very few adult Americans have ever been taught, in any of their schooling, that Black Americans had been proactively prevented from buying homes in most of the 20th century by a very disorganized — yet very effective — coalition of banks, real estate agents, government policies, churches, and other affinity groups.

The why is not hard to understand. The how is more complex.

What you first need to understand as undergraduates studying real estate, law, design, or urbanism is how these discriminatory practices have hindered Black American families in their quest for long-term financial stability and wealth creation.

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

Thus, the old adage “you were born on third base,” applies here.

Many 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 the very least acknowledge the damage done to Black American families? This series of documentaries should inform you and hopefully inspire you to participate in future solutions — no matter what profession you pursue after leaving Lehigh.

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

FEBRUARY: Our introduction to the film series, conversation/dialogue.
Adam Ruins Everything: The Disturbing History of the Suburbs
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
and, from Netflix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mqrhn8khGLM

MARCH: Owned: A Tale of Two Americas
https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/documentaries/owned-a-tale-of-two-americas/
Abstract: Is the “American Dream” of home ownership a false promise? While the government’s postwar housing policy created the world’s largest middle class, it also set America on two divergent paths — one of perceived wealth and the other of systematically defunded, segregated communities.

APRIL: The Uncomfortable Truth
Introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dci0LgfVXrk
Available to rent on Amazon Prime. $3
Abstract: When the son of civil rights hero Joan Trumpauer Mulholland dives into the 400-year history of institutional racism in America he is confronted with the shocking reality that his family helped start it all.

MAY: A Matter of Place
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. https://vimeo.com/77785957

JULY: 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.

AUGUST: AMERICA DIVIDED: A HOUSE DIVIDED (2016)
45 minutes. Part one of a five-part series exploring inequality in the US. 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

SEPTEMBER: 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 U.S. 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.

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More Resources:

TED Talks: Kedra Newsom Reeves (Boston Consulting, Harvard, MIT)
How to reduce the wealth gap between Black and white Americans
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-6zwv31qjg

The Table w/ Anthony ONeal: White Wealth vs. Black Wealth: Why the HUGE Gap?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdp6kthE1ho

California Newsreel: RACE — THE POWER OF AN ILLUSION How the Racial Wealth Gap Was Created
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvY3Ok6YpbU

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-0J49_9lwc

Jim Crow of the North: Redlining and Racism in Minnesota (2018) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWQfDbbQv9E&t=

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] emerged in the US, as well as the human impact of the 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.

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.

AMERICA DIVIDED: A HOUSE DIVIDED (2016)
45 minutes. Part one of a five-part series exploring inequality in the US. 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

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.

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

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
Alumni lecturer and internship volunteer

Over his career Rob was executive director or CEO of four neighborhood revitalization and/or redevelopment corporations, 501c3, or 501c6 organizations. His work in 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 past 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. He majored in urban studies and economics, and went on to study city planning at UCLA and Penn, and then 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 (theaters and fraternal organization 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 not only his family’s roots in Bo’ness, Scotland (where the real Castle Black is) but also that his forefathers provided consistent shelter to slaves along the Underground Railroad in Ohio and fought the Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg. His father Laurens Edwards 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