Examining Restrictive and Racial Housing Charters in Milwaukee County Real Estate | WUWM 89.7 FM

The chapter has come to define the many neighborhoods here in Milwaukee. When considering a variety of measures including housing, schools and health outcomes, the Milwaukee area is one of the most isolated communities in the country. However, understanding how it got this way can be complicated, and it didn’t happen once – as Dr. Derek Handley and Dr. Anne Bonds explore.

Together, they map real estate racism in Milwaukee County, the history of resistance to it, and the lasting impact on the black community.

Dr. Bonds begins, “For our project, we focused specifically on the role of race covenants and restrictive covenants in producing racial exclusion and housing markets in Milwaukee County. In the first half of the twentieth century, race covenants prohibited non-white people from buying or occupying parcels of land or housing.” .

Dr. Bonds explains that racially restrictive covenants began to appear in business at the turn of the century across the United States, and became increasingly popular after the 1917 Supreme Court decision in Buchanan v. Warley, which outlawed racial division of municipalities. After this decision, she says, racial vows became increasingly common and by 1928 more than half of white-owned homes in the United States were adhered to.

Dr. Handley says the African American community has been aware of these practices and has already responded. Several organizations were formed to fight against the reigns.

“You have local institutions being formed as well as national organizations…like the Urban League, the NAACP, fighting against these covenants,” Dr. Handley says.

He adds that the vows created a wealth gap in the 1970s and early 1980s. The loss of manufacturing jobs and the movement of jobs to the suburbs prevented people from finding and obtaining work.

“That economic base for a lot of African Americans has been removed, and you have these communities that have been separated, and being able to afford to live in some of these neighborhoods makes it difficult for some people. So there are a variety of factors, there’s not just one factor. But The result is one. There is segregation, segregation in housing in Milwaukee County, and this has evolved over decades,” says Dr. Handley.

Dr. Bonds explains the lasting impact of race covenants on home ownership in Milwaukee. She says, “We see the reversal of these housing market exclusions continuing. Currently, Milwaukee has the second lowest rate of black home ownership among the largest urban areas in the country. Also, the Milwaukee County area has the lowest rate of black suburbs in the country. Milwaukee’s suburban population is predominantly white. Blacks are only 10% of the suburban population in Milwaukee County.”

Dr. Bonds says people who live in Milwaukee are used to hearing that the city is separated, but she hopes her work will help them understand the complexity of the problem.

“I think often, people fall into kind of simpler interpretations of apartheid that have primarily to do with affordability in different neighborhoods or class dynamics. And I think when people actually see Covenants, they understand that they have been used extensively across the board. Across the county, it kind of illustrates the way racist attitudes have been institutionalized in the United States and I think it’s very powerful,” says Dr. Bond.