Artist maps homes in Englewood where land sales contracts have denied ownership to black residents

A land sale contract was “a discriminatory loan tool and a lie,” Johnson said. In the middle of the 20th century, when redlining and other practices prevented black residents from obtaining mortgages, land sales contracts (also known as contract sales) were an alternative devised by predatory investors. The contract offered what appeared to be a path to property, but was fraught with punitive fees and repayment terms that usually prevented the buyer from paying it.

Ownership of the property only came with the payment of the contract, which meant that usually the buyers did not derive any financial benefit from it, while the investor did. It was at a time when Homeownership was one of the main ways to increase the wealth of middle-class American households.

“This is a practice that actually steals money from people who have come to neighborhoods like Englewood to become homeowners,” said Johnson, whose previous project Folded card compared houses to identical addresses on the south and north sides of Chicago. In 2019, a report from Duke University estimated that Chicago land sales contracts have moved as much as $ 4 billion from the hands of black residents to the pockets of investors.

“The deterioration that you see in these neighborhoods today started then because it started with theft,” via a loaner vehicle that became like a pipeline pulling money out of them, Johnson said. Englewood and similar neighborhoods “never had the chance to create economic value for themselves,” she said.

Johnson wanted to build on that report with what she calls “an immersive history lesson,” where Chicagoans can see individual properties where some of that wealth has been plundered. Among them is a house in the 7100 block of South Aberdeen Street that an investor bought from white owners for $ 10,500 and sold through a land sale contract to a black buyer for $ 17,900.

Produced for the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago, “Inequity for Sale” includes an online map of the more than 200 homes in Englewood and West Englewood that were the subject of land sales contracts in the 1950s and 1960s. Johnson hopes later add information about other Chicago neighborhoods.

Johnson will put up signs outside two homes in January and over the following months will add at least 13 more. These are abandoned houses or vacant lots. She works to engage with residents of occupied homes that were once the subject of land sales contracts to gain their cooperation in placing signs on their property.

With the map, podcast and signs in front of actual properties, the exhibit “will give you a whole different understanding than seeing it in a museum,” said Tiff Beatty, director of arts, culture and public policy. at the National Museum of Public Housing.

“It’s important to be in the community as you learn about it,” said Beatty, “to feel the feeling of the neighborhood, to be able to see not just a house, but the context and make those connections” on terms of these disinvested neighborhoods. today.

“Gun violence, vacant lots, closed schools,” Johnson said, “all of this came after the discriminatory land sales contract loan tool stole so much from the neighborhood.” Johnson lives in Englewood in a bungalow she bought this year.

The exhibition appears to be the first of its kind in the country – rightly so, as Chicago was one of the pioneers in using housing laws to create and perpetuate racial segregation.

“Chicago has shown the rest of the country how to cement real estate segregation,” Johnson said. From now on, “we should be a city that shows how to make this story more accessible to the public and to fight it”.

Ultimately, Johnson hopes to buy a lot or house that was once held in a land sale contract, to create some sort of permanent display of the predatory practice.