America Divided: A House Divided

America Divided: A House Divided

Mar 13, 2020
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From EPIX: Norman Lear explores the housing divide in New York City, where he is confronted by one of the nation’s starkest images of inequality: a record number of homeless people living in the shadows of luxury skyscrapers filled with apartments purposely being kept empty. The creator of “All in the Family,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” speaks with tenants, realtors, homeless people, housing activists, landlords and city officials — investigating the Big Apple’s affordability crisis, hedge fund speculation on residential housing, and a legacy of racist discrimination that still persists today.

America Divided: A House Divided: Transcription

Speaker 1:

Right now, I'm technically homeless. I used to live here. I'm staying with a friend of mine. We were pushed out of this building. Increasing rent rates and the landlord just decided he was not renewing leases, get out in 30 days. She kept saying "Why can't we go back home? What's going on?" But I just explained to her that home is family. As long as we're together you are home.

Norman Lear:

These days I am hearing there are more homeless people in New York City than at any time since the Great Depression. A record 60,000 in the city shelter system, including 23,000 children. I can't fucking believe it. The homeless are a city within a city. Many got that way simply because they can't afford to live here. Today there isn't a single neighborhood in the five boroughs where someone working full-time on the state's minimum wage can afford the average rent.

Michael Stivic:

The problem is our income, it's too low for private development, it's too high for city housing.

Archie Bunker:

Why don't you take a cut in wages and move into the slums?

Norman Lear:

Back in the seventies I tried using humor to call attention to some things that were plaguing America. New York was my canvas. Now I'm back here on a mission to find out what's changed. How tough the struggle for a home can still be, and what we can do about it.

Speaker 5:

It's a system that effectively sweeps millions of poor people into second class status. Did we invest in those communities? No, instead we declared war.

Speaker 23:

[inaudible 00:02:41]

Speaker 6:

What we have today is a wealth gap that is huge.

Speaker 7:

We are dying with undrinkable water. We are dying with undrinkable water.

Speaker 12:

The working class have been hammered.

Speaker 8:

These are human beings. These are people working with me to get that point across.

Speaker 23:

[inaudible 00:03:02]

Speaker 9:

The cops are telling us that we're not doing enough. It's causing us to explode.

Speaker 10:

It is not, sir, a matter of opinion anymore, it is clearly exposed.

Speaker 13:

What do we do?

Speaker 14:

Stand up right now.

Speaker 13:

They can only win by dividing America.

Speaker 15:

We know, but The way things are working, they aren't working at all.

Speaker 11:

If you just keep pushing. If you just keep trying. If You refuse to let the nightmares have the last say, eventually the dawn will break, the sun will come out and you will be in a brand new bed.

Speaker 16:

Where there is no struggle, there can be no progress.

Dolly Lenz:

Hi Jenny, how are you?

Jenny Lenz:

Hello, how are you?

Dolly Lenz:

I am thrilled to introduce you to Norman Lear, Jenny Lenz.

Jenny Lenz:

Hi, it's so nice to meet you.

Norman Lear:

Good To meet you also. This is the place.

Jenny Lenz:

23 million dollars. You'll see why in a second.

Dolly Lenz:

It was all redone. It's all beautiful marble floors, gold leaf on the ceiling. We have four bedrooms and a library. You see the George Washington Bridge, you see the Palisades. The views here are fairly protected. Under current zoning they can never be changed. And the plaza which is better to look down on than be in.

Norman Lear:

This is Dolly Lenz and her daughter Jenny. Dolly grew up poor in the Bronx. Her dad was a factory worker and now she's one of Manhattan's top real estate brokers.

Dolly Lenz:

When I started 30 years ago my clients were mostly doctors and lawyers. Today my clients are centi-millionaires, billionaires. It changed dramatically because the complexion of the city in that period, changed dramatically.

Norman Lear:

I was reading about some extremely expensive apartments that stay empty. We're going to see a hell of a view here I suspect.

