Black History Moment from Bridgette Russell, Managing Director of NHS of New Haven and The HomeOwnership Center

Bridgette Russell, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven and HomeOwnership Center Managing Director, shares a Black History Moment. She explains the real estate terms and practices of “blockbusting” and “steering” through her own experiences and memories.

“Hi! My name is Bridgette Russell and I work as the Managing Director here at Neighborhood Housing Services and The HomeOwnership Center.


My Black History Moment for you today is about two terminologies that were rampant within the real estate community. One is blockbusting and the other is steering.


So, I’m going to use myself for this example. So, when I was a little girl, around three years old, my parents moved to Washington DC. My dad was a young journalist. He had just gotten a job in the government working for the United States Information Agency which today is the International Communications Agency. And so, my mom was house hunting, looking for houses, found a lovely three-bedroom, half-duplex in Ritz Park in the northeast section of Washington DC. Now I remember we lived in this beautiful black community, a strong community, good solid neighbors, just beautifully kept.


And my mom happens to mention one day, the fact that this neighborhood used to be all white. So, my mother tells me the story that when she moved in, every day from the day that they moved in, they would wake up and she would recount the tale of opening up the door and finding for-sale signs. New for-sale signs every day. So, by the time a year had passed, I was four years old, it was entirely an African American community. It was during the time of white flight when a lot of whites were leaving the urban areas and running to the suburbs because they feared integration. So that terminology that I want you guys to know is blockbusting.


And what is blockbusting? This is something that was rampant and that realtors did. They would knock on the door after we moved in of one of the neighbors and say, ‘Hey, you know a black family moved in? You know what that means. Property values are going to go down. You better sell your house and you better get out while you can.’ So, every day all of these for sale signs would come on.


The second terminology that I want to talk to you about is one called steering. So, our family is growing my mom has my younger brothers, twin boys. My family now is five children, three girls and two boys. So, my dad decides, ‘You know what I’m going to go into the public sector.’ He applies and gets a job at IBM as a Communications Manager and now, he’s looking for a single-family home in Maryland for his family.


Now mom always the lead in looking for homes, she’s working with realtors and now remember, there’s a lot of discrimination within the real estate community, so you didn’t have black realtors. They were very rare. Mom couldn’t find a black realtor at that time and she felt that she was being taken certain areas by the realtors she would work with and they were excluding from taking her to other areas that were probably in her price point that also had the needs and wants in terms of what she was looking for in a house. So, my mom, being the ever-super sleuth, started looking on her own, she wasn’t depending on these realtors to find her homes.


But I want to go back to what this practice was called, is still called, steering. Unfortunately, it still does go on from time to time and that’s where somebody with their implicit bias on a very unconscious or conscious level is trying to steer you to communities or areas where they feel that you should be or you would feel comfortable. So, two moments for the day, blockbusting and steering.


And I want to say this in close: it is only now, it only happened in 2021 that now they are requiring all realtors to take courses so that they can understand how complicit they have been in a lot of the inequities and disparities with the real estate market. So, remember when we look at the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which really addressed all of the inequities when it came to the rental, the sale, the finance and the ensuring of homes.


So, this is your black history moment for today. Thank you.”

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