Lit | Portraits

Equal Property

An interview with writer and historian Beryl Satter

MAGGIE SIVIT

MAGGIE SIVIT

Beryl Satter combined a gripping personal story and a meticulously-researched history of systematic racism in her 2010 book Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America. The narrative thread that ties her book together is the story of her father Mark Satter, a crusading Chicago lawyer. Like a real-life Atticus Finch, he struggled to achieve justice for clients who had the entire system stacked against them. The Federal Housing Administration, convinced that interracial neighborhoods led to “the decline of both the human race and of property values,” generally refused to insure mortgages on blocks with both black and white residents. Greedy speculators then forced black homebuyers to sign contract loans at grossly inflated prices. The victims of this contract-selling scheme could be evicted after one missed payment.  Continue reading