Ed Messina’s shortsighted and self-serving letter [It’s time to start rethinking For Sale signs, Viewpoints, March 19] calling for the return of “For Sale” signs-the segregationist’s best friend-to Oak Park only confirms the validity and urgency of Rob Breymaier’s farsighted and selfless viewpoint four pages earlier in which he reminds us that the factors that force segregation on a community are still alive and well [Diversity is fragile – keep working on it]. It is frightening to read Messina‘s uninformed assertion that panic peddling and blockbusting are things of the past.

Mr. Messina is simply wrong on the facts. I’ve recently completed an in-depth study of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice for another Chicago-area suburb and was quite disappointed to find that the discriminatory practices that distort the free housing market and result in highly racially-segregated communities are alive and well-and forcing racial and economic segregation upon all but a handful of Chicago-area suburbs and nearly all of the City of Chicago.

Oak Park continues to be one of the few communities in the Chicago area with a racial composition that you’d expect to see in a housing market free of racial discrimination. That’s because Oak Park continues to take the steps and use the tools essential to correcting the distortions in the housing market that racially discriminatory practices produce.

Among those tools is the village’s voluntary ban on “For Sale” signs. This agreement with Realtors has contributed immeasurably to
Oak Park‘s ability to fight back against the real estate practices that force communities to resegregate from nearly all-white to virtually all-black. It’s a tool that would help immeasurably in Chicago‘s Galewood neighborhood, where Mr. Messina implies he practices. My wife and I remember well how conspicuous all the “For  Sale” signs have been along Narragansett as some unscrupulous real estate professionals did all they could to distort the free housing market there by panicking homeowners into selling low while the real estate professionals sold high to African-American households they steered to Galewood.

Think these practices aren’t commonplace? I know a real estate agent whose first employer on the Northwest Side of Chicago told her to never show homes to blacks or Hispanics-and this was just a few years ago.

I don’t know if Mr. Messina realizes that Oak Park’s real estate market has thrived just fine without “For Sale” signs-and that real estate professionals have figured out ways to sell homes other than through “For Sale” signs. And I don’t know if Mr. Messina is so naive to think that the segregative real estate practices that distort the free housing market no longer exist.

But after a lifetime of studying the practices that make stable, racially-integrated communities like Oak Park so rare, I do know that Oak Park has no choice but to remain vigilant and use tools like its voluntary ban on “For Sale” signs until the Galewoods of the world and the rest of the Chicago area are no longer so rigidly segregated by race and income.

To suggest there’s no need for such a measure, to suggest that Oak Park no longer needs to act pro-actively to preserve a housing market free of the distortions that racially discriminatory real estate practices cause, is naivete at best-dishonest at worst.

Daniel Lauber, Oak Park senior planner, 1977-1979; president, American Planning Association, 1985-86; president, American Institute of Certified Planners, 1992-94, 2003-05.

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