Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

Dispatches from Terrell Homes

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The Terrell Homes public housing project, with over 200 units situated in Newark’s Ironbound area, has again been proposed for demolition by the Newark Housing Authority, in the face of residents’ protests. The Terrell Homes is comprised of primarily black residents, who make up 10% of the 07105 zip code where the housing development sits; demolition of the units could significantly lower the proportion of black residents in the Ironbound neighborhood and therefore violate the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.

A hallmark of President Obama’s fair housing legacy is the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires that cities and regions regularly assess fair housing with data provided by HUD, with the intention of using this data to direct actions at reducing disparity and increasing integration. While this rule is subject to change by upcoming legislation, it has furthered the conversation about the deleterious effects of concentrated poverty.

In a statement to CLiME, a representative from the Newark Housing Authority wrote:

“It is not a foregone conclusion that the demolition of Terrell Homes will lower the minority population within the zip code.  In the same area, the NHA also owns Pennington Court and Hyatt Court, of which most of the residents are also black. Does the 10% to which you refer include these populations? Moreover, Terrell Homes residents who desire to remain in the area are free to find a rental property in the zip code with the HCV, if s/he qualifies, move into a vacant public housing units at one of the two remaining public housing sites in the Ironbound.  It is important to note that a significant non-black minority population co-exists within the zip code, according to the 2010 Census Data.” 

To us residents and scholars of Newark, we know that the Ironbound is the primary ‘white’ area of Newark, attributed to its legacy of Portuguese and Brazilian immigration. It is important to note that according to the U.S. Census, the City of Newark is 11% non-Hispanic white; yet within 07105 zip code, the population is 34% non-Hispanic white. The City as a whole is 52% black, compared to this zip code’s black population of 10%. Many people of Brazilian descent that I know personally, are not even sure how to answer Census racial identification since the country has a rich history of racial mixture, but is not Spanish speaking. The U.S. Census reports that 20% of Newark’s population is ‘Other’ race; and 38% of the population in the 07105 zip code identifies as ‘Other’.

The displacement of black Newarkers cannot be offset by an influx of the ‘non-black minority population’ to which the NHA representative refers. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva writes that with the ‘one-drop’ rule, the Unites States were initially divided into white and non-white Americans, with white Americans reaping the benefits of a racial hierarchy. Dr. Bonilla-Silva hypothesizes that the racial binary has now shifted into a black and non-black division, with social structures increasingly burdening black Americans with lives of poverty, incarceration, and life-threatening bigotry.

The proposed demolition of the Terrell Homes not only exemplifies Newark’s gentrification at the expense of the City’ majority black population, but is representative of a national trend. CLiME Director David Troutt writes that “equality, like inequality, is an outcome that can be measured in finite terms, but equity is a process that directs the achievement of equal outcomes.” East Ward Councilman Augusto Amadore reported to that he will fight for Terrell residents to remain in Ironbound area, but the means of attaining this are yet to be determined. Throughout American cities, we see an increase of services coinciding with the removal of black residents. As Spike Less asks about gentrification in New York City, “…why does it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed-Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

While the NHA’s proposal to demolish the Terrell Homes prompts us to ask where the thousands of residents from the development will relocate, it begs an even deeper look into our nation’s patterns of urban development and gentrification. Why is it that even in a majority black city like Newark, fair housing recommendations are thwarted while black Americans are pushed farther away from the few resources available for increasing opportunity.