So I’ve gotten some pushback on the last post in the comments. One of the main objections is that “bigot” is an inflammatory and unhelpful word. That’s probably true, and had I been at that meeting, I would not have used it. But I suppose my position is that the balance of offense here still lies with the people asking the city the disallow new rental buildings, and given how rarely – almost never – those sort of people get called out by anyone, let alone the elected official who has been asked to enact their segregatory policies, I just can’t feel that that’s the real injustice here.

But there’s also some feeling that I was not correct to perceive a racial issue, especially given that the new apartments – other than the 10% subsidized under the Affordable Requirements Ordinance – would almost certainly cater to relatively upper-income, disproportionately white people. Which is true! And yet the underlying dynamic here is that people want to control the “quality” of their neighbors, which will almost inevitably have racial implications. That’s true both because 1) people perceive blacks in particular as reducing the value of a neighborhood independent of their income, and 2) even a purely class-based bias will created disproportionately white neighborhoods, given the distribution of income.*

Now, you may say that in this case, somehow, we have found an exceptional group of American people without racial prejudice, even subconscious. Fine. But 2) is enough all on its own. The Supreme Court just ruled last month that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits racial segregation by “disparate impact” – meaning exactly the kind of policy at issue here, which is on its surface race-blind but which will inevitably have a racist outcome if implemented. If Anthony Kennedy thinks there’s race involved, then I think there’s probably race involved.

I also want to highlight this, from a follow-up DNAinfo story:

But opposition to two projects doesn’t mean West Loop residents are opposed to all rental developments, Tenenbaum said.

“What we do favor is supporting the families that make the West Loop a desirable area,” he said. “What’s wrong with families and what’s wrong with homes? Who serves on the parks councils? The PTAs? The local school boards, CAPS committees? On community boards? For the most part, its people who put down roots.”

What’s wrong with families? Well, for one thing, family status is actually a protected class, too. What Tenenbaum is straightforwardly asking for is straightforwardly illegal under the Fair Housing Act. Which is just to say that this situation is wrong from all sorts of angles, I suppose.


* I’m reminded of an affordable housing fight in the North Shore suburbs a few years ago. The housing at issue would have been targeted to people at something like 120% of Area Median Income – that is, people who were actually richer than the average metropolitan Chicagoan. In practice, they were actually probably nurses and teachers. They were probably going to be almost all white. And yet the campaign against the project – which was ultimately successful in blocking it – repeatedly referenced Cabrini-Green, with obviously racial implications. Which isn’t to say that the West Loopers are quite as noxious as that, it’s just to point out that there don’t actually have to be any black people involved for anti-black racism to play a major role in decision-making.