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Updated 5:30 PM February 1, 2008
 

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Authors: Class, race still affect housing options

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The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that people of all races and economic status would attain equality and opportunity. Forty years later, many poor blacks still struggle to get ahead, two authors said Monday during an MLK symposium at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
Patillo, above, and Smith.

The authors — who both did post-doctoral work at the Ford School — discussed trust, distrust and social class in the black community relating to jobs and housing. They were Sandra Smith, who wrote "Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism among the Black Poor," and Mary Pattillo, who penned "Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City."

Smith said the persistent joblessness of poor blacks resulted from various reasons: deindustrialization has caused a dramatic loss of good-paying jobs for lesser-skilled workers, which has disproportionately affected black, inner-city workers; and poor blacks are crippled by pervasive employer discrimination.

Many job-holders expressed concern that job-seekers in their networks were not motivated to accept assistance or acted too irresponsibly on the job, Smith said. This jeopardized job-holders' own reputations in the eyes of employers and harmed already tenuous labor market prospects, she said.

"Consequently, job-holders were generally reluctant to assist," said Smith, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. "To justify their unwillingness, they ranted about the importance of self-reliance, espousing the importance of bringing individualistic values to the job-finding process."

In her book, Pattillo looked at public housing being replaced by mixed-income developments. Nationally more than 100,000 severely distressed public housing units were demolished, with Chicago accounting for 20 percent.

Neighborhood revitalization is synonymous with attracting middle-class newcomers, Pattillo said. An example of this is found in the transformation of public housing, which significantly reduces the supply of units in HOPE VI developments that seek to lessen concentrations of poverty.

"Most approaches to renewing poor neighborhoods and public housing projects begin with the premise that higher income residents are the most important ingredients for a healthy neighborhood," said Pattillo, a professor of sociology and African-American Studies at Northwestern University.

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