Housing Market Forecast: The Hansberry Influence on Black Homeownership



With the full impact of the housing crisis still in the forefront for Blacks, who have been systematically discriminated against in the housing market, the historical connections of the illustrious Hansberry family illustrates just how long Blacks have struggled and identifies earlier problems that could have been avoided.

We know about the short, yet brilliant career of poet and playwright Lorraine Hansberry whose became a major literary figure when her first play, A Raisin in the Sun, opened on Broadway to critical acclaim and won Hansberry the 1959 New York Drama Critics Circle Award. At the age of 28, she had a Broadway hit and was the first Black and youngest person to win the coveted prize. 

Regarding the housing market forecast, Hansberry had front line access to the material that she used to develop the classic play as the daughter of Carl and Nannie Hansberry, who had traveled north to reside in Chicago. He made a living setting up apartments for other Black families in the area.

Carl Hansberry moved into an all-White community to challenge the restrictive real estate covenants that kept Blacks and other non-Whites from moving into certain neighborhoods.  These covenants were contractual agreements that were made among property owners designed to prohibit the purchase or occupation of their homes or premises by specific groups, usually Blacks.  The rise in the usage of these covenants, especially in Chicago but practiced in some form in many northern cities, occurred as more Blacks moved north for better housing market forecast opportunities. 

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled against these practices as early as 1917, in less than nine years the high court dismissed the Corrigan v. Buckley decision, thus giving tacit approval to this racially restrictive practice that largely kept Blacks in substandard, overcrowded housing units.

This is the environment that Carl Hansberry, an Alcorn State University graduate, found himself and he decided to challenge the practice and improve the living environment for his family and the housing market forecast for other aspiring Black families seeking life in the suburbs of Chicago. He won a narrow victory in the Supreme Court against racially restrictive covenants in Lee v. Hansberry (1940).

Unfortunately, his case did not set precedent on the issue to generate much in the way of change.   According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the precedent setting case that would begin the process of eliminating racially, restrictive covenants occurred when the Supreme Court finally declared restrictive covenants unenforceable in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948). At this point, the decision was more of a legal afterthought to a practice that was slowing losing ground as more Blacks were acquiring the same property previously restricted due to the post World War II housing boom.     

However, the impact of the activism of Hansberry’s parents formed the core of her life work and that struggle.  A Raisin in the Sun told the story of an apartment dwelling Black family, who represented the families who lived in her father’s properties, who had a chance to move to the suburbs and were being discreetly thwarted by the property owners.  She used the artistic medium to tell more than a story, but to highlight a societal wrong and provide hope for Blacks who just wanted the opportunity to share in the American dream.   

Many Blacks in pursuit of a better housing market forecast are still victims of covenants and other restrictive policies that limit their options.  Others are victim of predatory lenders and overzealous brokers who manipulate the system and bilk thousands of hard-earned dollars from those who can least afford it often leaving the buyer without the money or a new home. 

While the half century that has passed since the debut of A Raisin in the Sun has generated some positive changes for Blacks in the housing market forecast, there is still a long way to go before all who call this country their home can afford to live in one.

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.


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