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Guest Opinion | Jill Shook: Should We Extend Reparations For Those Who Lost Their Homes Due to Racist Policies in Pasadena?

Published on Monday, December 27, 2021 | 8:13 am

I was thrilled to learn in a December 26 LA Times story that Santa Monica is seeking to address reparations for those displaced by the Santa Monica Freeway and urban renewal. As a result of freeway construction that destroyed the Black and Brown Pico neighborhood, as well as the accessing federal dollars for urban renewal (often dubbed “Negro Removal”), many people color lost their homes and businesses. This also happened in Pasadena due to the construction of 210 Freeway and urban renewal projects that destroyed Black and Brown neighborhoods. For this reason, Council member John Kennedy asked the Council to read this article and consider this question: “What must the City of Pasadena do to advance justice in our own city?”

This is a question that every Pasadenan should consider. As a privileged white woman, I can only imagine the pain that people of color must feel when their communities are targeted, and their homes destroyed, through eminent domain forced to move elsewhere. My parents experienced some of this pain when they lovingly built their dream home while attending college and they were devastated when it was destroyed by a freeway. One of my college friends, born at Huntington Hospital, had their home destroyed by the construction of the 210 Freeway. Both of our families have thrived, able to bounce back from such losses, but too many of my African American friends have been excluded from the kind of opportunities to get a leg up that my family had access to. For example, my dad had the GI Bill, which most people of color were not afforded; and my grandfather gave my parents the land on which to build their home. A long list of policies enabled my family to have generational wealth which too often was  barred from people of color.

Our nonprofit Making Housing and Community Happen (MHCH) was founded in part to address racial inequity and housing affordability. We created the “Unjust Housing Policy Game” (similar to Monopoly) to wake people up to this history: people choose a white or black bean and pull cards based on the color of their bean. Black cards have vignettes about racist policies that perpetuate exclusionary practices and white cards describe policies that have perpetuated white privilege.

This educational game helps to awaken people to the reality of systemic racism. We need to educate ourselves, but also need to move beyond games and get serious about recreating a society in a way that’s more equal.

Ten historic Black churches located in a neglected corner of our city have all become commuter churches with families displaced from Pasadena often due to the rising cost of housing, urban renewal, and the 210 Freeway construction. Let’s take seriously the City policy passed in 2021 to allow 20% of affordable housing units be prioritized for those displaced from our city in the last ten years. Let’s not just wait for  displaced residents to learn about this policy. Let’s be proactive with diligence, search out addresses and names of those displaced and specifically ask if they would like to return. Let’s follow the example of Santa Monica, and also the state, which offered reparation to the Bruce family whose beach front property was confiscated by eminent domain in the 1920s. Should we consider going beyond the 20% or extend our policy to reach back beyond 10 years to 15, so that those pushed out by the 2008 Great Recession also be included? Let’s get serious about ways to provide reparations to those priced out.

We need to think proactively about the 710 freeway “stub.” Could and should it be used for reparations? This is the very area where over 1,000 people of color once lived. Let’s explore affordable homeownership opportunities where limited equity can be earned through Habitat for Humanity, Heritage Housing Partners, or the San Gabriel Community Land Trust that our organization is launching.

As a Christian, I take seriously the teachings of the Bible and am therefore reminded of the Shunamite woman, a wealthy non-Jew who helped the Jewish prophet Elisha and provided him with a home, what today we might call an ADU “accessory dwelling unit.” Elisha was deeply grateful to this woman and revived her son to life. When famine struck her country, the Shunamite woman left her country at the very prophet’s advice. When the famine was over, she petitioned the King to restore her land. She arrived at moment when the King was reading about her generosity, and he responded, “Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.” (2 King 8: 6). When a thriving Black and Brown community was cleared where Parsons Engineering now sits, and the area was up-zoned to allow for high density housing. I wonder what kind of profit these family would have earned if they had not been displaced? Can we go do more than what Santa Monica is offering and provide some of that lost equity with affordable homeownership?  This seems to me a fair way for us to treat those who homes were destroyed and who lost the opportunity to earn generational wealth had been able to stay in Pasadena. This, to me, is racial justice.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Opinion | Jill Shook: Should We Extend Reparations For Those Who Lost Their Homes Due to Racist Policies in Pasadena?

  • The guest opinion is confusing. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use without just compensation.” Was the property that was used for freeway construction seized without paying compensation?

  • As an Air Force veteran during the Vietnam war, I used the GI Bill after my enlistment ended. I do not know how any veterans of color would not have been able to use that benefit.

  • I grew up in Pasadena durning this time and the areas in which you say there were thousands of black families isn’t true. That area was my playground and it was majority white all the way out to Sierra Madre Villa. As I recall conversations with friends families California Transportation under paid a lot of families for their homes and their were some families that had there homes taken, those were the ones who refused to sell. So why aren’t directing your guilt towards the state?

  • Absolutely! Most mid- to lower-income families have only one way to build generational wealth and provide for retirement–home ownership. Removing people from their communities affected their children and granchildren as well as themselves. Wealthier communities, such as South Pasadena, were able to stave off freeway projects. Pasadena and the state should make reparation.

  • Why dont we extend them to EVERYBODY who lost a family home to the freeway? Who is theire ONLY justice for some? My Great Grandmother Luscher who with her husband built her house and planned to live in it till she died spent the last twelve years of her life in deep sadness that she was forced to sell her house against her will by the state for a freeway that was not built in her lifetime. The freeway went through and destroyed her mostly White working class neighborhood on Corson street not because she was Black but because she was old, and poor. Like all of her neighbors. We keep hearing the freeway was racist because it took a black neighborhood. It did. it also took a Japanese American neighborhood next to that Black Neighborhood. It took White working class neighborhoods in Pasadena, Russian, Ukranian, Serbian working class neighborhoods in Eagle Rock and Glendale. Lets stop picking victims who are worthy and make everyone whole.