Month: August 2015

The hidden racism of a real estate app

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Boston, where I live, has some of the highest housing prices in the country.  It’s usually ranked #3 behind New York and San Francisco. The average home price in the United States is just over 200,000 dollars. In Brookline, a high priced suburb of Boston, it’s 1.6 million dollars.  The average home in Boston is about half that. As a result the public school system in brookline is… shall we say, not impoverished. It’s a bit different than the Boston Public School system.

Earlier today I saw a commercial for real estate app that let’s you search real estate by school district. I’m convinced that there’s a virtuous cycle between an exceptional public school system, real estate prices, and an excellent public school system. It won’t surprise anyone that the demographics in brookline are 75% white 15% asian and a tiny handful of other minorities. Without meaning (or maybe intentionally) to the wealthy have completely segregated their community. It starves poor communities in Boston resources for law enforcement, education, and more. We talk about wealth inequality, it’s a sin to have public schools funded at the local level. I believe that if you were to fund things at the state level not only would there be more money for underprivileged communities, but it would even out development.

Here’s why this is great for rich people.  The concentration of wealth in select neighborhoods deprive other neighborhoods of development.  Take Boston for example, it’s too expensive to live and thereby suffers a tremendous brain drain.  The resources that would normally go into developing small businesses, development, infrastructure, are gone.  Naturally we’re assuming that the good rich people aren’t intentionally walling themselves off from undesirable elements *caugh* blacks *caugh*.  This also complicates employment since the poor and working class have to travel lengthy distances.  The only downside is having to rub shoulders with your lessors.  *cough* Latinos *cough*.  Sorry I seem to be developing a cold.

Instead of tremendous amount of resources devoted to development wealthy districts and gentrification. It pushes housing prices up everywhere, because poor neighborhoods lack development while facing population growth. Rich neighborhoods get luxury development which doesn’t reduce the price of housing! Which also contributes to a virtuous cycle.  While the price per house in Brookline is double, it’s a little less dense than Boston.  Obviously, development in Brookline is doing nothing to address the severe housing crises.  Why should it? there’s more profit in low density luxury homes than the expense, risk, and bureaucratic hassle of high density low and middle class housing, less taxing of the local infrastructure, you name it.  IT’s a lot easier to cater to a few wealthy people, but that short cut creates a lot of long term problem that primarily affects the poor and people of color.  What’s worse is when you have gentrification which actually targets a low income/high minority community in such a way that intentionally or unintentionally excludes low income populations, which then subsequently burdens even lower income/higher minority communities.  (you read that correctly.  Those involved in gentrification are rather particular in the neighborhoods they gentrify.  It’s not random.)

Is the real estate app that lets you search by schools racist?  Absolutely.  It’s the intentional, egotistical, pursuit of seclusion away from those people.   God forbid that our children should hobnob with those kids.  We know full well that the school district you attend has little to do with your kids ultimate college admissions and career pathway. It’s little more than a status symbol.  If we’re really serious about urban development, than it’s time to build and fund cities in radically different ways.