What I wrote when I hosted my group’s weekly affordable housing discussion email

Hello, hello, and welcome to an email you don’t have to respond to.

So here’s the deal: before the trip even starts, Bike and Build gives you SO MUCH WORK to get you prepared physically and affordable housingly. One of the components of this is a weekly email between little subgroups of the rider group.

Each week, one person picks two articles on (a) topic(s), writes a bit about them, and sends them off. Then everyone else responds with their thoughts/related experiences/reactions to the articles. This is meant to be a discussion, but since it’s a really homeworky structure– required responses and all that– it ended up being more like everyone just writes their thing, possibly responding to those who went before them.

In case it wasn’t clear, I don’t love this format because I don’t like forced responses. If you don’t have anything to say, or you don’t have that much to say, or you want to mull stuff over before saying something, I think that’s fine and making people blubber up some words on some topic isn’t necessarily going to get you quality thoughts, so why bother?

But now it’s over and I did get to learn about some of the people I’ll be going with’s experiences with un/affordable housing in the various cities and towns where they all live, so that’s a positive. I’m also curious to see what directions all the other subgroups’ talks went in.

Last week was my turn, so figured I’d share with y’all here what I sent out.


Hello and welcome to the final week ever of AH email discussions! (You can still discuss AH over email after this week, but it won’t be mandatory.) 

This week, we’re gonna talk about ——————————ing.
(See what I did there?! The topic is REDLINING!)
I’m including lots of stuff, so please prioritize [2] and just read whatever interests you of the rest. Hopefully everyone will be drawn to different parts and you can glean whatever you don’t choose to read from everyone else’s responses.
[1] First, an initial definition of redlining from How We Built the Ghettos: A brief introduction to America’s long history of racist housing policy. This article goes into detail on the many components that went into redlining and its effects on geography and the racial distribution of wealth in America.  I want to pull out its definition of redlining:

Redlining is the practice of denying key services (like home loans and insurance) or increasing their costs for residents in a defined geographical area. In theory, this could be used against anyone. In reality, it was almost exclusively a tool to force blacks (and other minorities) into particular geographic areas. The practice began with the National Housing Act of 1934, which established the Federal Housing Administration, as well as the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. It was this agency which created “residential security maps” for several cities to determine the safety of real estate investments in selected areas.

[2] Armed with this definition, we’re going deep into the human side of redlining, reading Ta-nehisi Coates’ famous The Case for Reparations. To get at the heart of the redlining section of this suuuper loong essay, Command-F for “1961” and start reading there (“In 1961, Ross and his wife bought a house in North Lawndale…”). Read through, “The resulting conflagration has been devastating,” which is 7 paragraphs down from the interactive census map of Chicago.

[3] Now let’s look and see how, of course, somehow this shit is still happening.
[4] I also really appreciated this essay by a teacher in Portland on how she tried to answer her 6 year old’s question, “Why Is This the Only Place in Portland I See Black People?”We’re having these discussions at ages 18-26, but here’s a group of 6 year olds engaged in a super serious exploration on racism and housing discrimination. As we visit towns this summer, we’ll be meeting kids along the way, so it’s nice to get some pedagogy juices goin’ to start us thinking on how we’re gonna broach big topics with little people. You might want to skim this, but you also might get sucked into it idk.
[5] And, if you’d like, you can look for redlined maps of your city (or a random city you’re interested in), or maps of it during the Great Migration and its current levels of segregation. What’s happening now in those areas marked as “racially blighted?” I’ve found that the areas my friends (young, largely white, with not great paying jobs but usually better than minimum wage) live in are those that are comparably affordable now mostly because of their redlined histories. So that’s one way the legacy of redlining is shaping cities.
[6] I’ll leave you with this paragraph from Ta-nehisi Coates:

“If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination. Housing determines access to transportation, green spaces, decent schools, decent food, decent jobs, and decent services. Housing affects your chances of being robbed and shot as well as your chances of being stopped and frisked. And housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly. It can be pursued through violence and terrorism, but it doesn’t need it. Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute. Even today most people believe that Chicago is the work of organic sorting, as opposed segregationist social engineering. Housing segregation is the weapon that mortally injures, but does not bruise.”


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