"PRRAC at 25: Florence Wagman Roisman,"by Florence Roisman September/October 2014 issue of Poverty & Race
Recent events make painfully clear the crucial importance of the mission PRRAC was created to achieve. The killing of Michael Brown (and its consequences) in Ferguson, MO and many other contemporary acts and conditions of injustice are tocsins alerting everyone who is not willfully deaf to the necessity of addressing the intersections of race and poverty and uniting social science research with advocacy in the service of racial and economic justice.
In 1968, the Kerner Commission, charged with investigating the causes of the riots throughout the United States in 1965, 1966 and 1967, concluded by quoting the testimony of Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, who said:
I read that report . . . of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ‘35, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ‘43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot.Tragically, Dr. Clark’s testimony would be equally appropriate today, for anyone reviewing the more than 100 riots in 1968 and those in the following 16 years, with major explosions in Miami (1980), Crown Point (1991), Los Angeles and Harlem (1992), St. Petersburg (1995), Cincinnati (2001), Toledo (2005), and Oakland, CA (2009). The catalysts often are the same: the beating or murder of a Black person by the police and the acquittal of the perpetrators; the underlying causes are those identified by the Kerner Commission in 1968 and utterly disregarded by those who make and enforce policy and law in the United States:
Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto, White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it. (Kerner Cmsn. Report p. 2.)Residential racial segregation, particularly for African Americans, still is pervasive in the United States; its most extreme form, hypersegregation, prevails where many African Americans live, generally isolated from decent jobs, healthy environments, successful schools, and every other form of opportunity: cultural, recreational, educational and economic. Forty-five years after the enactment of the Fair Housing Act, we rely on individual complaints rather than strategic, institutional enforcement, and federal, state and local governments actively exacerbate segregation rather than try to end it.
From its start, PRRAC has worked to bring research and advocacy together to address problems at the intersection of race and poverty. The lessons must be re-taught and re-learned every day, by every generation. Some of PRRAC’s first projects supported research by Arnold Hirsch, Raymond Mohl, David Freund and others detailing federal insistence on racial segregation in housing programs at least from 1934 into the 1960s. PRRAC supported critically important research into the effectiveness of housing mobility remedies in Baltimore and elsewhere, and played a crucial convening role in the series of housing mobility conferences. PRRAC helps to focus on the grave public health consequences of residential racial segregation.
PRRAC fights a continuing battle against those who ignore the history and the impact of current programs.
HUD recently published praise for the Federal Housing Administration: “80 Years Young and going Strong” (HUD PD&R, Message from PD&R Senior Leadership). Outrageously, this proclaimed FHA “one of the Federal Government’s greatest success stories,” ignoring the established judgment, reflected in Kenneth T. Jackson’s classic book, Crabgrass Frontier: “the government’s leading housing agency openly exhorted segregation throughout the first thirty years of its operation.” (p. 213.) As Charles Abrams wrote in Forbidden Neighbors, “FHA adopted a racial policy that could well have been culled from the Nuremberg laws.”(p. 229.)
HUD and the Treasury Department continue to push the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program—today’s largest subsidized rental development and rehabilitation program (really, we should call it a pogrom)—which perpetuates segregration and confines poor people of color to high-poverty, low-opportunity, racially impacted neighborhoods. PRRAC has provided research and advocacy support in the effort to end this federally imposed discrimination and segregation.
PRRAC has been fortunate in its brilliant, effective, creative and consistent leadership. As Executive Directors and Director of Research, Phil Tegeler and Chester Hartman have kept everyone’s “eyes on the prize,” and have brought civil rights, anti-poverty and social science experts together for fruitful collaborations. PRRAC’s publications—P&R (this Poverty and Race newsletter), four books, numerous research reports—have been essential tools. The Board has had the remarkable good fortune of being led, for twenty-five years, by the wise, dedicated, calm Jack Boger (who is also the best notetaker known to human history). Board meetings always have been notable for being insightful and inciting participants to new heights of innovation and productivity.
It’s a shame that PRRAC still is needed, but it’s fortunate that PRRAC still exists to promote true inclusion, choice, equality and opportunity.
Florence Roisman a former (and founding) PRRAC Board member, is William F. Harvey Professor of Law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. For many years, she was an attorney with the National Housing Law Project. firstname.lastname@example.org
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