CINCINNATI — Behind a quiet storefront on California Avenue, Seaonta Stewart is building a legacy.
"I've got two kids," Stewart said. "I'm definitely trying to leave something where they can help their friends out."
The 42-year-old entrepreneur owns athletic-wear business Creative Clothing 513, which is two doors down from his childhood home. The store sits in the shadows of several shuttered storefronts.
"Bond Hill needs a lot," Stewart said. "Bond Hill needs opportunity. Bond Hill needs community support."
A 2018 Brookings Institution study suggests predominantly African-American neighborhoods across the country are still coping with the results of a practice called 'redlining.'
Redlining was born from the Great Depression.
As a part of the New Deal, loan programs helped people finance their homes, but to decide who got those loans, the government created color-coded maps. Green neighborhoods were considered good investments, while red neighborhoods were bad, hence the term redlining.
The areas most frequently discriminated against, and in the red parts of the maps, were black inner-city neighborhoods.
"They would identify these communities on a map and it would basically become a barrier. Thou shalt not pass as far as applying for loans," UC Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Maliq Matthew said. "Even though we can no longer legally redline, the impressions that redlining gave of which communities are desirable or not desirable still exist."
Matthew often uses a simple analogy when explaining this to his students. He compares the long-term effects of discrimination to a classroom full of right-handed desks bolted to the floor during a time when left-handedness was looked down upon.
"Those ideas may change but the structure still remains and the impact of the structure still remains," he said. "Wealth is generational, so if you've robbed generation after generation of these communities of the wealth that they could have been building, those cumulative effects are still living."
Cincinnati homes in majority black neighborhoods are worth an average of 8.7 percent less than homes in majority white neighborhoods, according to the Brookings Institution study. While there is a jarring disparity in the valuation of these properties, the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati is one of several local institutions looking to break this cycle. The agency helps people buy and maintain homes, no matter what the value of a person’s home is.
President and CEO Rick Williams says there's no easy way to achieve equity. Avoiding gentrification in devalued neighborhoods, however, is key.
"We want to concentrate on the existing homeowners,” Williams said. “Not turn our work into a big, huge displacement strategy where it's about bringing in others in order to make a neighborhood whole.”
Williams said working to level the playing field for homeowners in predominantly African-American neighborhoods has universal benefits. "If these neighborhoods had the correct values attached to them, if the homeowners in those neighborhoods were also elevating as they do in other neighborhoods, then the entire community would be elevating in that way.
"Those are billions that the community is losing," Williams said. "It cannot just be isolated to just one sector of the community."