Dolly Lenz:

In this building it's almost exclusively foreigners. So they're buying a 90 million dollar apartment. Literally, a 100 million dollar apartment, a 53 million dollar apartment. They're from China, they're from every part of the world. And they're looking at it as a safety deposit box. How can I get money out of my country into a safety deposit box here.

Norman Lear:

They're sold?

Dolly Lenz:

Yes.

Norman Lear:

They're occupied?

Dolly Lenz:

Yes. Well, they're sold.

Norman Lear:

And they stay empty 90 percent of the time.

Dolly Lenz:

Yes.

Norman Lear:

This situation is depriving people of places to live where average people used to live.

Dolly Lenz:

I think it's a disaster. And I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. How do you save the money for the down payment when the average price of a one bedroom is in excess of a million dollars. It's a one bedroom, it's not a family. See I felt 30 years ago I had a chance. Right? I don't feel that young people have the feeling they have that chance.

Norman Lear:

But this is America. Equal opportunity, what do you mean there isn't a chance.

Dolly Lenz:

There isn't a chance for upward mobility the way there was for my generation. We can talk about it, but it doesn't exist.

Norman Lear:

Since the middle class is being forced out of Manhattan, landlords in the outer boroughs have plans to capitalize.

Speaker 19:

The noise can be unsettling as you can hear, I have to raise my voice even louder. Oh, Gee, I don't want to stay out here too long. Okay. Yeah. We should ask to secure your door.

Speaker 20:

Okay.

Speaker 19:

And when the children come home

Speaker 21:

Yeah, because it won't be so long now

Speaker 19:

Yeah, I know.

Speaker 21:

[inaudible 00:07:31]

Speaker 19:

I hear him coughing.

Speaker 21:

Yes.

Speaker 19:

Don't let him come out. If you don't like it, you can move. If it's too much noise, you can move. This dust didn't cause it. We're not working that long. So, whatever you're going through, it's not because of us. They care nothing about my life. The only thing they want to do is get three times as much money for this apartment that I'm paying now. They care about their construction, I care about my life.

Letita James:

This is one of the buildings that's on my worst landlord list. He unfortunately is engaging in tactics which amount to harassment of tenants. He claims that he is renovating the building but he is renovating the buildings in violation of the law. He is doing the work without permits, there's dust, there's debris, there's rodents.

Norman Lear:

Why is he doing that?

Letita James:

Because he wants them out. He wants to raise the rents.

Norman Lear:

But these people wish to stay where they are and they have leases.

Letita James:

That's right. And he's creating hostile conditions so that some of them give up and move out. And he is displacing those residents who happen to be black. He will be replacing them with individuals who can pay the rent. Who in all likelihood are white.

Norman Lear:

Are white. I guess I am not old enough to understand how a man can be breaking the law so thoroughly and not be arrested, or not stopped from doing it.

Letita James:

Most landlords just pay the fines. It's the cost of doing business.

Norman Lear:

Is the next stop for some of these people homelessness?

Letita James:

Some of them will wind up in our shelters. Some of them will wind up with their families, doubled and tripled up.

Norman Lear:

Oh, my goodness.

Letita James:

And I know landlords are going to say it's just not fair, you purchase a piece of real estate.

Norman Lear:

In the free enterprise system you have every right to do what you want.

Letita James:

Exactly, the question is process. Are you engaging in illegal activity and are you doing it in a way that disproportionally affects people of color?

Speaker 24:

I've lived here for 38 years, me and my mom.

Speaker 25:

My name is Gertrude [Jeffmore] I moved here in the sixties, I don't remember the exact year.

Julie Lewis:

My name is Julie Lewis I've lived here since 1973.

Prunella Ratherite:

My name is [Prunella Ratherite] and I'm living here 38 years now.

Norman Lear:

My name is Norman Lear and I've been in this building oh, 20 minutes.

Speaker 29:

In 2014 that cold winter, they renovated the apartment next door to me and the one above me. No walls, no ceilings, no floors, no windows, and it was 10 degrees outside and we had no heat or hot water. Those are the tactics they use to displace you.

