“It’s not enough to conquer the opposition. In a nonviolent struggle, we are committed to fight on until we win our adversaries as friends.”
― The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement
A few weeks ago, in the comment section on one of my blog posts, an observation was made about my tendency towards tilting at windmills. It’s an observation I can’t really dispute. After all the first gift I ever bought my wife was a hardcover copy of Don Quixote. It’s a safe bet that I’m guilty as charged.
It’s with that spirit that I attempt this blog post this morning. One that common sense tells me I should leave unwritten, yet I remain compelled to write it. Probably against my better interests, but hopefully a few will benefit and maybe it will lead to a deeper dive into history. So please accept it in the spirit it’s delivered.
It’s not a post that is ostensibly about education, but it is. The purported importance of education is regularly argued as being the facilitation of critical thinking. It’s a point I agree on, and in this day’s age when all of us are oversaturated with information, a skill that is more important than ever.
This weekend an article came across my social media feed, that at first glance painted a clear picture of racism in practice. The article told of a Black couple who had bought a house in the San Francisco area in 2016. They had done roughly $400K in renovations to the home since purchasing, but a recently conducted appraisement completed by an “older white woman” failed to reflect that investment. The value of the home according to this appraisal had only increased by $100K despite the sizable investment.
As is often the case with homeowners, the couple in question didn’t accept the appraisal and lobbied their lender to adjust it. The lender, after a couple months, agreed, and a new appraisal was completed. This time the homeowners got a white friend to hang pictures in the house and pose as the homeowner during the appraiser’s walk-through. The new appraisal came in at $500k over the previous appraisal.
Since such circumstances are not without precedent, it was immediately assumed that the increase in value was due to the appraiser believing that a white couple, instead of a black couple, owned the house. And I’m not saying that this isn’t another example of an all too often occurrence, but I am saying perhaps we should look a little deeper. Several key factors are omitted from the article. Ones that are necessary if we are to discern a full picture.
Having bought several houses, and re-financed a few as well, I am familiar with the subjective nature of home appraisals. I’ve had them come in where I need them to, and I have had them fall short of confirming the desired value. The biggest factor beyond the homeowner’s control is the comps.
When determining the appraised value of a home, the appraiser will pull the records of all recently sold homes in the area, to determine value. How the boundaries of the area considered for comparison are determined, is subjective. If the comps come in too low, the appraised value is lowered. Higher comps mean a higher assigned value. This is one reason why homeowners are often cautioned about putting too much renovation into a home.
The article in question failed to mention the comps in either appraisal so I started digging. What emerged is a pretty fascinating history, that illustrates the racist practices of the past, but not necessarily the one that the author of the report was trying to illuminate.
The article indicates that the couple had secured an original Marin City pole home. Personally, I was unfamiliar with the term, so I looked it up. Apparently these “pole homes” were built in the early ’60s using telephone polls as a means to control costs. The builders had promised more extravagant homes, but as is often the case, cut corners to save money and maximize profit. But in order to get a fuller picture, we have to go back further.
Marin City sits in Marin County California. across the Golden State Bridge from San Francisco. Per Wikipedia, it is a unique county,
As of 2010, Marin County had the fifth highest income per capita in the United States at $91,483.[needs update] The county is governed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
San Quentin State Prison is in the county, as is George Lucas‘ Skywalker Ranch. Autodesk, the publisher of AutoCAD, is also there, as well as numerous other high-tech companies. The Marin County Civic Center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and draws thousands of visitors a year to guided tours of its arch and atrium design. In 1994, a new county jail facility was embedded into the hillside nearby. Marin County’s natural sites include the Muir Woods redwood forest, the Marin Headlands, Stinson Beach, the Point Reyes National Seashore, and Mount Tamalpais.
What gets lost in the conversation is that while there is a lot of wealth in Marin County, there is not a lot of wealth in Marin City.
Marin City was founded in 1942, as a home for those employed by the Marinship Corporation during WWII, a shipbuilding company. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was an increased need to build more warships and the Marinship Corporation strived to meet that need. As a result, laborers moved from across the country to the burgeoning California city for higher wages and greater employment opportunities. Many Blacks made the move, especially those from the south, due to being denied employment in their home states. During the war, which lasted 1365 days, Bay Area shipyards produced 1400 vessels. Collectively, that’s over a ship per day.
