Double Whammy

“Now, we talked about the white flight; we didn’t talk about what really made it worse in Gary.”

Double Whammy is part of our Flight Paths initiative.

Double Whammy

So the white flight in Gary—there are differing viewpoints as to what caused that and what fueled it. And I think the popular one, primarily by the folks that left, is this idea that blacks came into the neighborhood and automatically devalued the property just by their very presence, and people were forced to sell their homes and leave and they had their home taken from them.

And here’s the way I would put the story: when you were determined to leave a place because you don’t like that a black mayor has been elected, and you’re afraid of what might happen, and you accept ten, or twenty, or thirty thousand dollars less for your home than it’s actually worth, you’ve said, “I’m willing to give that up, because I gotta get out of here.” You have now directly forced the drop in the value of your home because the moment you sell a home for that value, it affects the value of all the other properties around you. Now, there’s a double-whammy when this happens. Not only have you just given up a lot and left, but, now, someone who has bought a home in a neighborhood for a fraction of what they would have otherwise had to pay. They may, and likely are not, economically able to maintain that home the way it’s been maintained. It’s just a natural thing. They couldn’t buy a hundred thousand dollar house, but they could buy a fifty thousand dollar house. Pretty soon, it becomes a fifty thousand dollar house by the nature of it.

There were significant redlining practices in Northwest Indiana. That would work itself out in terms usually of obviously somebody of color wanting to get a mortgage in a white community and not being allowed to do so. I know when my parents sold their house in Aetna in 1987, the people they sold it to couldn’t get a mortgage, so it was sold to them on contract.

I had the experience, when we bought the house in 1982 that I mentioned of talking to a banker in Chesterton about refinancing my mortgage on the house in Miller, and they said, “Well, come back after you buy the house and assume the VA loan.” And we went back maybe a year later, and I was told by a different loan officer, “We don’t lend in Gary. There’s going to be a race war there.” That chokes me up when I tell the story, but I remember saying to the gentleman, “If there’s going to be race war in Gary, it’s going to be because of people like you.”

Now, we talked about the white flight; we didn’t talk about what really made it worse in Gary. In Indiana, if you’re a town, you’re unincorporated, you’re not a city, you can be annexed by a city that abuts your borders. Merrillville had a special law passed just for it in about 1970—it might have been ’71—that allowed it to incorporate as a town, and that protected it from annexation by the city of Gary. Even though it was unconstitutional to pass a law that pertained only to one place and not to all places equally within the state, somehow, miraculously, it happened. Had Merrillville been annexed by the city of Gary, and there’d been a normal growth, you probably wouldn’t have had the flight in the way that you did because the city would be growing. And it’s fascinating because today, guess what’s happening in Merrillville? The same thing, ok? It’s not happening as dramatically, nor as quickly, but the demographics are changing, and the sprawl continues, and people are leaving their homes, and I don’t think they’re taking the dramatically lower prices for their home, but it’s all a matter of degree—it’s happening.

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