What We Don't Know

A more accurate heading for this section would be "A little bit of what we don't know," because what we don't know is nearly infinite. Our intention with this section is to name some topics that we encountered but left largely unaddressed as we developed our presentation and this website. We do this in case others may be working in these areas and want to contribute. 

In some cases we did a good bit of investigating before we realized we could not offer a reliable, complete description of the topic. In some cases, our work yielded partial results or found relevant sources that merit further investigations. We share those below. In others cases we have opening questions, and nothing more. 

We did significant digging, investigation, and initial legwork on three topics that remain far from finished. Each is massive; much more is left to be learned and shared. Here are links to those sections, which are somewhat in depth:

African American Communities in Lexington

Is Segregation Hardening in Lexington?

Black Space/White Space

Below you will see an internal table of contents for a large number of topics we have barely touched and hope others will address. Each item in the list links to more description. 

What has been the relationship in Lexington among density, affordability, and overcrowding?

In "The Effect of Density Zoning on Racial Segregation in U.S. Urban Areas," Jonathan Rothwell and Douglas S. Massey argue that "anti-density zoning increases black residential segregation in U.S. metropolitan areas by reducing the quantity of affordable housing in white jurisdictions" (Rothwell and  Massey 2009, 779). They also suggest that such zoning "inhibits desegregation over time. . . For Blacks, who have lower than average incomes, the probability of finding housing outside of historically segregated neighborhoods is greatly diminished when surrounding white jurisdictions are torpid and expensive" (Rothwell and Massey 2009 ,782). 

We are not sure if Lexington has anti-density zoning. From our cursory look at the comprehensive plans and zoning maps and ordinances over the years, it appears that there have been times when very low density was required in certain neighborhoods. The result has been some neighborhoods, usually developed from the 1950s through the 1980s (we think) that have one- or two-story houses on very large lots. We are not sure if this constitutes or is the result of anti-density zoning.

A related question: what has been the impact of exclusionary zoning, and low-density areas, on the cost of housing for all of us? Heather McGhee in The Sum of Us and Cheryll Cashin in White Space, Black Hood contribute to this inquiry.   

We believe a deeper understanding of the relationship in Lexington among density, affordability and overcrowding could be gained through a thorough examination and comparison of all Lexington zoning ordinances and zoning maps through the years, as well as census data and other documents that would show overcrowding, home prices, rents, and incomes over the years—an undertaking that is beyond the scope of our present project.

What is the history of each Lexington neighborhood?

We think it would be interesting and useful for community members to know more about the history of each Lexington neighborhood—when and how it was developed, how it has been zoned over the years, prominent and less-prominent people who lived there, whether it was integrated or segregated, significant events that have taken place there, significant neighborhood events, neighborhood traditions, changes to the neighborhood in terms of structures, demographics, etc. Native Lexingtonian Chris Green researched the neighborhood where he grew up, Rosemill, and produced an excellent article for the Lexington Herald-Leader that spotlights the roles of restrictive covenants in building white family wealth (C. Green 2021). Additional, similar investigations of neighborhood history would help Lexingtonians understand their own community.

How many homes, in how many and which Lexington neighborhoods, were subject to restrictive covenants?  

In the Restrictive Covenants page we discuss the challenges to identifying restrictive covenants in all neighborhoods. To find all the restrictive covenants written into property deeds in Lexington would be a time-consuming task requiring many volunteers. We believe this would be a worthwhile project, which would lead to greater and more widely shared understanding of our community's history.

What is the history of affordable housing in Lexington and what is underway at present?

Report after report since at least the 1920s has asserted there is not enough decent affordable housing in Lexington. Public Housing helped but was a drop in the bucket. Realtors opposed low income housing projects in the 1950s. What has been considered affordable over the years, has affordable housing been included in comprehensive plans, and has it been built? 

Here is what author Madge Headley had to say in the Lexington Board of Health's 1924 Report of Housing Survey:

"There is a fair profit in small houses at fair rentals, and if Lexington wants to keep enough good laborers to do unskilled work, some attention should be paid to building houses for them. The indications are that the building season of 1924 will see money put into high and medium cost houses, with the supply of homes for wage earners left to speculative builders. Some civic organization should put on a campaign, after careful study of needs, and see to it that a fair supply of low rent houses are built. There are many economics possible in building houses and there are within the area of Lexington lots which can be bought at prices which compare favorably with Kenwick and other suburbs. At present many of the cheap shacks are built by rule-of-thumb contractors, with wastes which would go far towards paying for houses much better in construction, and much cheaper in maintenance costs...Not only from a health standpoint, but from the economic and civic standpoint, it would pay to build good homes at low costs" (Lexington Board of Health 1924, 41).

