Podcast | Real Estate Investing
On a recent CalMatters Podcast (Gimme Shelter), we were inspired by an interview with Dr. Karyn Lacy, a sociologist with the University of Michigan. Dr. Lacy eloquently shared the history of the suburbs and how they evolved after WWII. It was SO good, we wanted more! Dr. Lacy is a data-driven professional that has spent years studying black middle-class families in the Washington DC area for her book, Blue-Chip Black. We learn how she approached her research, where she found the data, data that was and was not available, and the techniques she employed to write an incredibly interesting book on race, class, and the middle class. We learn about the federal government's role in segregation as well as local examples of discrimination via developers, agents, lenders, city governments, and banks.
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- 00:46 Dr. Lacy’s background and how she ended up as a demographer and sociologist
- 03:56 How much of Dr. Lacy’s work is qualitative vs quantitative?
- 04:48 Is quantitative data for research easy to come by for research on segregation?
- 5:55 The missing data on segregation that Dr. lacy had a difficult time finding and the incredible commitment to find it
- 09:02 How Dr. Lacy’s research butted up against existing academic understanding
- 10:40 Is being a flip-floppers always a bad thing?
- 11:16 The concept of the American identity and the difference in minority vs European immigrant experience
- 13:23 The role Class plays in how Black Americans process identities
- 15:44 The data Dr. Lacy used to identify the areas and families she used in her study
- 17:33 Was public records data part of the process?
- 21:33 FHAs role in segregation and the suburbs?
- 22:30 The Home Loan Corporation, residential security maps, and how appraisers used the color-coated maps
- 23:13 What is redlining and HOLC's role?
- 24:41 How the FHA took the security maps and systemized racist policies
- 25:00 The reason FHA justified using these practices and the goal of keeping race and classes segregated
- 28:03 How white families have benefitted from homeownership starting after WWII
- 28:47 What was Levittown and why is it important in the conversation of segregation?
- 30:50 Were the developers of Levittown racist or were they falling in line to comply with needed FHA guidelines to get the funding?
- 32:29 What William Levitt said in response to why as innovators they were not selling homes to Black families
- 33:24 How prices increased when Black families moved into all-white suburbs
- 34:30 Blockbusters and their role in stoking fear and furthering segregation
- 36:24 Different professions who played the role of blockbusters
- 37:07 An example of how a local bank redlined in the Boston area
- 39:24 Public housing and how FHA incentivized white flight into the suburbs with subsidies
- 42:38 What is steering? Dr. Lacy firsthand experience in real estate while undercover
- 44:14 How studies by HUD have shown Black families are shown fewer homes, steered towards specific communities, and/or told homes are not available 46:31 What housing discrimination looks like today
- 48:51 What does the future of the suburbs, housing and integration look like?
- 51:03 The concept of whitopias and what it will affect
- 51:33 The education outcomes of those that have and those that do not and impacts we’ll see in 2021
- 52:55 How low-earth Internet may change the shape of the suburbs and choices in housing
- 53:52 An impact of remote work and diversity that not many people are talking about
- 55:32 Are their cities that are doing a thoughtful job on integration and urban planning?
Aaron Norris [00:00:02] Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Data Driven Real Estate Podcast, the podcast for real estate professionals dedicated to driving business success using data. I'm your host, Aaron Norris here with co-host Sean O'Toole. And our special guest today is Dr. Karen Lacy. We first stumbled upon...now, Karyn, do you like to be called Dr. Lacy or Karyn? Any preference?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:00:25] Yeah, definitely. Dr. Lacy is fine.
Aaron Norris [00:00:27] I like that. You've worked really hard for that title. I always like to ask. We stumbled upon some of your work on a CalMatters podcast, Gimme Shelter, and we're fascinated with your conversation and your knowledge on all your research on the suburbs. So we're really excited to talk to you today. I guess the first question. Your background in study. You've got a B.A. in Urban Studies and Black Studies, a Master's in African-American studies and sociology and then a PhD in sociology. I would just how did you stumble into this career and why this passion?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:01:02] Well, I've always been interested in cities, and I always wondered how we could make cities better. And, Initially, I thought that I was going to be an urban planner and it went to college that required us to spend winter term doing an internship. So I worked for an urban planning office in a small city and I did not enjoy it. Before I had taken on the internship I thought that cities were not so attractive because people were unimaginative and they had people who really had good ideas that in cities would look better, functioned, function better. And one thing that I learned in the internship is that there is a lot of red tape. There's a lot of bureaucracy. And even when you come up with a really good idea, it's very hard to push that idea for a city council to convince a city manager. So there's a hierarchy that this idea has to travel through. And most ideas don't make it. And, so in that sense, the internship was really useful because it helped me to realize what I did not want to do.
