Racial Equity and Real Estate Conversations

In 2017, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles called “The Tax Divide.” In the series, the Tribune described significant inequities in Cook County’s assessment system under prior administrations. In many cases, these inequities were alleged to be more prevalent in Black and Latino communities, and among property owners of more modestly priced homes.

Since taking office in December of 2018, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and his staff have worked to create an assessment system grounded in three values: fairness, ethics, and transparency.

Residential assessments are now more fair than in past years, commercial assessments more accurately reflect fair market value, and the operations of the Assessor’s Office are more accessible and more ethical than ever before.

Additional work remains, but the Office has achieved significant progress and transparency by publishing valuation reports and methods.

However, this is only part of the story.

Racial Equity and Real Estate Conversations

The history of racial inequity in real estate within the Chicago area goes back decades. The inequities are due to actions on the part of federal and local governments. They’re due to actions taken by those within private enterprise, professional associations, and financial institutions. These actions have their roots in racism. 

Black families were those who most often paid the price, in literal dollars, through redlining, contract selling, and segregation. Chicago and Cook County were not alone in this, but the extent to which it happened here could be called unique.

Historians, writers, and reporters have documented the effects of these inequities: decreased rates of homeownership, loss of generational wealth, and even adverse health outcomes. The effects are not fully in the past; they remain with us in the present. A true, long-overdue reckoning with these inequities continues, spurred in part by the Black Lives Matter movement.

True change requires an honest and courageous examination of the machinery that created our current state of inequality and ongoing vigorous discussion of the instruments and interventions needed to establish a more equitable future in Cook County for the good of us all.

In addition to the ongoing reform efforts the Kaegi administration has undertaken within the operations of the Assessor's Office, our outreach team launched a series in early 2020 called “Racial Equity in Real Estate Conversations.” Some activities will be exclusive for staff while others are open to the public. Our program will include book readings, film screenings, and panel discussions with historians, practitioners, and authors who are knowledgeable about housing, real estate, and racial equity. 

The Cook County Assessor’s Office will be offering several opportunities to better understand the legacy of race on homeownership and wealth distribution in real estate. Knowing the history of real estate in Cook County puts a greater emphasis on the importance of fairness and equity in the property tax system. 

Events

The Color Tax Film Screening and Panel

On Feb. 18th we aired the film, The Color Tax: Origins of the Modern-Day Racial Wealth Gap for our staff. The Color Tax tells the story of how a system of predatory home contract sales during the 1950s and 60s plundered enormous sums of wealth from black families seeking the American dream of homeownership, but denied access to standard mortgages. In a compelling narrative format, The Color Tax documents who peddled the contracts, how and why they were allowed to do it, and what happened when black families organized to fight back--in one of Chicago’s most heart-wrenching and perilous campaigns for racial and economic justice.

The film was followed by a panel discussion that was recorded and included here.

Panelists: 

  • Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor, moderator
  • Bruce Orenstein, Duke professor and filmmaker of The Color Tax
  • Beryl Satter, Author, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America
  • Courtney Jones, President, Dearborn Realtist Board (Oldest African-American Real Estate Trade Organization) 

Additional Resources

Videos
Redlining, Restrictive Covenants, and Racial Wealth Gap

Readings
Contract Selling, Redlining, and Racial Wealth Gap

Property Taxes

Suggested Books

  • Family Properties by Beryl Satter
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
  • The South Side by Natalie Moore
  • Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago (1940-1960) by Arnold Hirsch
  • Binga: The Rise and Fall of Chicago’s First Black Banker by Don Hayner 
  • Know Your Price by Andre Perry

Have resources, ideas, or suggestions? Submit to Kelwin Harris at kharris@cookcountyassessor.com