Julie Lewis:

A lot of people who are here were sick. All this dust and everything had to keep the windows down. And the noise is mind-boggling. It makes you want to scream.

Speaker 28:

I brought it all to the attention of the landlord and his agent and nothing has been done. He looks at me and asks me do I want to move. So that's bullying and harassment. He's not only asked me once, but he's asked me three times. And I told him do not ask me anymore.

Speaker 29:

There's no respect. I want you out because your rent is low. You pay $1000, I can get $2500 for that apartment, I'm going to make your life miserable.

Speaker 28:

My concern is not only for myself but it's for the seniors in here. It's for the people who are sick in here, people who are on pensions and social security in here. We were here during the crack epidemic. We were here when the Crown Heights riot. We looked out for this building. But who's going to look out for us now?

Speaker 30:

Most holy and gracious God, source of compassion, source of justice, we invoke Your holy presence here this morning on behalf of all those struggling to obtain truly affordable housing.

Speaker 31:

What do we want?

Speaker 32:

Affordable housing

Speaker 31:

When do we want it?

Speaker 32:

Now.

Speaker 31:

What do we want?

Speaker 32:

Affordable housing.

Speaker 31:

When do we want it?

Speaker 32:

Now.

Speaker 33:

Get up. Get down. There's a housing crisis in this town.

Speaker 33:

Get up. Get down. There's a housing crisis in this town.

Norman Lear:

I have a sense of gentrification. But if I were asked to explain it I couldn't. How do you explain it?

Cea Weaver:

I think everyone can agree on a definition on what gentrification is. What people can't agree on is whether or not the changes that occur in the neighborhood that's gentrifying are good or bad. And what is causing them. For us, we believe that gentrification is caused by landlords and bankers and real estate speculators working together to drive up the cost of housing.

Norman Lear:

Today I'm hanging out with Cea Weaver, one of a new breed of housing activists who are contending with a new faceless breed of landlords.

Cea Weaver:

We see private equity companies who are buying rent stabilized building in Crown Heights.

Norman Lear:

They're not thinking about the people who want to live in New York City, they're thinking about parking money here.

Cea Weaver:

Yes. Yes. I mean landlords are buying building for profit and profit alone. A private equity landlord is backed by investors. They want huge returns in a short period of time. You think of a landlord as somebody who you can call to get your ceiling fixed or who's going to help you get your apartment painted or help you get a new apartment if you're trying to move. Landlords like that are rarer and rarer in New York City.

Norman Lear:

Cea wants to show me what all of this looks like from a tenants perspective. And she takes me out to Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Norman Lear:

Hi, how are you?

Natasha:

Hi, I'm Natasha.

Norman Lear:

Hi, I'm Norman, it's good to meet you.

Natasha:

Good to meet you.

Norman Lear:

Hey, everybody. What's your name?

Hialeah:

Hialeah.

Norman Lear:

Hialeah. And you?

Rondel:

My name is Rondel.

Norman Lear:

Hi, I'm Norman. All of these guys were born here?

Natasha:

Yes. All of them. Yes. It was like 200 and something dollars when we started to pay rent here. And now I pay 992.

Norman Lear:

And now he wants to do what?

Natasha:

Now he wants to raise it to 2139.

Norman Lear:

He wants to go from 900 to 2100 in one leap.

Natasha:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Norman Lear:

And his reason?

Natasha:

He said Crown Heights is the new Manhattan.

Norman Lear:

Can you just afford the 2100 dollars?

Natasha:

No I cannot afford the 2100 dollars. I have a 19 year old in college. I'm self employed.

Norman Lear:

My heart goes immediately to your little one there. A world that treats her fairly.

Natasha:

If I sit back and allow him to do what he do to me, what's going to happen to them when they get older? Where are they going to live?

Norman Lear:

Cea tells me none of this would be happening if big corporations weren't taking over so many residential buildings in poor neighborhoods, and expecting such high returns. I need to talk to someone who's on the inside of that.

