Levittown, transformation primarily stemmed from the encouragement of racism

Levittown, New York was a key developing suburb in the 1950’s and 1960’s located on the outskirts of New York City. Levittown was a planned community designed and manufactured by Levitt & Sons and developed as result of the Post World War II housing boom. (State Museum 1) Veterans returned after the war and started their young families. Levittown was an ideal environment to do this because of its unique suburban characteristics. For example, Levittown had new distinct floor plans with segregated spaces, green open yards, and a semi-rural setting which reaped benefits of both the city and rural areas. These were all qualities which were not available in the city at a reasonable price. Levitt & Sons mass produced and manufactured these homes which lowered costs and allowed a greater amount of people to move to the suburbs.  Levitt also made additions such as schools and shopping centers to Levittown to make it feel more like a united community and further encourage people to move to the suburb. (Peltz) Early residents primarily consisted of returning veterans and their young families, all of whom were of the upper middle class and caucasian. (Oreskes) By 1950, over 80% of men who resided in Levittown commuted to jobs in Manhattan. Additionally, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) channeled loans from older neighborhoods within the city to white home buyers looking to move into suburban neighborhoods. Due of this, these homes became more accessible to working class families and veterans. Both could now obtain a 30-year mortgage with a 5% down payment and no down payment, respectively. (Marshall) The FHA restricted minorities and African Americans from acquiring these loans because it would reduce the value of the neighborhoods. Specifically, FHA appraisers would deny loans in racially mixed neighborhoods because they believed minorities lead to increased risk and lower property values. These neighborhoods were accessible to only the caucasian community therefore minorities and African Americans were neglected. Many minorities were left with minimal to no options for housing and so they often ended up in minority pockets scattered around the city. (Lambert) 1.2 Transformation In and Around Levittown:The basis of Levittown was built on segregation. This segregation further divided the population of the city and made it more fragmented. In this paper, I will explore how this suburb, Levittown, NY, transformed into a place with greater suburban fragmentation in comparison to its periphery areas, such as Queens and Brooklyn. I will describe how this transformation primarily stemmed from the encouragement of racism and segregation in and around Levittown, NY as a result of redlining and racial steering in the 1950’s to 1960’s. Two of the outcomes of this included a decline in property values and an increase in the population of the minority neighborhoods in the peripheries of Levittown. Differences between the periphery areas and Levittown increased because of these outcomes, and resulted in increased fragmentation between these two regions.    II. Discussion 2.1 Background of Redlining Around Levittown in 1950’s-1960’s:Redlining in the 1950’s to  1960’s in and around Levittown was used to determine which neighborhoods would be approved for mortgages and which neighborhoods would not be approved. This was based on the “risk factor” of each neighborhood. This risk was thought to be directly associated with specific demographics with the most important one being race. And this perception lead to increased fragmentation. Minorities and neighborhoods with minorities were thought to have a higher risk factor than predominately caucasian neighborhoods. The FHA refused to insure mortgages in or near minority neighborhoods; this was mainly targeted towards African Americans. This is why they marked neighborhoods which were of high risk. Specifically, neighborhoods in the 15 mile radius of Levittown, such as neighborhoods in Queens, were redlined and marked as hazardous because they all had primarily minority and African American residents.(Domonoske) Redlining in the peripheries of Levittown was a way the government kept minorities in the specific places they were already residing in and kept property values intact throughout Levittown. Another goal of redlining was to prevent risk when lenders gave loans or when loans were insured by the FHA. The FHA predominantly gave loans to all the homes in Levittown, as it was the “best zone” according to redlining practices. 2.2 Home Owner’s Loan Corporation in Association with Redlining:Maps of New York were color coded by the surveyors who were assigned to asses risk. Since HOLC was originally chartered by the Congress the actors associated with it were elected officials. Their interests in redlining primarily concerned the well being of the city more so than themselves. The Great Depression lead to many homes becoming foreclosed and many people becoming bankrupt because they could not pay off credit loans. The Great Depression essentially began in New York, and so the city and its surrounding areas such as where Levittown was constructed later on and Brooklyn and Queens were affected to the greatest extent. Redlining the peripheries of Levittown was one means by which the government could take proper precaution to ensure that such an event like the Great Depression did not occur again in American history, and specifically around New York. Surveyors were also actors in redlining since they were the ones who went out into these neighborhoods and assess their risks. They also had selfless interests. Their goal was to ensure