After Centuries of Housing Racism, a Southern City Gets Innovative

Denise Fitzgerald’s property abuts the string of quiet, empty lots that line Ewing Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Recently she was leaf-blowing detritus shed by the enormous sycamore tree dominating the yard of her tidy Habitat for Humanity home. She says she’d cut the tree down herself but knows it’s big enough to take out both her house and the house beside her if she dare try it.

Fitzgerald is familiar with the empty lots of Ewing Street, just a few blocks from Jackson State University. She’s lived here since 2008, and she remembers when Ewing was a series of derelict buildings smeared across the neighborhood.

Only two empty houses remain. The rest is a collection of oak and hackberry trees, with some untamed vines.

There is some human intervention, however. Every other week volunteers with Cooperation Jackson, a local workers’ cooperative that owns the lots, pick up litter. Cooperation Jackson has big plans for the street, and Fitzgerald stands behind them.

“I would like to see all that over there with new homes with people in them,” Fitzgerald says, pointing across the street. “It’s been either a mess or empty over there since I got here, and that would be a nice change.”

Once a thriving neighborhood before the 1980s, the area is now CJ’s proposed site of a series of price-capped homes and gardens organized into a community land trust that it hopes will form a tight-knit community. Cultivating an intimate community in Jackson’s neglected western territory is no easy feat, however. The mean annual income in the area surrounding Ewing, according the Census Bureau, is about $22,000.

Concentrated poverty is measured by the percentage of poor individuals living in high-poverty neighborhoods, and for Black people in Mississippi, that rate is 29.7 percent—made possible, in part, by a long history of discrimination. Until the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act, US lending institutions restricted Black families from many home loans.

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