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Fair Housing in 1986 --'A Long Way to Go' : Despite Progress, Conference Speakers List a Litany of Discriminatory Ploys, Problems

June 25, 1986|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

The state of fair housing in 1986 was summed up by keynoter James Farmer, at 66 the grand old man of the civil rights movement: "We did not slay the dragon of racism in the '60s. . . . We battered down the barrier of apartheid."

Doors were opened for blacks, and they no longer had to sit in the back of the bus, Farmer said, but "we were dealing with the effects of racism, the trappings of racism, not with racism itself. Racism still lives. And it is quite healthy."

Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, the man who led the Freedom Riders into the Deep South in 1961 to rail against such injustices and indignities as separate drinking fountains and schools for blacks, spoke at National Neighbors' annual conference Thursday through Sunday at USC.

Message Unchanged

And the message he brought to 150 people at a Friday-night dinner was the same message delivered from podiums throughout the four days: "All is not well."

Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, a one-time Freedom Rider, said in introducing Farmer that, in the battle against housing discrimination, "We have one heck of a long way to go." He pointed out that, at that moment, those attending the dinner at USC's Town and Gown were sitting in the "most segregated" area of Los Angeles, South-Central.

Segregation and racism are a national reality, said Charles Bromley, executive director of National Neighbors, a nonprofit coalition of 225 grass-roots organizations working for integration of neighborhoods economically, racially and ethnically. In 1986, he noted, "We've seen people chased out of their neighborhoods because of racial hatred and bigotry."

Still, National Neighbors were told, there is some reason for optimism, even in an era of political conservatism in which, Farmer said, people "can feel good about feeling bad about other people--(and) have reason to believe that the Justice Department will be less than vigilant in prosecuting them."

In the view of Donald L. DeMarco, vice president of National Neighbors and director, Department of Community Services, Shaker Heights, Ohio, there are several positive signs. One is the evolution of groups such as Neighbors from what he calls "touchy-feely fuzziness," a do-good mentality without direction, to "hard-headed" confrontation.

That means action such as discrimination suits.

Title VIII of the 1968 Civil Rights Act made it unlawful to discriminate against prospective tenants or home buyers on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity.

But today, Barttina Williams of the San Fernando Valley Fair Housing Council told a conference workshop, "the real issue in fair housing is, who are the monitors? I think discrimination is very profitable. Those who discriminate get a lot of money for it."

Throughout the sessions, participants spoke of "buzz words" and "code words" that get across the message--whites only, please--without violating the law. One of the current phrases, Williams said, is "secure community." She asked, "Secure from what, or from whom, I should say?"

Fair housing advocates deplore a practice they call "steering." They contend that real estate professionals do it routinely in order to protect the economic interests of clients who have property in affluent areas.

National Neighbors is an outgrowth of Crenshaw Neighbors, which was founded here. In the last five years, said National Neighbors President Vernon Douglas, "We've broken away from the mode that (fair housing) is a black-white issue" and are now dealing with it as an issue that also affects Asians and Latinos.

"Housing is the last vestige of discrimination," said Douglas, resident manager of Brooklyn's Starrett City, the nation's largest federally subsidized housing complex. "People work together nowadays but when they leave at 5 o'clock, they go separate ways. They don't live together. Their kids don't go to school together."

The "big issues" of the future in fair housing, he said, will be "what happens in New Mexico, Texas and California" in integration of Latinos and also "gentrification," the process of inner-city redevelopment in which yuppies move in and "poor people who can't afford a house in the suburbs are getting kicked out."

"Living in Diversity" was the conference theme. A program ad welcomed delegates to "Los Angeles, world city, home of 2.1 million persons of Mexican descent, 200,000 Salvadorans, 175,000 Armenians, 200,000 Iranians, 175,000 Japanese, 150,000 Chinese, 150,000 Filipinos, 150,000 Koreans, 50,000 Vietnamese. Etc., etc., etc."

At a Saturday workshop, Leo Estrada, associate professor, UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and chairman of the national advisory committee on the 1990 census, observed that in Southern California "the vocabulary hasn't really caught up with reality," that we are close to "a minority majority population."

With the birth rate for inner-city minority families far outstripping that of white suburban families, Estrada said, there will be a "huge mass" seeking affordable housing.

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