A little over 90 years ago, in the wake of the Great Depression, the federal government and state and local level governments set their sights on expanding homeownership to help rebuild the nation’s wealth. However, these efforts were anything but equitable. A number of federal, state, and local policies led to enrichment and prosperity for predominantly white families and restriction and injury to Black and other marginalized groups.
Finding ways to address the impact from these policies through education and engagement is the focus of a two-fold project funded through UNO’s Strategic Investment in Social Justice, Inequality, Race and Class. One is called “Addressing Redlining Through Community Engagement” and the other is called the “Omaha Spatial Justice Project.”
During the housing expansion if the 1930s, certain neighborhoods were deliberately identified as “high-risk” areas, often based on the race of those who lived there. Additionally, these marginalized groups were denied loan applications from creditworthy borrowers, simply because they lived in those neighborhoods. Collectively, this process is known today as “redlining” and while the practice was outlawed in 1968, its effects have had far reaching consequences over the years and continue to contribute to gaps in wealth and homeownership.
Addressing Redlining Through Community Engagement is an effort being led by Terri Crawford, J.D. She currently serves UNO’s Service Learning Academy Community Fellow and is tasked with bringing members of the Omaha community together to help identify and prioritize needs that can be supported through a community-focused collaboration with UNO through service learning engagement efforts.
“I am excited at the possibilities and honored to be involved as the UNO Community Fellow on this project,” Crawford, who is also an instructor UNO’s Department of Black Studies, said. “The initiative provides an opportunity for community focused collaboration as leaders and learners working toward racial equity and socially responsive solutions to address the impact or redlining in Omaha through community engagement and service learning.”
This effort builds upon a strong foundation of addressing the impacts of redlining organized by UNO’s Service Learning Academy through their work with K-12 schools and community partners. This includes efforts like “Redlining Conversations,” where Gerry Huber, Ph.D., director of UNO’s Teacher Scholars Academy, and her students worked with fifth graders from Crestridge Elementary School and to develop “Table Talk” modules used by Inclusive Communities as part of their ongoing series fostering dialogue around difficult topics.
“Our faculty members, partners, and students are committed to learning the history of our community and investing collaboratively," said Julie Dierberger, Paul Sather Distinguished Director of the UNO Service Learning Academy. "I look forward to continued opportunities to expand education, experiential learning, and leadership development through this project.”
One of the first efforts being led by Crawford as part of “Addressing Redlining Through Community Engagement” is hosting community meetings with organizations, non-profits, business, and residents within the redlined area of North and Northeast Omaha.
Crawford will also be hosting a series of listening sessions where faculty and staff can learn more about redlining, what efforts are already underway at UNO, and how they can get involved through community engagement and service learning by incorporating service learning into their classrooms.
Upcoming Listening Sessions
Urban League of Nebraska
3040 Lake St, Omaha, NE 68111
Friday, Feb. 25 at 10 A.M.
Be a Part of the Board
Interested in being a part of the effort? Or know someone who is? Applications are being taken currently for membership on the Addressing Redlining Through Community Engagement Community Board.
Terry Crawford, J.D., UNO’s Service Learning Community Fellow, was recently a guest on WOWT's "Heartland Focus" television program. The full episode is available online below.
Whereas redlining kept minority families in economically disadvantaged locations, the city of Omaha also engaged in what are known as “Restrictive Covenants” that kept families out of purchasing homes in particular areas and restricted who property could be sold to.
Faculty from the Department of Geography and Geology, Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies, and Department of Black Studies have begun an effort known as the “Omaha Spatial Justice Project” to not only collect maps and historical data to identify which neighborhoods utilized these covenants, but also understand the social dynamics of how the covenants functioned.
“Racially-restrictive covenants weren’t just for African Americans, but also other racial groups such as Jewish Americans, Polish Americans, and Native Americans,” explains Christina Dando, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Geography & Geology. “And within those groups, there were many ways they even used the covenants to their advantage in order to maintain cultural homogeneity.”
The ultimate goal of the Omaha Spatial Justice Project is to develop a database of every existing home in Douglas County that would have had a racially restrictive covenant. By current estimates, the number of homes is likely in the tens of thousands. This database would then be made available to researchers at UNO and to the Omaha community to better understand how today’s economic disparities are the result of policies such as restrictive covenants.
“We want to encourage new scholarship – from established scholars and up-and-coming scholars who are undergraduate and graduate students -- and have UNO be a central hub for research in this area,” said Jeannette Gabriel, Director of the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies.
While the project is still in its early stages, faculty like Dando and Gabriel are looking for other researchers at UNO and elsewhere to participate in analyzing the data being collected in order to better understand the breadth and depth of the issue.
Faculty and students interested in participating in the Omaha Spatial Justice Project or incorporating findings into their courses are encouraged to reach out to Dando, Gabriel, or Jennifer Harbour, associate professor of Black Studies, who serve as a Co-Principal Investigator on the effort.
More information about Addressing Redlining Through Community Engagement and the Omaha Spatial Justice Project can be found on UNO’s Strategic Planning website.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.