Boaz Gilad:

Brooklyn is crazy hot. There's a huge wave of new people coming here, Bushwick, East Williamsburg, Crown Heights, those areas definitely are full of people who are young, creators, etc. etc. Brooklyn was a blue collar borough, there's no doubt about it. It's not longer the case. Brooklyn is a brand. It's the new Manhattan.

Boaz Gilad:

Hello, how are you. It's nice to meet you.

Norman Lear:

And meeting you too,

Boaz Gilad:

Likewise. Here we have some of our projects. We have 47 projects in Brooklyn. We build,

Norman Lear:

47 projects?

Boaz Gilad:

47 projects. Over a thousand units. I have German pension funds speaking with us about investments and I'm originally from Israel, Israeli funds are investing in Brooklyn.

Norman Lear:

Your foreign investors?

Boaz Gilad:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Norman Lear:

What return do you have to promise them?

Boaz Gilad:

Promise is a different word to use in economics but we're looking at 20 percent and north annual return to the business.

Norman Lear:

Well that's a figure that I've heard in a couple of other situations where the landlords are working as hard as they can to evict.

Boaz Gilad:

Yes. I know that world because I'm in real estate. The economical pressure on the system and the lack of housing available in New York City in general causes people to be aggressive about vacancies and do illegal things. We don't do that. Listen, there's many ways to make money and you have to put your head on the pillow at the end of the day and see if you feel comfortable with what you did. I'm not trying to protect that industry. People who do not by law but when you have international money, when you have a lot of big corporations investing in those areas, they could care less about what you do to get those returns, they want as high a return as possible.

Norman Lear:

I think of it in the most simplistic terms. Those people who are working hard for a living, who are never going to make more than a modest living wage, they're good people, they're raising kids, they want to get their kids educated and so forth. Why can't there be enough affordable housing for those people who are going to work here and service those people who can more than afford to live here.

Boaz Gilad:

The reality of life is that financial forces think short-term. They want to make money. If I'm selling an apartment for $800,000 which is the kind of prices I am selling between $500,000 to $800,000 apartment and I am now selling it for $150,000 to affordable, someone has to pay for the gap. Someone has to pay for the cost of my construction, for the cost of my land. So if I don't have a financial incentive to sell the apartment for $150,000 why would I do that? Just from the kindness of my heart? Yes, we could do that once or twice but not as a business plan.

Norman Lear:

So if it's not a business plan. Who's going to offer developers and landlords the incentive to build affordable housing?

Bill de Blasio:

Brothers and sisters, [spanish 00:18:49] we did it. We now have a law. A law that says real estate developers can do their work and build their buildings but whenever they come to the city, you have to guarantee us affordable housing.

Norman Lear:

Bill de Blasio's plan to allow new building but require affordable housing sounds reasonable to me. But I hear it's very controversial. So, before I go interview the mayor, I'm sitting down with a few housing activists to see what they think.

Sam Stein:

We have a saying in the tenant movement, real estate in New York is like oil in Texas, anyone who loves this city has to see that the spirit of gentrification is changing what it means to be a New Yorker, changing what New York is, and a lot of us are very committed to stopping that and to instituting a different vision of what we could be doing in this city.

Norman Lear:

That's Sam Stein, an activist and academic who researches housing issues at the City University of New York.

Norman Lear:

Oh, hi Michelle, how are you?

Michelle Neugebauer:

Hi.

Norman Lear:

Michelle Neugebauer runs a housing non-profit in one of Brooklyn's poorest neighborhoods. They try to buy properties to devote to affordable housing before the private equity firms can get them.

Norman Lear:

Guess what the subject was.

Michelle Neugebauer:

Gentrification?

Norman Lear:

Yeah.

Rob Robinson:

How about ethnic cleansing? Is that too strong of a statement?

Norman Lear:

Ethnic cleansing?

Rob Robinson:

It's a little powerful and people often will tie it to killing and murder. In a way it is, you're killing off people's lifetimes and exactly, displacement has an effect. A long term effect that people don't often think about.

Norman Lear:

That's Rob Robinson, his ideas may sound extreme but he says they're based on lived experience. Years ago, he tells us, he was living in Florida, had a long term desk job. When he was suddenly let go. He ended up on the streets, for years.

