Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, The University of North Carolina Press, 2019.
Reviewed by: Carolina Reid, Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley
In Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor traces a careful and compelling history of efforts to expand access to homeownership across the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Specifically, she focuses on an important inflection point in the history of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), when the agency shifted from denying access to guaranteed mortgages to Black/African American households (through redlining) to actively encouraging them to become homeowners (for example, through its Section 235 program). Taylor argues that the ensuing system of “predatory inclusion” did little to expand access to homeownership; indeed, it merely served as conduit for banks and other private sector actors to make a profit off of Black households who were confined to segregated neighborhoods with poor quality housing options.
Race for Profit is a “must-read” for anyone interested in both urban history and housing policy. Taylor’s use of primary sources such as internal policy memos, speeches, legal cases, newspaper articles and advertisements reveal with stunning bluntness the racialized assumptions and flawed theories that shaped the response to the “urban crisis” confronting US cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Taylor is a beautiful and evocative writer, and it is impossible not to be moved by the stories that detail the sheer inhumanity of the housing conditions in segregated Black neighborhoods and the duplicitous practices of private market actors who took advantage of those conditions to make a profit. What is particularly powerful is how Taylor evokes the materiality of racial inequality in the housing market, for example, detailing through first-hand accounts and newspaper stories the fear parents had of rats harming their children as they slept.
The real strength of Race for Profit is its resonance for contemporary housing policy. Many of Taylor’s arguments about predatory inclusion could just as easily apply to the 2009 foreclosure crisis, and her detailed accounting of the failures of the federal government to combat exclusionary zoning echoes in the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermined Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Her real critique, however, is of housing policies that rely on public-private partnerships to deliver housing assistance. Taylor argues that the ineffectiveness of the Section 235 program wasn’t a “failure of bureaucracy, organizational mismanagement, or malfeasance alone,” but rather the “central role of private institutions that remained vested in a racially segmented housing and mortgage market.” (p. 255) Given that the private provision of housing assistance remains the dominant paradigm in the United States, Taylor’s book presents both a cautionary tale and an indictment of the lack of progress on addressing anti-black racism in housing and urban policy.
The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
The reviewer may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.