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Race and Housing in the Postwar City: - page 6 / 23





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racial segregation, but they also triggered racial transitions and neighborhoods turnover. Urban renewal and interstate expressway construction usually targeted inner-city black areas, demolishing housing on a massive scale. By the 1960s, for instance, federal high­ way construction alone destroyed some 35,000 housing units each year. Urban renewal had similarly devastating consequences in the inner cities: within little more than a decade after urban renewal leg­ islation in 1954, over 400,000 residential units had been destroyed in the inner cities - a process that soon came to be labeled "Negro removal." Enforcement of minimum sanitary and housing codes in many cities, along with massive abandonment of properties by slum­ lords, also forced extensive demolition of low-income rental housing. In Chicago, about one-third of all housing demolitions in the 1950s and 1960s stemmed from housing code enforcement. Taken togeth­ er, these public policies pushed working-class and middle-class blacks to seek better housing in white transitional areas, rather than remain in older areas increasingly abandoned to a growing black underclass.10

Similarly, public housing policies played an especially impor­ tant role in shaping the racial dynamics of the postwar city. By the 1950s, for example, local housing authorities in the North, Midwest, and West began putting up new public housing that soon became mostly or entirely black. Massive high-rise public housing projects in Chicago and St. Louis - the Robert Taylor Homes (28 identical sixteen- story buildings) and the Pruitt-Igoe housing project (33 identical eleven-story buildings) - typified this approach to low-income black housing. Located exclusively in black areas, these and other large pub­ lic housing projects absorbed low-income black families whose hous­ ing had been demolished through urban renewal, highway construc­ tion, and code enforcement. Essentially, these housing projects solidi­ fied black ghettoization in the postwar era. Designed to prevent racial transitions and to maintain a rigid color line in urban housing, the massive housing projects also impelled working-class and middle- class blacks to newer second ghetto neighborhoods. The black poor were concentrated in the city centers; those a bit better off sought tran­ sitional housing in white areas, and urban whites fled to the suburbs.11


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