Aaron Norris [00:02:35] It's very funny. I almost went back to school for urban planning as well from an arts degree and. Yeah, and lived in New York City. And I stumbled upon all this research. I was I loved the subway system and was just really curious how the five bureaus came to be and New York being so diverse. Like, how do these specific populations end up in very specific portions of town? I just, I just loved it. And then when I moved back to California and started getting involved in the city and the county, I had the same exact experience. And I shut that down real quick. Yeah.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:03:07] God bless urban planners. And they may they don't get enough credit for the ideas that they come up with and the work that they put into trying to bring them into refrigeration.
Aaron Norris [00:03:18] So then you started just to focus on the sociology instead?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:03:23] Well, I have always felt like a sociologist. I have always been sort of attentive to patterns and thinking about why we see the kind of outcomes that we do. You know, when I was a little kid, I didn't know there was a word for it. Were people who didn't learn that until I got to high school? But it's not like a natural fit. And it has been in a lot of ways.
Sean O'Toole [00:03:56] A lot of your you know, you've done research on foreclosures in the suburbs and all these things, I was looking through some of your papers. How much of your research you do is qualitative vs. quantitative?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:04:13] I mean, if not a person or almost all of it is qualitative, I do work at the University of Michigan, which is the quantitative powerhouses. Most people know. And we have exceptional graduate students. So, I am involved in a few projects that quantitative graduate students are working on with me. They run the data and then we have the analysis, we put it together. So it. It's a good marriage.
Sean O'Toole [00:04:48] Yeah, for sure. How accessible or how often is getting good data, you know, a problem in doing, you know, your research. You know, obviously on the qualitative side of it, I'm doing interviews and other things. But on the quantitative side is access to data problem or is it generally pretty good?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:05:13] Well, I'm glad you asked that question, because a lack of access to data was the motivation for Blue Chip Black, the book I wrote about the D.C. suburbs. I started out training as a demographer, which is a person who uses datasets to analyze research questions. And I was interested in how middle-class Black people decide where to live. Much of their literature on residential segregation suggests there is a lot of discrimination in the housing market. There's racial steering. There's redlining. And the literature suggested that even if you are a middle class or upper-middle class, you're still going to have a hard time getting into your neighborhood of choice. And was that was what I was really interested in exploring, and I was having trouble finding the data that included the variables that would allow me to do that. And in consultation with my dissertation advisors, we decided that I should just go down there and start to interview people about how they made their housing decisions and also to engage in ethnographic observation, which is. To the extent that you can, trying to become sort of a member of a committee or an organization to see how that institution works from their perspective, so you go down and sort of try to live the way that they do. Going to the same grocery store is that they do you driving through all the traffic they do in the D.C. metro area. You go and you shopping malls, all the things that that a person who lives in that community would do in everyday life. I tried to do as well.
Sean O'Toole [00:07:09] Wow. So that's a that's a huge commitment.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:07:13] It really is. It's it's exhausting. At the end of the day, you write field notes about what you saw and try to figure out what it means.
Aaron Norris [00:07:23] How long were you there and how many people did you have to interview?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:07:27] So it's there for two years and my goal was to interview 30 couples. So 60 people altogether and I interview the spouses separately. But in the end, there were six people who I was unable to interview because the timing was never quite right where their schedule or because the spouse just did not want to participate. So I ended up with 54 interviews that I had to transcribe. And then also all the field notes from my activations, which included going to community meetings and town halls and community events. The. um, that is in suburban communities that tend to have an annual block party. So I went to that. They do cleanup's in their communities every year, though. So, again, whatever it is that they were doing, I tried to do it as well.
Aaron Norris [00:08:35] So that's extensive for two years. You really committed.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:08:40] That's not unusual for an ethnographic project. Although I appreciate you guys recognizing how much effort it takes to pull off that kind of study.