Nearly fifty years later, the City-County Planning Commission's Low Income Housing Study for Lexington and Fayette County Kentucky raised similar concerns:  

"Based on building permit records from 1960 through 1968, it was found that in Lexington-Fayette County the number of single-family houses constructed for less than $8,000 (excluding lots) since 1960 totaled less than 300. Some twenty-five of these were randomly selected and checked as to value of assessment, and it was found that most of these homes were appraised from twenty-five to fifty percent higher than the estimated cost shown on the building permits, which places them far above the price most low-income families can pay.

Those few priced within the range for low-income families were, characteristically, units that were inadequate even at the time of construction. Thus, evidence seems to indicate that no single family housing is being built for low-income families by private developers in the Lexington-Fayette County area" (Lexington Fayette City-County Planning Commission 1970, 9).

How much affordable housing has been built since 1970?  

Since 2014, Lexington has had an Office of Affordable Housing and an Affordable Housing Fund. What are its successes and challenges? What have been developer and builder suggestions, responses, and actions with regard to affordable housing?

How is The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, relevant to Lexington's story of segregation?

Many Lexingtonians have read Ms. McGhee's insightful book, and/or heard her speak during the "One Book One Lexington" events sponsored by the Lexington Public Library and the Bluegrass Community Foundation. McGhee's framework for positive work to address race-based economic injustice includes a strong claim that policies that harm Black people often harm White people as well. We believe it would be useful to identify such policies in Lexington, and then work to put in place policies and practices that will lead to a more just economy for all. 

What more can we learn about the history of realtors in Lexington and their actions with regard to segregated housing? 

Did any Lexington realtors take part in blockbusting? 

How have the concepts presented in Gene Slater's Freedom to Discriminate played out in Lexington?   

Realtor steering in the past decades matters today. When White buyers in the 1970s were able to buy homes in neighborhoods with appreciating home values, the increased value of those homes across time helped White families move wealth to their next generations by sending children and grandchildren to college or helping them get started as homebuyers themselves. When Black buyers with the same incomes bought homes in neighborhoods that appreciated less, their children benefited less from the wealth-building arithmetic of home ownership, making it less likely that Black families could pay their next generations' college or initial home-buying costs. Differences in Black and White wealth creation crystallized and  continue to this moment. Racial steering then contributes to the wealth gap now.

How about recent racial steering by realtors?  We do not have information about realtor steering in Lexington in the last 20 years. Our information is about past racial steering in Lexington that contributed to present wealth disparities, as well as national examples of ongoing steering.

What actions have realtors taken in recent years, especially through the Lexington Board of Realtors, to contribute to lasting housing desegregation and Black home ownership? 

What is the full picture of the impact Lexington's planning and zoning decisions have had from the 1930s to the present?

Our discussion of planning and zoning just scratches the surface of Lexington's zoning history. To develop a thorough picture of the impact Lexington's planning and zoning decisions have had from the 1930s to the present would require at least something like this:

Here is more we don't know: 

We cannot assert with certainty that early Lexington and Fayette County planning officials had clear racial motives in defining the various residential zones. We have reviewed a sampling of Planning Commission minutes from the 1930s through the 1950s and have not found explicit language stating such a racial intention. 

What we have found, in meeting minutes as well as early and mid-century planning and other city documents, are several assumptions, sometimes subtle and sometimes more explicit, including these: that racial segregation was a natural and permanent feature of life in Lexington; that White and Black people should occupy separate physical, economic, and cultural spaces; and that it was the prerogative of White people to determine the areas of town where Black people could or should live. 

Has expulsive zoning been part of Lexington's Planning and Zoning?

During the course of our reading we have been intrigued by references to expulsive zoning.” This occurs, according to Yale Rabin, "when areas in residential use are zoned to allow industrial or commercial uses to encourage the displacement of the existing residents..." (Rabin 1999, emphasis added).

We know that in Lexington some industrial zones have been sited in or near residential areas, and that these areas have tended to be predominantly minority and/or low income neighborhoods. We do not know whether this was done intentionally to encourage displacement, which seems to be what makes for expulsive zoning. 

What We Don't Know About Redlining in Lexington

Did African Americans receive HOLC loans in Lexington? As we said on the Redlining page, we don't know whether any African Americans received HOLC loans during HOLC's "rescue" phase; we also don't know whether any African Americans or Black subdivisions received FHA-insured mortgages. County mortgage records (in the Fayette County Clerk's office) would probably provide that information, although it would require time-consuming work to find it.

Is it possible to find the FHA redlining map for Lexington? We know that most of the FHA redlining maps were destroyed sometime around 1970, but at least one such map (for Chicago and possibly one for Greensboro, NC) has been found. Because the FHA asked local realtors and possibly pubic officials to assist in surveying neighborhoods, and because there was a Lexington FHA office with at least one staff member, it seems a slight possibility that a draft map, notes, or perhaps a copy of the map, could have been among the private papers of one of those people.  

