Since the earliest days of our nation, housing and land policies have had enormous influence over where and how people of different races and ethnicities have been able to live. To address current conditions of racial inequities in housing and place-based outcomes, we need to understand the historical context in which such conditions were created and implemented. 

This timeline describes how centuries of racist and exploitive housing and land policies fostered many of the socio-economic inequities currently borne by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). Clicking through each era identified below reveals specific policy events from each that were instrumental to shaping housing outcomes for BIPOC communities, as well as whether their effects on balance produced negative, positive, or mixed results for BIPOC communities. While this timeline does not address every practice that federal, state, and local governments actively or passively used, the examples described below nonetheless reveal many of the ways that housing policies have historically and systemically enforced or facilitated racial segregation and marginalization.

  • mixed

    From the first colonial settlements through the Revolutionary War, Civil War and Reconstruction, policies at all levels of government have routinely and repeatedly sought to prevent Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) from acquiring land and having access to certain neighborhoods and amenities. These policies not only denied BIPOC-led households opportunities for economic and social mobility, but reinforced prevailing white supremacist views regarding the inferiority and deservedness of BIPOC. It was on this foundation of state-sanctioned oppression and discrimination that later housing policies were developed.

    Learn about the Pre-20th Century era.

  • mixed

    An era of growth and movement within the U.S. prompted new policies to address the changing faces and places of many citizens. Local governments began to exert considerable influence over the allocation of space within their jurisdictions, passing zoning laws that clearly delineated acceptable land use and residential patterns. Many of these zoning rules either explicitly or implicitly restricted BIPOC from living in desirable neighborhoods with better amenities. Racial covenants further limited options by attaching deed restrictions to properties preventing their lease or sale to members of designated races or ethnicities, which state and federal courts upheld as permissible. By the start of the Great Depression, residential segregation had become the norm across much of the United States.

    Learn about the 1900-1929 era.

  • mixed

    The Great Depression prompted the federal government to intervene in housing markets in new ways, both to provide more affordable housing options for citizens in need as well as to stimulate the economy through new construction. State-sanctioned segregation, however, ensured that opportunities for BIPOC to benefit from these new housing options were limited, while federally-backed lending programs designated most communities of color as unfavorable for public and private investment. Even in the run up to World War II, as increased demand for labor in new parts of the country kicked off a second great migration, BIPOC continued to face discrimination across housing markets.

    Learn about the 1929-1945 era.

  • mixed

    As the post-War suburban boom hits its stride, policymakers sought to revitalize the urban areas that had become home to most BIPOC families. Perceptions of such neighborhoods as blighted led to whole-scale removal of thriving communities, with insufficient compensation or alternative housing options provided to displaced households. Meanwhile, the expanded supply of public and subsidized housing offered a solution to affordability challenges faced by many low-income households but exacerbated the isolation and concentration of poverty within majority-BIPOC neighborhoods. The Civil Rights era finally prompted policy action to acknowledge these injustices but did little to undo the harm caused by centuries of discrimination.

    Learn about the 1945-1968 era.

  • mixed

    While the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act banned overt racial discrimination in housing, weak enforcement of the Act coupled with local control over most housing policies diminished the act’s practical effect. This left neighborhoods across the U.S. largely segregated by race and socio-economic status. Some progress in efforts to address the legacy of past policies that fostered inequities in housing markets was achieved, particularly at the state level, though their impacts were mostly marginal. Meanwhile, a new political era sought to curb perceived dependence on government by significantly reducing support and funding for affordable housing programs designed to serve low-income and BIPOC communities.

    Learn about the 1968-1998 era.

  • mixed

    Federal deregulation of mortgage and banking activities offered a new option for low-income and BIPOC communities to access housing and build wealth, but ended up disproportionately harming the same households these measures were meant to assist. The fallout from the collapse of the housing and mortgage market exposed deep inequities in housing outcomes and the need to revisit traditional ways of building, funding, and managing housing. Finally, a global pandemic and renewed push for racial equity forced all levels of government to finally address the effect of past policies and the importance of housing in driving access to opportunity.

    Learn about the 1998-now era.

This resource was made possible through the generous support of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Unless otherwise specifically stated, the views and opinions expressed in the report are solely those of the report’s author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of JPMorgan Chase & Co. or its affiliates.