Norman Lear:

Did you ever guess as to how many there are?

Rob Robinson:

In New York City alone probably about 20,000 people who have a work history, capable of working. But the economic situation makes it difficult.

Sam Stein:

We have a self-professed progressive mayor who has been able to accomplish a lot of things. And yet when it comes to housing we haven't had a fresh approach that really takes the fundamental right to housing seriously. Mayor de Blasio's housing plan is not exactly what it sounds like.

Norman Lear:

But more good than bad?

Sam Stein:

I don't know. More the same than different.

Norman Lear:

We talk a long time. They threw around a bunch of numbers. In a nutshell they say the affordable housing in the mayor's plan is simply not affordable to most people living in the poor neighborhoods, where the plan is being launched.

Michelle Neugebauer:

We think the housing should match the incomes of the people that live in the neighborhood now.

Norman Lear:

The mayor sees what you see. Would he, if he were sitting here just tell you he doesn't agree with you?

Michelle Neugebauer:

I think he thinks that by building more affordable housing, regardless of who it's affordable for, that's going to solve gentrification.

Norman Lear:

And you're saying in response to that,

Michelle Neugebauer:

You're wrong. It's going to increase gentrification.

Rob Robinson:

Sometimes we have to look in the mirror, I don't care who we are, and reflect about what we're doing, how we live, are we living by principles and values? Right? That values community and other people and all people.

Sam Stein:

We should all be working on changing people's values and people's minds but policy is often where it starts and what drives it.

Rob Robinson:

So part of the problem, Norman, is political will.

Bill de Blasio:

You met my wife, Chirlane, back in Los Angeles.

Norman Lear:

Hi, yes, yes, yes, hi.

Bill de Blasio:

A few years back.

Norman Lear:

Hi it's good to see you again.

Chirlane de Blasio:

It's good to see you again. Hello.

Norman Lear:

Oh, we can do that.

Bill de Blasio:

Yes. A free country.

Norman Lear:

How are you sir?

Bill de Blasio:

So good to see you. When an American icon is at city hall we stop everything.

Norman Lear:

Oh.

Bill de Blasio:

So you qualify.

Norman Lear:

So, my interest is discussing housing. The homeless, I mean I understand there's some 60,000 people homeless.

Bill de Blasio:

Almost

Norman Lear:

And 23,000 of them are children.

Bill de Blasio:

Even as late as 2002, folks in our homeless shelters were primarily single individuals. Today the typical shelter resident is a member of a family with something very specific to do each day. It's a child who goes to school or it's someone who goes off to work sadly typically to a low wage job. But they cannot afford better than a shelter. And what's happened, one part because of the recession knocking so many people out economically. But also because of gentrification.

Norman Lear:

You don't want that.

Bill de Blasio:

It's not that I don't want it. Gentrification is a double-edged sword. With it comes a lot of investment in communities and in many ways improvements in a lot of the things that are in those communities but at the same time way too much displacement and upsetting of the opportunities for folks who have been in the community for a long time.

Norman Lear:

So what do you do? What have you done about it?

Bill de Blasio:

We have passed a law requiring developers to create affordable housing. If they don't create affordable housing, they do not get a permit to build.

Norman Lear:

But there's also an organization or perhaps a couple of organizations that feel that rezoning, that your administration is responsible for is resulting in gentrification.

Bill de Blasio:

If you've got a supply of housing, because of the free market, is becoming less and less accessible, you can subsidize some to keep it affordable for people. But you've got to build new housing too.

Norman Lear:

Is your plan really going to open up the dor to speculation? That's the bottom line.

Bill de Blasio:

Speculation is going to happen one way or another. I fundamentally believe that. Anyone who thinks there are neighborhoods that will be untouched by change is kidding themselves. So there are some that almost, I think, suggest, better to leave a neighborhood in tough shape than to take the risk of development. I argue that's not fair to the residents of those neighborhoods. We can put stronger rules into the process, we can put more requirements for affordable housing into the process, we can put government investment and subsidies into the process, that's how we create some balance and fairness into the equation, it's the best shot we got.