In the absence of an FHA map, it is tempting to assume that, as in Chicago, the FHA class districts would to some extent mirror the "hazardous" areas on the Lexington HOLC map. Similarly, because the FHA map for Greensboro, NC, was based on data from a Real Property Inventory, it is tempting to assume that the Lexington FHA map would have been based on data from the WPA Real Property Survey. We cannot make either assumption. It would be good for our community to know more.

What has been the role of real estate appraisals and appraisers in segregation and the undervaluation of homes in African American neighborhoods? In the course of our research we have not read much about the role of real estate appraisers. This issue has come to the forefront during the time we have worked on this project.  See, for example, the recent documentary, "Our America: Lowballed," produced by ABC Owned Television Stations. https://ouramericaabc.com/lowballed. The Brookings Institution has also produced recent reports about undervaluation and appriasal bias in majority Black neighborhoods (Perry, Rothwell, and Harshbarger, 2018;  Rothwell and Perry, 2022). We wonder how appraisers in Lexington over the years have valued properties in majority Black vs majority White neighborhoods. We also wonder how many appraisers in Lexington have been or are people of color. 

An up-to-date picture of mortgage lending to White and Black home buyers in Lexington. In 1978 the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC) published a report based on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data. The report explored the distribution of home mortgages and home improvement loans in four Kentucky communities, including Lexington, in 1976 and 1977. The KHC found that in 1976 the south and southwest parts of Lexington had received more of the single-family mortgages, and that the central city census tracts received fewer. The KHC also found that single-family home improvement loans were concentrated in suburban areas. In addition, in all four of the communities they studied, the number of loans per dwelling unit decreased as percentages of African Americans increased. The results for 1977 were similar, except that there was less concentration of single-family home improvement loans in suburban areas than in 1976. As in 1976, the number of loans decreased as the percentage of African Americans increased (Kellogg and Clevidence 1978).

A 1989 study by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, also based on HMDA data, showed that Lexington census tracts with substantial Black populations had received a disproportionately low percentage of home mortgage credit in 1987 and 1988. Looking only at low and middle-income census tracts, the researchers found that predominantly Black and desegregated census tracts received only 18.6% of the mortgage loans approved by local lenders, although 25.4% of all low and middle-income owner-occupied households were in those census tracts. By comparison, the equivalent White census tracts received 81.4% of the loans even though they contained only 74.6% of the relevant households (Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, 1989).

We have asked the Kentucky Human Rights Commission if they have done more recent studies similar to those mentioned above, but they said that because of budget shortfalls they have not been able to fund such research (Email from KCHR Dec 1, 2021).

Did African American veterans receive VA loans (and other GI Bill benefits) in Lexington after World War II?  A substantial percentage of new post-war homes were financed through the Veterans Administration (Bennett, 1996, 287), which offered long-term mortgages and low down payments. There is considerable evidence that Black veterans were often excluded from these loans, as well as other GI benefits (Blakemore, 2021; Katznelson, 2005, 139). We know that this happened in Kentucky because the statewide NAACP was aware of it and appointed a committee to work toward elimination of such practices (Wright, 1992, 190).  We also know that in order to avail themselves of a GI loan, an African American veteran and their family would have had to find a house they could buy -- that is, one without a restrictive covenant (through 1948) and one a realtor would show them (See Restrictive Covenants and Steering by Realtors).  We do not know, however, how many African American veterans did and did not receive VA loans in Kentucky or Lexington.  

To what extent do past practices of housing segregation matter today?

It is our impression that it takes a very long time—perhaps generations—to undo the harmful effects of past housing segregation policies and practices. We are aware that land use patterns, virtually permanent placement of major community features, and cultural and neighborhood systems and habits all can seem virtually immovable, and may change very slowly, if at all. What can be undone and improved, and how?

What has been the state of African American home ownership in Lexington since the 1970s? 

We have talked about the beginnings of racial residential segregation, and have touched on Black homeownership through the late 1960s. We have not studied the experience of African American homeowners—or would-be homeowners—since then. Specifically, we have not studied the 21st century sub-prime mortgage crisis (which disproportionally affected African American home owners), nationally or in Lexington. 

What lessons have Lexington planners and leaders learned through urban renewal, especially about how to succeed with community repair and support? 

Many factors have contributed to the deterioration of buildings in low income neighborhoods. These include absentee ownership (typically by White landlords), inadequate or improperly focused code enforcement, inadequate wages for Black wage earners, and the absence of generational Black wealth that could have come from appreciating values of homes they owned. Mid-20th century policies favored White homebuyers while making Black home ownership difficult to impossible. This effectively blocked the main path to middle class wealth development for Black families.

