The Elephant in the Room

In discussions of equity on North Shore, affordable housing must be on table to create more diverse and inclusive communities



We need to start talking about why we’re so white

The North Shore has had a summer of racial reckoning. Protests, marches, and chalk-outs have been organized across the suburbs in support of Black Lives Matter. New Trier has begun to re-evaluate the diversity of English curriculums, the punishment of racist students, and the behavior of the school community.

All of this is important, if not long overdue. However, during these discussions and examinations, I have noticed that there is an elephant in the room. 

Our whiteness.

There are earnest discussions of activism in light of our white privilege. People often ask: “How can we be good activists as a group of white people?” or, “What can a wealthy, white school do to address racial inequality?” 

These questions are, again, important, if not long overdue. But we would benefit from searching a little deeper and asking the more difficult questions. Why is our school so white? What are the correlations between our wealth and our whiteness? By answering these questions, we can move from taking our whiteness as an awkward given to developing plans of action that cultivate a more diverse school. 

The best way to answer these questions is by looking into history. Rich Samuels, a Chicago-based TV journalist who has reported for Chicago Tonight on PBS and for WMAQ-TV, tracked down the North Shore’s history of segregation in 2015. Samuels found that the North Shore was entirely whites-only for the majority of its history. A large part of the reason why is due to the racial “red-lining” of the Chicago-area neighborhoods.

 Racial redlining, in short, occurred in the 1930s when the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation attempted to figure out the credit-worthiness of properties within American cities. This credit-worthiness was closely based on the racial composition of neighborhoods — heavily black parts of the city would be outlined in red, which indicated to appraisers that the neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages. 

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it illegal to deny mortgages on the basis of race, however, it’s largely a meaningless promise. The homes in our suburbs are not affordable now to the families that could’ve afforded them when White people bought into our suburbs and gained wealth from that. 

The lesson that we should take from our history is that affordable housing is crucial to creating a more diverse and inclusive community. However, attempts to establish affordable housing throughout the North Shore have failed. According to CBS Chicago, a plan to introduce affordable housing in Winnetka in 2011 lost by a landslide after the Winnetka Homeowner’s Association campaigned against it for a year. The Winnetka Homeowner’s Association claimed that it would lower property values, draw crime, and subsidize those dependents on “handouts,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

 According to Gail Schechter, the Affordable Housing Advocate on the Illinois State Housing Appeals board, most Chicago suburbs still have an insufficient supply of housing affordable for families earning less than $60k/year. This is in defiance of the Illinois Affordable Housing Planning Act, which does not have any penalties for non-compliance.

There are tangible steps we can take to create housing for people at all income levels. We should pressure our suburbs to comply with the Fair Housing Act. We should start a dialogue about sponsoring affordable developments. It’s time to stop throwing our hands up at the issue of a lack of diversity, and do something about it.