The work was hard and the hours long, so it’s not surprising that workers and their families bonded, as a worker, Annie Small, is quoted in an article by writer April Harper,
“Everybody got along swell because everybody acted as a family unit, everybody helped everybody else. It was such a such a mixture of all kinds of ethnic groups and ages and the work habit was…everybody worked around the clock. There was someone going to work 24 hours a day… So there was always somebody at the house, I kept theirs or they kept mine. Somebody was goin’ and comin’ at all times and when we moved to Marin City, I worked the day shift, and my husband worked the night shift. So when he come in in the morning he would bring the kids to the school…when I got off at five in the evening, I picked ’em up. And so, your neighbor, if it rained, they took my clothes in, cause they know I’m going to work. And of course the iceman and milkman came, and I would let them in for them… We didn’t have to lock the door. We never locked no doors… You could team up and go to Santa Rosa or Petaluma and buy a whole hog and cook it together.” (6)
While racism may not have been prevalent in the shipyard, its impact was felt outside those boundaries. Restaurants in Sausalito and other surrounding communities refused service to Black customers. The Boilermaker Union only allowed black workers as “auxiliary” members, who were unable to vote on union matters and received smaller insurance benefits. In 1943 this led to a strike where Black Members refused to pay their auxiliary member dues. The issue was resolved by the Supreme Court in 1945, finding that it was “readily apparent that the membership offered to Negroes is discriminatory and unequal.”
Cooperation suffered further after the war ended and the demand for ships diminished. As jobs diminished, so did employment opportunities. Marinship closed in May 1946, and as the war wound down, black employment also decreased. In July 1945, 20,000 African-American Marinship workers were employed; by September 1945, that number was reduced to 12,000 and by Marinship’s closing, there were almost none.
As job opportunities were lost, those without work were unable to relocate. However, after the war, many white residents, aided by federal subsidies, bought homes in other parts of Marin county. Homes that have only increased in value since.
Black residents left behind took over the businesses white residents left behind. In the ’50 Blacks made up almost 90% of the population. Many describe the town at that time as filled with bustling neighborhoods, but it wasn’t to last.
in the early 1960s, the government tore down the wartime residences. Racist “redlining” policies kept blacks from moving elsewhere in the county, and many eventually ended up in newly constructed housing projects. The bustling neighborhood previously described, gave way to a segregated enclave with few black-owned stores and limited economic opportunity.
Over the last several decades the small city has seen increased diversity. These days the town is nearly equally divided between Black and White residents. But, even as Marin City became more diverse, patterns of discrimination persisted. In 2009, a federal investigation found that Marin county was failing to build enough affordable housing and that the shortage contributed to the concentration of minority residents in specific neighborhoods, including Marin City.
Today Marin City remains predominately impoverished despite the increased wealth of its neighboring communities. Across the country, over 60% of Americans own the homes they live in. In Marin City, it’s 31%, with just under 70% being renters. The truth is that Marin City is the only place in Marin County that affordable housing exists. Currently, there have been attempts to create even more affordable housing, but it a challenging effort that often creates unintended consequences. Especially since there is deep distrust between residents and the county government. Today, it remains an ongoing conversation.
Marin City remains a stark case study in the damage wrecked by discriminatory policies of the past. A past that should be deeply studied by all, as these practices existed across the United States and have had a profound negative effect on the quality of life afforded by too many Americans. Marin City, and other places like it, serve as a stark personification of the words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
But let’s look at the present and reconsider the aforementioned article. Several pertinent facts are missing from the News 7 piece. Why did the couple seek an appraisal? Appraisals are typically done before a sale or a refinance. Since the article states that, “The family immediately called their lender and pushed back.” And that, “After a month of escalating their complaints, The Austins were approved for a second appraisal.”, I’m assuming they were looking for a refinance.