A few milestones:

1975. Government-backed proposals and projects intended to bring fundamental change to Black neighborhoods continued after the demise of the federally funded Urban Renewal program. In some cases, as when Community Development Block Grant funds updated curbs, gutters, sewers and sidewalks in several neighborhoods between 1975–1990, many neighbors welcomed the investments.   

1983. Neighbors, Black entrepreneurs, and nonprofits each played some role and offered some support for at least one government-backed "redevelopment" in the East End. Opposition also existed but was minimal. As part of the 1983 East End Neighborhood Development Plan, those carrying out this project extended and widened Rose Street northward from East Main. The street was renamed Elm Tree Lane. Building the new four-lane stretch between East Fourth and East Fifth streets required removing what remained of Kinkeadtown, an early urban Black settlement. Anthropologist Nancy O'Malley has written about Kinkeadtown in detail (O'Malley, 2002).

According to Dr.Katherine Jones, the impetus for this drastic change in the East End may have initially come from a 1966 Downtown Design plan the city commissioned outside consultant Helm Roberts to produce. That plan included language asserting the benefits of clearance and redevelopment in the East End, despite the recent public defeat of precisely that proposal. Dr. Jones notes that Roberts's influence had carried forward for years, reaching into the planning stages for the 1983 project, and that his 1966 plan had so pleased the Lexington Urban Renewal Agency that it had officially adopted much of the plan as the city's authoritative guide to renewal. 

In carrying out the East End Neighborhood Development Plan, implementers destroyed much of Deweese Street—historically the central Black commercial area, important for social connection and residents' sense of community. At the time of demolition, the street still held both practical and symbolic value for East End residents. The road project spared only one block of Deweese Street. Dr. Katherine Jones noted that extending a four-lane road from East Main Street, ". . . had the collateral effect of obliterating virtually all of the landmark buildings that recalled or commemorated the neighborhood’s commercial and entertainment heritage." 

As an additional component of the East End Neighborhood Development Plan, builders with commitments to Black jobs and Black neighborhoods built a new block of suburban-style houses, affordably priced, in the 400 block of Elm Tree Lane. Overall, the implemented plan completely changed several prominent blocks of one of Lexington's oldest, most historic Black neighborhoods.

1990s. In the early 1990s, private investors built Thoroughbred Park at the East End's southeastern tip. Although construction was privately funded, the city of Lexington has owned Thoroughbred Park since 1995. Although the Park highlights some leaders in the Thoroughbred industry, its creators did not include tributes to the Black jockeys, trainers, grooms and other workers who made Thoroughbred racing possible. Many of those Black workers lived in the East End in neighborhoods abutting the Park. The park "captures and reinforces through its physical presentation a very sharp, longstanding (140 years-old) race/class divide in the city" (Schein 2009, 821).

After 2000. With extensive neighbor engagement, local government sponsored the creation of a new East End Small Area Plan, completed in 2009. Residents called for government investment in the Lyric Theatre and the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, more affordable housing, and other economic development and quality of life improvements.

Neighbors applauded the support of both local and state governments for the renovation and expansion of the historic Lyric Theatre at the crucial corner of East Third and Elm Tree Lane. The original Lyric building languished for nearly 50 years before a complex set of state and local forces combined to ensure its preservation and expanded mission.

East End residents have welcomed the recent rejuvenation of the government-owned Charles Young Community Center, including regular programming and building improvements, all sponsored by local government. In 2021, the city invested in a large new playground behind the Center. 

Lexington's government provides support for the popular Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden (IMMAG) on East Third Street, a spot dedicated to the crucial role the city's African American workforce played in developing Kentucky's Thoroughbred horse industry. Between 2007 and 2020, the city also co-sponsored the development of the Legacy Trail, a popular mixed use trail that connects the East End, where three-time Kentucky Derby winning Jockey Isaac Murphy lived and worked, with the Kentucky Horse Park, his burial site. Most of the final 1.5 miles of the 12-mile trail runs within the East End. Its completion in 2020, during the global pandemic, is so recent it is impossible to know yet how East End residents view the trail or whether its presence will benefit the East End. 

Gentrification is another way in which African American communities may lose their identities, and low-income residents may be displaced. This has been a significant issue in Lexington. At least two groups have held community discussions over the last few years;  those discussions, and the resulting recommendations, have been well documented.  

To learn more about gentrification in Lexington, see the report of the Task Force on Neighborhoods in Transition to Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (Kentucky, 2021) and the Report to Mayor Linda Gorton from the Mayor's Commission on Racial Justice and Equality (Lexington, Kentucky, 2020).  Follow the ongoing work of the permanent Racial Justice and Equality Commission here.