By Glenn Townes
Last week, I listened intently to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker recount the story of how his family encountered housing discrimination when they attempted to move into an upscale community in the New Jersey suburbs back in the 1960s. In an interview, Booker said, “In 1969, when I was a baby and my parents tried to move into these amazing New Jersey suburbs, they were turned away from houses because of the color of their skin.” Bookers’ comments were in response to yet another racist tirade from President Donald Trump. Trump tweeted a long-time and vocal opponent to low and moderate-income housing, “The suburban housewife will be voting for me. They want safety. Under Biden, low income housing would invade their neighborhood….with Corey (misspelled) Booker in charge!”
As I listened to Booker share his experience and smirked at the comment from Trump, I was reminded of a familiar scenario when my parents moved my sister and me from the primarily African American neighborhoods of Newark to the far less colorful suburbs of the state in the 1960s. Similarly, our family has also turned away from purchasing homes in East Brunswick’s once upscale and nattily suburb because of our darker hue. Realtors steered Mom and Dad to more color-friendly properties in Perth Amboy and Trenton. They were eventually able to buy a home in a community in Central New Jersey during the summer of 1964.
Like Cory, I was just a toddler, and I remember listening to my parents grieve and worry about the big move into a less than welcoming community. At the time, we were only the second family of color to move into the neighborhood. It was a move, I’m sure that raised the ire and suspicions of watchful neighbors—some of whom didn’t speak to or acknowledge our existence for months. Back then, the practice of redlining was common by banks, realtors, and just about anyone else involved in the home buying process.
Redlining is when a lender surreptitiously denies people of color fair access to housing through falsehoods, misinformation, and requiring complex, unnecessary paperwork and hidden fees. It was a tool used by the at-large community to keep an exclusive suburban community—indeed exclusive. The practice was outlawed in the Fair Housing Act of 1968. However, the illicit activity remained prevalent. For example, as recently as 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a $200 million settlement with a large bank holding company in the Midwest regarding allegations of redlining. So, even after decades of redlining being banned, the nefarious practice continued and still does. Reverse redlining occurs when a lender or insurer targets minority consumers in a non-redlined area and charges them more for goods and services than what a white consumer in the same place would be charged. Think gentrification, and you will have a broad view of what reverse redlining is all about.
At any rate, the Booker family was able to move to the upscale community of Harrington Park, which had a population of about 4,800. The Townes family moved to the suburban middle-class town of Edison—which, at the time, had a population of about 65,000. While the numbers were different, I do not doubt that the experiences shared by the Booker family differed little from that of the Townes family. The fact is both of our families crossed that red, or should I say the white line, survived and are still standing strong some 50 years later!