Speaker 44:

So Mr. Jefferson if you wan the loan you'll just have to locate your store in a more respectable neighborhood.

George Jefferson:

Oh, you mean like a white neighborhood?

Speaker 44:

That's a thought.

Norman Lear:

Back in the seventies our shows reflected what I thought was a national consensus that race relations needed to be discussed,

Speaker 46:

That boy is a white racist word.

Speaker 47:

Michael,

Norman Lear:

And solved.

Michael Stivic:

Whereas we got our fair share of colored in this street.

Archie Bunker:

Whereas we got our fair share of colored in this street. Get out of here!

Gloria Stivic:

What?

Michael Stivic:

That's a petition.

Archie Bunker:

It ain't a petition. It's a letter for the people who live in this street.

Gloria Stivic:

To who?

Archie Bunker:

To some people that we don't want living in this street.

Michael Stivic:

Oh, Arch, what do you want to start this thing up for again?

Gloria Stivic:

Oh, Daddy, isn't it a little, late the Jeffersons have been living here for over two years.

Archie Bunker:

This letter ain't got nothing to do with the Jeffersons. The Jeffersons are different.

Michael Stivic:

Why are the Jeffersons different?

Archie Bunker:

Because one colored family is a novelty and two is a ghetto.

Michael Stivic:

What?

Gloria Stivic:

Daddy!

Norman Lear:

These days as I meet people living on the edge, I can't help but notice that just about all of them are people of color. Why is so little changed in America? Is skin color still destiny? I've come to see someone who's spent years studying this question.

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

I really first got interested in segregation as a young child when I started getting bused from a black neighborhood in Waterloo Iowa to go to white schools across the other side of town. It became very clear to me that people were living in very different types of neighborhoods and often that corresponded with their race. But when people have the chance to live in integrated neighborhoods people do see that we're all pretty much the same and we all pretty much want the same things. The problem is in this country it's so rare that we get that opportunity and especially in cities like New York.

Norman Lear:

When I think about segregation, it's in the South.

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Believe it or not, when it comes to housing segregation the North is worse than the South. New York is actually the third most segregated city in the country. All of the most segregated cities in the country are in the North.

Norman Lear:

Can you say that New York City is the third most segregated city in the country?

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Yes. In the 1930s we had the Great Depression and the federal government decides that it's going to build the Middle Class by ensuring federal loans for homes. It took a map of the city and the government decided that neighborhoods that were white got the best rating, and neighborhoods that were integrated or were mixed got a lesser rating and a neighborhoods that were black got the worst rating. And those neighborhoods were literally outlined in red marker, red-lining. For the first 30 years black Americans were almost entirely excluded, 98 percent of those loans went to white Americans. We saw the largest expansion of the white Middle Class in the history of our country. And all of that wealth mostly was coming from housing, and so what we have today is a wealth gap that is huge. The average or median wealth of a white family is 140,000 and the median wealth of a black family is 7,000.

Norman Lear:

140,

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

To 7,000. If I'm a young white kid and I'm going to college, I don't have to take out a student loan, because my parents have wealth in their house that they can take out to help me get through college. If I'm a young black kid more likely I'm going to have to take out a loan to go to college and in fact we know black Americans are the most likely to take out loans and also take out the largest loan amount. Even though they have the least wealth to pay it back. Then I'm a white kid and I graduate and I go into teaching and maybe I'm making 35,000 dollars a year, well my parents can give me a down payment to buy into a good neighborhood. A black kid is going to have to make it on his own. Same income, but isn't going to be able to buy into that good neighborhood. You just either pass on your privilege or your disadvantage to the next generation.

Norman Lear:

It must be so hard for Americans listening to this to believe their government could behave that way.

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

I'd say it's hard for white Americans. I think for black Americans it's very easy to believe that our government behaves this way. And then you have this myth that if a lot of black people move into a neighborhood the property values go down. That's actually true. It's true though because of the way the federal government rated integrated neighborhoods. But we've come to believe it's true because black people just don't keep up their properties. So you see the way that the reality can be fueled by a myth.

