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How past housing discrimination is still affecting American families today: "It's a story of our country"

Racist housing policies had lasting impacts
Racist housing policies had lasting impacts 06:37

1964 was a record-breaking boom year for the U.S. economy, and CBS News followed along as Corbett Rachal and his wife Sallye tried to buy their piece of it.

The couple knew exactly what they wanted: a four-bedroom home in Bergen County, New Jersey, one of New York City's most desirable suburbs.

It's the same area where "CBS Mornings" co-host Tony Dokoupil's grandfather found a home just a decade earlier.

But as the Rachals visited real estate offices and asked to see properties, they ran into a problem that Dokoupil's grandfather did not.

CBS News documented in rare hidden-camera footage the Rachals repeatedly being turned away by real estate agents because of they were Black.

"So, what do you have that you can show me today?" Corbett is seen asking in the 1964 CBS News clip.

"Nothing in this price range. Nothing at all," a real estate agent replied.

CBS cameras also documented White homebuyers sent in to ask about the same properties being shown.

What the Rachals experienced was a practice known as "steering"—a way of excluding Black buyers from White neighborhoods.

Prior to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it wasn't only common - but legal and very often life-changing.

The typical Black family has only a fraction of the wealth of the average White family, and many experts say real estate is the root of the problem.

"I've wondered often as I've gone from one real estate agency to the other, if people realize the many embarrassing situations and questions that you have to go through as a Negro, sometimes even humiliating," Corbett said.

Dokoupil tracked down Corbett and Sallye's only child, Alicia Ford, who was only 11 years old at the time and asked her to rewatch that original report.

"Do you recognize that expression on your father's face?" asked Dokoupil. "Yeah. It's disgust," Ford replied.

Ford said her family was never able to buy a home in the neighborhoods where they wanted to live, and eventually moved out of New Jersey.

"Your family spent at least six months, and up to several years, with plenty of money, looking to buy a home in Bergen County, New Jersey, and never did," Dokoupil asked.

"Nope. Nope, sure didn't," Ford said.

Due to this, Corbett and Sallye missed out on one of the biggest real estate booms in the country.

Home prices in Bergen County have jumped six times higher, even after correcting for inflation.

For families like Dokoupil's, who were able to make the investment, that money has helped pay for things like retirement. Dokoupil said he was able to use money passed down from his grandparents to travel when he was a college student

For Ford and her own three kids, that kind of generational wealth just wasn't available.

"There wasn't a whole lot planned for them...They had no insurance," Ford said. Corbett and Sallye died with no money, Ford said.

"What do you do with the fact that this house that they could not buy in Bergen County is almost definitely worth three-quarters of a million, or even a million dollars, today and your family doesn't have it because of nothing more than racism?" Dokoupil asked.

"Yeah. Well, there's a lot of things that we haven't had because of racism. The house is just very small part of it," Ford said.

"That's a lotta money, though," Dokoupil replied.

"It may be. But, you know, money's not everything," said Ford.

"So when you think of this whole story, and you think of your folks here, who had all the money they needed to buy a home in one of the hottest housing markets in the country and were denied only because of the color of their skin, what kind of story is this?" Dokoupil inquired.

"I don't know. It's a story of our country," Ford replied.

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