that residences at least kept their property values. If this did not happen, the housing market could gradually decline. These surveyors ensured that this would not happen by assessing neighborhoods with the greatest accuracy.2.3 Levitt and Sons Role in SegregationSince Levittown was a major development site consisting of thousands of homes; it was more vulnerable to having property value decreases if minorities infiltrated into the homes. The builders of Levittown, Levitt and Sons, wanted to insure that their property values were intact for a long time. Leaving these values intact meant that no minorities should be allowed into these homes, according to William Levitt. In fact, clause 25 of the standard lease for these homes explicitly stated  that the homes cannot ”be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.” (Lambert) This demonstrates how the Levittown, NY suburb was built on the basis of racism and segregation. This suburb of thousands of homes is built on such exclusive principals and the segregation would only increase from there. 2.3 Home Owner’s Loan Corporation Encouraged Segregation by Redlining:By showing such physical distinctions between neighborhoods of a single city and labeling them as “hazardous” or “best”, HOLC encouraged segregation. It was made okay to label certain areas as such because of their race and economic standing and this cultivated a culture of separation. The minorities who resided in the red “hazardous” neighborhoods, such as those around Queens, were often excluded from the pleasures of suburban life. People in these areas were associated with a bad image–one of low economic and social standing. This segregation stemmed a great deal from redlining thus leading to a greater degree of fragmentation. HOLC held the beliefs that blacks and minorities would undermine property values. Descriptions written by surveyors read brutal remarks such as how B grade neighborhoods were marked so because there are “respectable people but homes are too near the negro area.” (Domonoske) If a neighborhood was majority black or minority then it would not get FHA backing. On the other hand A grade neighborhoods were noted as “this area is highly restricted” since they had majority caucasian populations. (Domonoske)The way these neighborhoods were marked on paper translated in person as well. These attitudes circulated around Levittown regarding blacks and minorities. HOLC upheld such beliefs until redlining was put to an end in 1977 by the Community Reinvestment Act. 2.4 Outcome of Redlining around Levittown:The outcome of redlining in Levittown in the 1950’s through the 1960’s was that property values continued to decline. The neighborhoods originally labeled as hazardous continued to be hazardous because no one who was considered of less “risk”, caucasians, would move into them and help make the neighborhoods transition into “still desirable” or “best” zones. This lead these neighborhoods to continue to be redlined, resulting in lower and lower property values. Increased redlining in the peripheries of Levittown lead to an average of over 20% decrease of property values of minority neighborhoods such as Queens from the 1950’s to late 1960’s. (Martinez 12)   This decrease in value resulted from fragmentation from continued redlining and segregation. This redlining in the peripheries of Levittown directly affected neighborhoods in Levittown. Neighborhoods with existing minorities continued to house minorities and redlining discouraged and prevented them from moving close to this suburb. This helped keep Levittown at a 100% white only suburb during this period and in the future. Show data.  Boundaries between Levittown and periphery minority neighborhoods became more distinct and more fragmented. In fact, homogeneity in each of these areas grew in the peripheries of Levittown and stayed the same in Levittown. Minorities grew in the peripheries and this meant that both of those areas became more distinct and segregated from each other.  (Martinez) This discrepancy between Levittown and the surrounding areas, such as Queens, created a stigma against the hazardous neighborhoods and the minorities who resided in them, and this was a large factor in the fragmentation of Levittown and its surrounding areas. 2.5 Background of Racial Steering in Levittown:Racial steering in Levittown during the 1950’s and 1960’s referred to how minorities and African Americans were discouraged from caucasian neighborhoods. Realtors often tried to guide these minorities out of particular neighborhoods, usually those marked as “best” under redlining because it was believed that these groups lowered property values. (Cashin) More agents such as mortgage lenders and insurance agents also practiced racial steering by providing less information and offering less but more expensive products. (Bruce 762) Real estate agents primarily practcied this because most of their business and commission relied on word of mouth. If they introduced a minority into a good neighborhood then they could risk losing business because they would get backlash from “reducing” property values of homes around the minority. Mortgage lenders and insurance agents also had their personal interests in mind. They did not want to risk having minorities buy their policies and products.(Cashin) This was a more unofficial means of segregation in comparison to redlining. 