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Three things I learned about race and housing in Indy

Reverend Nick Peterson bought a historical house in Indianapolis when he moved to the city in July. With the house came the 1923 deed. (Provided Photo/Christian Theological Seminary)

(MIRROR INDY) — I sat around a table facing 16 people at the Christian Theological Seminary, prepared to talk about the three articles we’d been assigned before showing up to a discussion about race, mental health, poverty and housing.

It was a conversation in preparation for the seminary’s April 18 Faith & Action spring conference, where leaders from multiple faiths will talk about poverty in Indianapolis.

But instead of talking during the discussion, I sat back and listened. So here’s three things that stuck out to me while hearing from Indy neighbors who came to the event:

  1. Racism was written into homeowners’ deeds – and enforced by neighbors. 

When Reverend Nick Peterson and his family moved to Indianapolis in July, they bought a house that came with history. They chose the home for practical reasons: it was between his job at the Christian Theological Seminary and his spouse’s job and it fit their seven year old twins. 

The 1923 home came with the original deed, which had several requirements for people living there. Owners couldn’t add any structures like sheds or barns, couldn’t run a business out of their home and couldn’t make or sell alcohol from the house.

One clause stuck out: Black people and their descendants weren’t allowed to rent, lease or own the space. Black people couldn’t even live in the subdivision, unless they were servants.

[Indiana has weak renter protections — here’s a renter’s guide.]

And how was this enforced? Neighbors could sue other neighbors for violating the terms. All this for a term of 30 years, from 1923 to 1953.

“Its intention is to be about transactions that happen for the next generation – 30 years,” Peterson said. Through our discussion, we all discussed the cycle this fed: Black people couldn’t become homeowners in some areas, so they couldn’t start building wealth through homeownership for the next generation. 

  1. The effects of racist policies? Still here.

Peterson put up a slide, with striking numbers: 41% of Black people in Indianapolis own their homes. 71% of Whites in Indianapolis own their homes.

The next sentences on the slide read: “These rates are the same as they were for Blacks 60 years ago.”

Renters in Indianapolis are struggling, too. Peterson shared that for the Indianapolis, Carmel and Anderson areas – which includes a wide variety of demographics – 48.7% of renters are experiencing a cost burden. That means that almost half of the people who rent apartments or homes are spending more than one third to one half of their income on rent. 

What’s left over after that, to feed their families, to pay for healthcare needs?

[Facing homelessness? Check out this list of helpful resources.]

  1. Embracing nuance is a step on the way to change. 

This discussion, which was an event before the seminary’s annual spring conference, started with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Like me, several of us were familiar with the first sentence of the quote. But a few people pointed out one phrase “an inescapable network of mutuality.” 

We spent the majority of the discussion learning about problems that affect that “single garment” and diving into why they exist. 

As the conversation wrapped up, one participant raised their hand and asked a question I’d been thinking of, too: “Moving forward with the conference, is the discussion going to evolve from this to how we can talk collectively of solutions of how we can break out of these cycles and patterns?”

Yes, the seminary’s spring conference on April 18 will include both problems and solutions. After the discussion, I walked out with Lindsey Rabinowitch, director of the Faith & Action project. Since she joined to help create a speaker series, they started with a lot of voices talking about solutions. 

As we talked, I realized just how important it is to listen, to start with understanding the nuance of huge topics like poverty.

Have a question about how things work in Indianapolis? Email Sophie Young, service journalism reporter, at