Aaron Norris [00:08:52] There was you know, I was reading the introduction. I haven't finished your book yet, but I did buy it. And I am posting a link to it on our Web site. So Blue-Chip Black: Race, Class and Status in the New Black Middle Class. And in the introduction, you said, it was sort of sweet. You were talking about data collection and some of the data was missing or it was up against one of your professors. Can you talk a little bit about the process? Because it seems like some of the things that you were researching butted up against the data that did exist. Can you share a little bit about that?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:09:23] Yes, that is true, and normally that's a good thing, because what academics are interested in is is building on our existing knowledge base and taking that knowledge in new directions. So generally, if you find something new, that's a good thing, right, for the publication of a book or an article. The problem is that what I found ran counter to what one of my dissertation committee advisors had found. And I did not want to tell her that she was wrong. So in the department, we have colloquium sessions and graduate students present their work. And I tried to present it without saying that she was wrong. And she finally said, "just say that I was wrong." Then she, I was worried for nothing. She really didn't care at all. She's not the kind of person who is sensitive about being challenged about her work.
Aaron Norris [00:10:31] I guess I appreciate that, because it was the honesty of the data. The data was able to speak, I thought was pretty cool.
Sean O'Toole [00:10:40] I've always had a problem with this idea that, you know, flip-floppers are bad, right? Like, not to make it political, but like this idea that flip-floppers like it should all be our goal to, like, learn new things and change our opinion based on better data, like every day.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:10:57] It shouldn't be. Yes. And it also should be the case that academics are not so sensitive about someone finding a more nuanced interpretation of their work, that should be fine as well. But that isn't always the case. So the issue with my dissertation advisers work is that she had written a wonderful book called Ethnic Options, which is a study of third-generation white people and how they think about their identity. And the idea was that over time, white ethnic immigrants who came to this country exchanged their culture of origin, whether they were Polish or German or Irish, for an American identity to become a part of the American mainstream. And the sense was that they would do that voluntarily because, who would want to be a part of America? And what she found is that as discrimination against those groups declined over time. So you were no longer penalized if you were Irish in terms of where you could work or who you can marry or where you live. That those immigrants took on a white American identity that was not distinguished by ethnicity. Was it that sort of prevailing view in Washington from interviewing white ethnic, third-generation Americans is that they actually did care a lot about having an ethnic identity. They thought being just white was really boring. They called it, quote, "plain vanilla." So they were attempting to latch on to some kind of ethnicity. And often they were wrong. So there is a Polish woman who said that she celebrated her identity by eating sauerkraut. It's not representative of Polish culture. So it didn't really matter for them whether the ritual that they embraced was an authentic representation of the identity that they claim. The point was that they wanted to be something.
Sean O'Toole [00:13:17] But that's interesting. Yeah.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:13:21] But she.
Sean O'Toole [00:13:22] Go ahead.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:13:23] She argued that Black people don't have any identity options. Right. That because of the way race is defined in the U.S. and the search for meaning attached to it. Black people are just Black and that's it. And what I found in Blue-Chip Black is that, that isn't at all the way Black people, and particularly Middle-Class Black people think about their identity. They don't see themselves as defined solely by race. In every context.
Sean O'Toole [00:13:57] That's it. Yeah, I get that. You know, it's it was interesting for me. My name's Sean Patrick O'Toole, right. It's super Irish.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:14:04] Yeah.[00:14:05] I'm only three sixteen's Irish. Like, I am a true mutt and I'm more Irish than anything else. And so it's it's a really interesting, you know, saying like, you know, to identify as Irish. I'm very little Irish. Right. But my name is very Irish. And so there's all these little things and nuances. And yeah, it's. Yeah.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:14:32] And certainly I certainly tell other people when they hear your name, are going to realize that you are Irish, even though it may not be a salient identity for you. On an everyday basis.
Sean O'Toole [00:14:45] Yeah. Yeah.
Aaron Norris [00:14:48] How did you stumble upon this area in D.C. where you were aware of this already? There's two neighborhoods in the book that you talked about. I believe one was in Virginia and one in Maryland, correct?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:15:00] That's correct.
Aaron Norris [00:15:01] And the one in was, I can't remember the name, the two different areas. But you were specifically studying upper middle-class Black families and where they chose to live. But that's how you found this. How did you even find these two neighborhoods so close together?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:15:18] Well, that's another instance where data is really important. I knew I wanted to find a sample of Middle-Class Black People because I wanted to understand how if you have enough money to live wherever you want. What are your choices as opposed to people whose choices are constrained by financial limitations? So then the question was, where do I work? Do I find these mysterious Black people? So I went to the census and started to look around at different census tracts to figure out. What tracts would meet my criteria and for comparative purposes? I needed one tract that was majority Black and another tract that was predominantly white that all had the same characteristics. So the same median monthly mortgage payments. The same percentage of college graduates. The same median income. That sort of thing. And through that process, I was able to identify two community names, one in Prince George's County, which is majority Black suburb, and the other in Fairfax County, which is a predominantly white suburb. So you can see here, too, that even though I was planning to do an ethnography and to do interviews, I still had to rely on a dataset. The census in order to get started.