2.6 Encouragement of Segregation and Racism from Racial Steering: Because of the circumstances of redlining places such as Queens, these minorities did not live in the best neighborhoods. Their neighborhoods became overcrowded and they lacked equality of opportunity eventually leading to high poverty rates. These lenders and agents believed that these people and minorities in general are directly associated with risk and poverty and that they likely would not pay back loans. Therefore, to avoid this risk they steered their products and services away from minorities. One such lender was ABN AMRO Bank N.V. This steering promoted racism and segregation to a greater degree because there was an additional barrier which prevented minorities from living in these neighborhoods. Once the government put redlining into place, it was made okay for the rest of society to also exclude minorities. The government putting official practices into play lead to people like agents and lenders into steering their products and services away from blacks and minorities. They were not offered equality of opportunity as caucasians. These neighborhoods with all whites continued to prevail in society while hazardous neighborhoods with minorities on the peripheries of Levittown, such as Queens and Brooklyn, continued to overcrowd. 2.7 Outcome of Racial Steering In and Around Levittown:Neighborhoods in Brooklyn, which is around 20 miles from Levittown, grew approximately 7% and the minority composition increased from 8% in the late 1940’s to 64% to the late 1960’s. (Martinez) Minorities continued to be viewed as part of lower classes because they stayed primarily in the same hazardous areas due to redlining and racial steering. Racial steering further encouraged minorities to stay in the same overcrowded pockets they always stayed in. This discrepancy created a larger gap between classes because of race and lead to increased fragmentation. The number of minorities around the suburb began to decrease and the percentage of minorities in the hazardous areas on the peripheries of Levittown continued to increase.    III. Conclusion:3.1 Outcome of Redlining and Racial Steering The main outcome of both redlining and racial steering in Levittown, NY during the 1950’s and 1960’s was that there was greater fragmentation between the suburb and surrounding areas which were marked as hazardous. Both redlining and racial steering encouraged segregation of the city, in that caucasians were directed and encouraged to live in the suburbs through these tactics while minorities and African Americans were directed away from caucasian neighborhoods because they were a threat to property values. This increased homogeneity of suburbs as well as surrounding minority neighborhoods such as Queens and Brooklyn. This fragmentation was caused by a variety of other factors as well, however two of the most prominent were redlining and racial steering. 3.2 Negative and Positive Externalities:The negative externalities were that these tactics directly promoted racism because they segregated minority neighborhoods such as those in Queens and Brooklyn from Levittown to a greater degree than it already was. This fragmentation kept Levittown isolated and kept its homogeneity intact while only these minority neighborhoods overcrowded and faced the repercussions of redlining and racial steering. Redlining and racial steering lead to increased segregation because they became overcrowded. This promoted segregation and racism, since this segregation dealt with suburb dwellers who were mainly caucasian and those in minority neighborhoods. A positive externality was how the veterans had more accessible housing. Levittown, NY consisted of thousands of homes which the Caucasian veterans could purchase with ease because of low rates. 3.3 Redlining Effects Today Even though redlining ended and racial steering declined in the late 1970’s, the repercussions of these tactics still last today. For example, Levittown is still mainly caucasian, with a demographic profile reading 94% white, and the neighborhoods mentioned before such as Brooklyn and Queens still have a prominent and increasing minority and African American population. The remaining 6% is primarily made up of African americans and asians. These areas may be less segregated and fragmented than 1950 from one another, but they still show a large discrepancy of their racial demographics. (Martinez) These tactics can be taken as a lesson in history. Even if redlining and racial steering only lasted a few decades, we still face their consequences today. Their effects do not disappear with laws ending these tactics. Therefore, the people and the government should carefully evaluate any law or any tactic put into place or practiced and consider how it might affect generations in the future. At the time, certain laws may seem to benefit the current population however with careful evaluation we see that it can be at the cost of future generations. We are still facing the racial fragmentation around Levittown today because of the segregation and racism  in the 1950’s and 1960’s which was partially caused by redlining and racial steering. 3.4 Levittown, NY City Council Most of the city council members of Levittown today are caucasian. The city council is indicative of the Caucasian population. Despite a change in demographics, a growing minority population, the city council does not have members who reflect the minority populations. This demonstrates how a history of segregation can translate into modern day. Levittown’s history with racism and segregation lead to minorities being pushed away. There are minorities coming in now however their interests are not being reflected in city council. Moreover, Levittown is not reflective of the entire United States. It is just one specific case in which a history of segregation has lead to a predominately white population. Most cities and areas in the country are true melting pots of different minorities and very dissimilar to Levittown, NY.