They performed considerable upgrades to the house in a relatively short period of time. Perhaps they were looking to flip the property and had visions of capitalizing on its proximity to San Francisco. Flipping houses, thanks to popular television shows, has become an increasingly enticing practice. Unfortunately, it’s also a high risk once, tales of financial ruin are not uncommon. Failure to secure a refinance could have been devastating for the Austins. While this is one possible scenario, it is important to remember that there is insufficient information in the article to support that conclusion as well. But it is a possibility as well.
When it comes to the appraisals, the article tells us the race and sex of the first appraiser – an older white woman – while neglecting to supply the same for the second. That’s kind of an important factor, no?
Again the question of the comps comes into play. It’s possible that the first appraiser used just Marin City properties while the second included some in Mill Valley or Sausilito, two wealthier communities. If so then the first appraiser is also a victim of a half-century of discriminatory housing practices. The second might be as well because they expanded the comparison area out knowing that doing so would be the only way to get comps that the owners were seeking. In other words, the inequitable practices of the past were still paying negative dividends by painting people as racists who were really just being punished by the sins of the past themselves.
Or perhaps the first appraiser was racist and the second, in an effort to not appear equally so, was overextending?
Or perhaps both were indeed racist.
The reality is that based on the information provided we have no way of knowing, but we do know that the practices of the past have had a profound effect on the future. That those practices don’t only affect those they are aimed at, but in the end, work to the detriment of us all. However, we only get that lesson if we take the time to delve deeper, instead of relying on the surface skim.
Personally, I believe that the News 7 article would provide the perfect jumping-off point for a high school lesson plan that would encompass media and its role in our perceptions and practices, the history of discriminatory housing practices and how they affect the present, what generational wealth means and how some have been denied access, and what’s involved in the purchase of a home. All extremely valuable topics of investigation.
Looking into this instance has provided an educational opportunity for myself and for those who brought it forth, I’m thankful.
I started this piece with a quote by Reverend Barber. He and I share a deep belief that there can not be true equity without converting people to friends. We can not eradicate inequities through the practice of publically shaming, but rather through education and the difficult task of engaging. It’s often exhausting work, but now more valuable than ever. It is work that can’t be accomplished unless all of us are willing to engage. There is a lot to unpack and we are just getting started.
We are barely into the General Assembly’s legislative session and the ridiculous and the sublime continue to hold sway. A new bill proposed by Speaker Sexton seeks to hold the media accountable for negative stories. Gotta love the third line of the proposed bill,
WHEREAS, the state has a compelling interest to compel the press to promote the objective truth for the sake of the viability of democracy; for the safety, health, and welfare of our communities; for keeping with the spirit of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment; and for stopping the press from serving as a slander machine; and
So exactly how should the press report the Governor’s “facts” on “Learning Loss” or the state’s ranking on vaccination distribution? Ah…this one is a sticky wicket. Discussion in committee and on the floor should prove priceless.
In case you are of the mindset that Tennessee can’t afford to do more for schools, Andy Spears has some numbers for you. Bottom line…we can do more…much more.
In the, “can’t make this stuff up” department, the Center Square is reporting that Governor Lee’s administration was signing a $3 million consulting contract with the McKinsey Organization while investigating the company and negotiating a $15 settlement with them for their role in Opioid Crisis. Don’t worry though, Governor Lee has an airtight alibi, “We have certainly contracted with consulting firms throughout the years to bring expertise in for a particular issue,” Lee said. “But I can’t answer to the specific timing.”
If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work to accentuate the positive.
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The ‘pole houses’ were built in 1962, making them now 60 years old. Looking at various estimates on how long the poles last, I found estimates from 40 years to 75 years. However, there is no doubt that their mortality would affect the value of the home. The ‘pole houses’ in Marin City were originally estimated in number at 300. However there appear to be less than 100 units left. The houses are not qualified for conventional (FNMA) financing, making them an illiquid investment.
The complaint for racial bias states that the appraiser should have use home in Sausalito, which have conventional foundations and the appraiser’s reliance on the sales of ‘pole houses’ amounted to discrimination.
I believe that other ‘pole houses’ are the best comparable and the appraiser would not be able to adjust for the factor of conventional foundation v. pole foundation. The high appraisal apparently made not adjustment for this factor.
I would not buy a ‘pole house’ for more than the value of the land.