Aaron Norris [00:16:51] So interesting. Now, where did you live in that two years? Did you live in D.C. and sort of travel out or did you spend time in each of those neighborhoods?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:16:59] So this is where it being a poor graduate student makes life interesting. I lived on a lot of couches. So fortunately, our friends in D.C. let me say some of the time with them, and I do have an aunt and uncle who also live in the area. So a lot of living out of a suitcase.
Sean O'Toole [00:17:28] Yes. You know, one of the things we really focus on making public records data more available. So county assessor, county recorder. And there's quite a bit of information there. You know, that would be useful for you. Did you use that type of public records at all or primarily just census data?
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:17:52] We get started, I mainly use the census data because I wanted to be sure that I had the right communities for my research questions before I started the equally hard process of convincing people to participate in this study. So I definitely wanted to be sure I had the right communities. I got started in P.G. County because of the contact that I had already. But it was a lot harder to get started in Fairfax County. Initially, I tried snowball sampling, which is when you start out by asking people you've already interviewed if they have friends or contacts in the neighborhood that you hope to interview. And I did get a few leads for residents of Fairfax County from that. But when I called them, they didn't want to do it. Their friends who I'd already interviewed and said that here's a person you should contact. I'll do it. And when I contacted them, they were like, oh, no, I'm not going to do that. So. So I was really sad and thought that going to graduate, I'm going to be a baby for the rest of my life because I only have half of a comparative study. And I got to the point where I would tell anyone when I feel sorry for every stranger on the streets of D.C., because I would tell them this sob story about how I had no contacts in Fairfax County. And one day I went to a bank in downtown D.C. to open a student account and the manager there started asking me questions. What do you write in anticipation about? And I told her and I told her that I wanted to interview people in Fairfax County. Nobody would talk to me. And just by luck, she happened to live in the track that I wanted to study. And she said, you not only could you interview me, I'll also introduce you to some of my neighbors. And from there, it just took off. So you never really know where you can find the right contacts for your research.
Sean O'Toole [00:20:09] And that's the snowball started with the one the one banker, and then snowballed into completing your thing. You know what, I am thankful for hungry, you know, grad students and the rest, because otherwise these things wouldn't happen. Right. Like most of us wouldn't go go through that, right, without having that kind of angry desire. Right.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:20:35] Well, most people who have full time jobs, even if they have the desire, they lack of time, it's very time consuming to do that, to observe all day and then to come home and right up field notes. Most people who work full time this is a real impossibility to do something like that.
Sean O'Toole [00:20:55] Love to jump in, too. You know, you talk about the history of suburbs. You know, listen to CalMatters. You know, I thought some of that was really fascinating. And, you know, a you know, even I'm familiar with Levittown and some of these things, but I thought you brought a lot of interesting and I'd love to jump into that with maybe your, I don't know if he'll start with, like what you think the top takeaways, you know, should be for folks to understand about suburbs and how they originated.
Dr. Karyn Lacy [00:21:31] Okay, I'm sure. Yeah. I think the most important thing for people to understand is the FHA's role in segregating America, that the Federal Housing Administration is really the architect of residential segregation in America's suburbs. And I say that because most people think that if they want to buy a house, you identify a neighborhood or maybe two, you find a realtor, you search your house and then you just move in, and that's not at all the way that housing searches work historically for Black people who wanted to buy a house. So it's important to understand that for decades, the FHA influence where people live through the policies that the organization promoted. And I think they're most consequential policy was the adoption of the HLOC, the homeowners loan corporations, residential security maps, and those maps represented the HOLC's assignment of a rating to every block in every city in the country. And there were four categories, green and blue neighborhoods, which the HOLC felt would always appraise well. For the HOLC, the motivation was to create and standardize appraisal system that appraisers. So that appraisers at different parts of the country would be using the same criteria to evaluate properties. So, you know, 4000. This is 1933, so a four thousand dollar property in Wisconsin would reflect the same characteristics as a four thousand dollar property in Ohio. So the green and blue neighborhoods were the best ones, the yellow and red neighborhoods were the worst neighborhoods and all Black neighborhoods were assigned the red designation. Which is where the term redlining comes from. So even Black neighborhoods, they had brand new housing stock because the people living in those homes were brown.