Norman Lear:

Reality can be fueled by a myth?

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Yes, absolutely.

Norman Lear:

And is our government doing anything about that?

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Well, we have fair housing laws now. We don't have fair housing yet. I don't think we realize how much effort went into creating segregation. We had cooperation from individual home owners all the way up to the federal government to reorder our society in a way that harmed black Americans and helped white Americans. So you have to break it up, you have to do what you did to create it.

Norman Lear:

To end segregation you have to break it up. I agree. But how can you fight something that's so widespread and so subtle.

Fred Freiberg:

When you ask about an apartment, you're looking for a one bedroom. So if he offers a studio, that's too small. If he offers a bigger size unit that's probably going to be too expensive, so you're sticking with a one bedroom.

LB Williams:

So when is the apartment available? Priced range. You have an apartment, make 41,000 a year, my wife Suzanne makes 29,000. I've been at my job for four years, she's been at her job for six. I'll have to remember my phone number.

Fred Freiberg:

Yes, you'll have to remember your phone number.

Fred Freiberg:

It's not unlike many others you've done in the past.

Norman Lear:

My name is Roger White

Fred Freiberg:

Roger Shawn.

Norman Lear:

Oh, the White means I'm white.

Norman Lear:

So my name is Roger Shawn, my wife's name is Mona, she works at Calvary Hospital and we're looking for 13 to 1500 dollars one bedroom. We're doing that because my wife would love to be a little closer to where she works. She is now 30 years old.

Norman Lear:

Fred Freiberg's group is an investigative outfit that hires actors to pretend they're searching for apartments. Today that's what I'm doing. I'll be carrying a hidden camera to find out whether a landlord racially discriminates. Will the landlord tell one thing to me and another to LB? If the landlord treats us differently Fred's center intends to sue him.

Fred Freiberg:

We did test a number of building in the neighborhood you're going to and found this one was in fact discriminating based on race.

Norman Lear:

Your organization has been in business for 11 years and you've sued often, I understand.

Fred Freiberg:

We do sue often when we find discrimination. We have not lost a case.

Norman Lear:

But why are you doing, you're exceedingly white.

Fred Freiberg:

Yes. But I realize the harm that comes to everybody including white people living in a segregated society. I know I was greatly impaired growing up in a segregated white neighborhood going to segregated white schools. Not having contact with people of other races and cultures impaired by ability to function in a more multi-racial society.

LB Williams:

It's LB Williams tagging in as Lawrence Williams.

Producer:

So that is record,

Norman Lear:

Is this the camera?

Producer:

Yeah this is the camera. The camera is right there, so when it fits in your pocket, and that's right, it's perfect.

Fred Freiberg:

If your housing justice center is a non-profit, civil rights organization based here in New York City, what we did this past week, here in New York, is we tested in a predominantly white neighborhood and sent LB Williams and Norman Lear. And we actually have an audio and video account of what occurred during these visits. So this is LB's recording.

LB Williams:

Hi, are you the landlord?

Landlord:

Yes sir.

LB Williams:

My wife and I are looking for a one bedroom apartment.

Landlord:

Last month I rented one, two months ago I rented two. In the moment I have no vacancies here.

LB Williams:

Okay, no vacancies?

Landlord:

No. At the moment.

LB Williams:

Okay, when do you think you'll have one that will be available?

Landlord:

One bedroom, I don't expect. Two bedroom I don't expect. Maybe studio, middle of next month.

LB Williams:

Okay.

Norman Lear:

He clearly said there was no one bedroom available.

LB Williams:

Clearly. He said it several times.

Fred Freiberg:

So this was basically Tuesday night and then Wednesday morning you visited the same landlord.

Norman Lear:

Hey, how you doing? My wife was here the other day, I guess she saw that sign. We're looking for a one bedroom apartment.

Landlord:

I'm going to have a studio here and I have one bedroom in Pelham Bay.

Norman Lear:

Uh-huh, I think I know where that is. And the studio here

Landlord:

Studio I'm going to have the end of the month here.

