As has happened in many cities, the white south Charlotte wedge and the darker East/West Charlotte crescent were socially engineered through a tactic called “redlining.” Real estate agents arbitrarily ranked Americans of European descent as prime lending candidates and “Negroes and Mexicans” least desirable. Zoning led to strategic placement of highways, landfills and liquor stores into the crescent and away from the wedge in ways that reinforced real estate agents’ pre-determined property values. This not only segregated neighborhoods, but also wealth, as 98 percent of mortgage loans went to white citizens.
Richard Rothstein’s 2017 bestseller, The Color of Law, highlights how similar redlining practices occurred all over the country. Rothstein asserts there’s no difference between de jure segregation (by law) and de facto (by choice) as they’ve worked in tandem throughout U.S. history. He also notes whenever injustice was acknowledged, and policies were changed, our original social engineers planned and executed a workaround.
At a recent community forum, Charlotte historian and author Tom Hanchett discussed the crackdown on conventional redlining in Charlotte, but noted a new pocket of wealth developing in the north. He winced as I told him it wasn’t accidental, as redlining hadn’t ended. Our real estate community simply uses schools to do it now.
A woman who recently relocated to Charlotte from out of state told me that a real estate agent informed her boss when picking a neighborhood, “you either go south, you go north, or you go private.”
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During the 2016 student assignment process, CMS hosted real estate agents for an “education” meeting, apparently out of concern some might be stirring up hysteria in certain neighborhoods in hopes of drawing sales, reminiscent of the blockbusting practices of half a century ago. Back then the concern was certain minorities moving into “our” neighborhoods. In 2016, it was “them” moving into “our neighborhood schools” — same gift, new wrapping paper.
Neighborhood schools, however, are a myth. Some have boundaries so gerrymandered that it would make our N.C. General Assembly blush. There are, however, real estate manufactured schools, ones filled with the children of lobbying developers and homeowners and others with the children of politically susceptible renters.
One thing that has exacerbated this practice has been North Carolina’s A-F grading scale that focuses 80 percent of its score on raw test scores that directly correlate with income level. Zillow has long relied on test scores in its profiles on housing. Both scales ignore mental health and addiction trends, but ultimately, the scores are the guides many agents and developers use when engineering our housing market.
Ironically, real estate agents have likely never been into some of the neighborhood schools they blindly tell clients to avoid, but they are driving the decisions for families with phrases like “north south or private” and “it’s a great area, just save a little for private school.” Or they’re encouraging use of charters, which dropped their diversity requirement in 2013 (see workaround) and in many cases operate demographically like free private schools.
Beyond further segregating our schools and neighborhoods, this exploits many inner-city residents, exacerbating the gentrification/forced displacement occurring uptown in areas that affluent and white Charlotteans previously avoided. Instead of investing in a mixed income community of people, it normalizes colonizing and flipping neighborhoods, treating neighbors and their children as obstacles to drive out.
We simply call it market forces without acknowledging we are the market doing the forcing. The invisible hand is easy to see. Either we stop playing the games of Not In My Backyard for housing and Not In My School Yard, or we start writing our own next chapter of the Color of Law.