By Jonathan Haynes
“If you look at Charlottesville in-depth, you see racial disparities at every juncture,” says local freelance journalist and C-VILLE contributor Jordy Yager. “Health care disparities, disparities at police encounters, employment.” For his latest project, he will trace inequality in the Charlottesville area. “I started thinking about how people get to where they are, and dug into the history of Charlottesville,” he says.
Yager has received a $50,000 grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation to construct a digital map of housing discrimination in the Charlottesville area, which he believes will illustrate the link between past institutional policy and modern-day inequities.
To complete the project, he has teamed up with local court clerks, private researchers, employees at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, and professors at UVA, who have enlisted their students to analyze documents at Charlottesville courthouses.
Andrew Kahrl, a professor of history and African American studies at UVA whose students are assisting with Yager’s research, says segregation was written into the housing market through covenants that prohibited sales to blacks. In some cases, covenants also kept Jewish buyers from buying properties.
“In Charlottesville, racial covenants were initiated by developers and neighborhood organizations seeking to preserve the racial homogeneity of the city,” says Kahrl. “They were also pervasive across the United States.”
Yager has found that homes in Rose Hill, Belmont, Fry’s Spring, and Locust Grove had deeds with racial covenants. “This is a problem because homeownership has been the number one tool to gain wealth in America,” he says.
In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration began to provide subsidized loans for mortgages, but only to Americans buying homes in neighborhoods that barred sales to African Americans—a process known as redlining.
These loans enabled white, middle-class Americans to make down payments on houses that would surge in value over the next few decades and lead to massive intergenerational transfers of wealth. Meanwhile, black Americans were relegated to neighborhoods with poor infrastructure, further entrenching them in poverty.
“When you purchase a home, you need certain things for property value to appreciate,” Yager says, listing indoor plumbing, water pipes, roads, and transmission lines as examples. “All these required requests to the city. White neighborhoods got them, black neighborhoods did not.”
The final project will be a 10’x10′ interactive display that will allow visitors to select a time period and compare racial demographics in property records to contemporaneous income levels and health outcomes in the area. It will be installed in a permanent exhibit in the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.
Yager expects to complete the project near the end of next year.