Norman Lear:

Uh-huh, I thank you very much sir.

Fred Freiberg:

You got told about a studio apartment in that building that was coming available

Norman Lear:

A one bedroom apartment was available that he was willing to show me and a studio.

Fred Freiberg:

The one bedroom according to the recording is in Pelham Bay on Wellman Avenue. Another predominantly white neighborhood.

Norman Lear:

Last night, the way LB was treated, was that a surprise to you?

Fred Freiberg:

No, it was not because we had previously investigated this building and done multiple African-American White tests at this building and the exact conduct that we observed on your test, we observed three additional previous times. The way this housing provider does business is to discriminate against African-Americans.

Norman Lear:

Isn't that against the law?

Fred Freiberg:

It is.

Norman Lear:

So why hasn't something been done about it?

Fred Freiberg:

Well, I think part of it goes to this issue of the type of discrimination it is. If LB had been a bona fide apartment seeker he would have had no idea that the agent was lying to him about availabilities. So you would have no inclination to file a housing discrimination complaint.

Norman Lear:

So, everything we're talking about, how pervasive is this?

Fred Freiberg:

I think it still accounts for much of the segregation that we see in our metropolitan regions. It's one of the prominent factors I think in why we don't move more quickly toward a more integrated society.

Gene Capello:

I think people of color carry additional baggage through no fault of their own that white people don't worry about essentially. There's this issue that you always have to be aware of that someone is going to look at you differently, not for what you are, essentially but for what you look like.

LB Williams:

It always saddens me but consistently says to me, as an African-American, that I'm less than. And that's a horrible feeling to feel.

Gene Capello:

You deserve a lot of credit for doing this.

LB Williams:

I feel like I have to. It's my way of making a difference.

Fred Freiberg:

I think hopefully shining a light on the problem in this form, by bringing the lawsuits that we subsequently will in response to these situations will show the government it is possible to uncover this discriminatory conduct, but you've got to devote the enforcement resources to do it.

Norman Lear:

When we spoke yesterday I stopped by, I was looking for an apartment, that one bedroom apartment, my wife had seen the sign. Can we make a date to look at that, we're interested.

Norman Lear:

The time has come to confront the landlord who discriminated against LB. Telling him no one bedroom apartments were available.

Norman Lear:

All right we'll see you at 9:30 at 2854. Thank you.

Norman Lear:

I must say I'm good at this. Jesus.

Norman Lear:

I spent my career creating characters whose lives would shine a light on our divided society. The point was to move beyond the divisions. But being a part of this experiment has shown me that racism still stains our country through subtle words and gestures that shut people of color out of neighborhoods and out of opportunity. The landlord's actions placed me on one side of the divide. And LB on the other. Now I want to see how he will answer for himself.

Norman Lear:

With a hidden camera and a producer posing as my daughter we continue the charade as he shows us an apartment in the building.

Landlord:

Those two windows, there's the kitchen [inaudible 00:41:02]

Producer:

Do you remember that face? Because he came looking for an apartment just the other day. And you told him the one bedroom or studio was unavailable.

Landlord:

I don't have a one bedroom.

Producer:

You have one at Wellman avenue that we were supposed to see today.

Norman Lear:

I'm sorry to accost you this way. But there were no blacks in the building and you're not going to rent to blacks in the building.

Landlord:

Come with me. Come with me. Get out of my way.

Landlord:

I don't want the cameras here.

Norman Lear:

The landlord says he will take us to meet some of his black tenants. But after we enter the building he changes his mind and says he doesn't want to disturb them.

Norman Lear:

He lied, I believe. And he represents a good deal of America. And I'm not sad because they're bad guys, I'm sad because we don't have a culture that discusses this with them and with the so-called good guys. We're all going to have to know about it, think about it, talk about it before we ever get past it. I feel sadder for having done it because this is our America and it isn't what we promised.

A Matter of Place

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A Matter of Place shines a bright light on housing discrimination, one of the most shrouded and misunderstood civil rights issues in America.

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