When President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Robert Clifton Weaver to become the first secretary of the newly created U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Weaver also became the first Black member of the Cabinet of the United States.
At the time, Weaver — named to his post on Jan. 18, 1965 — was considered to be the foremost expert on housing in the country.
He worked in Chicago as the director of the Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations in 1944 and spoke to a Chicago Daily News reporter in September of that year about the problems of overcrowding in the city’s Black community.
The reporter’s article described the difficulties facing Black residents who were living in churches, converted public garages and storefronts “because they can find no other dwelling places.”
The proprietor of a mattress and upholstery renovating plant on the South Side told the reporter that 12 Black families had been renting cubicles in the storefront of his building. “I took them because their furniture was on the street and they said they couldn’t find a roof,” the proprietor said.
“I told them I’d fix the place over for them for the emergency,” he continued. “The understanding was that they could stay while they looked for something permanent. That was about three months ago. Now they tell me they have looked high and low and can’t find a thing. I’ll have to put them out. I hate it, but it’s the only way to keep my establishment.”
The owner said five or six of the people living in his storefront were war workers who had been turned out of apartments on Damen Avenue “in an area unaccustomed to Negros, where tensions had arisen.”
War workers, Weaver explained, had historically struggled to find adequate housing, and since more Black residents now turned to war work, the housing crisis intensified.
The final quote of the article took aim at myths that Black residents depreciated home values and were unable to care for their properties as well as white residents. Though the quote is uncredited, it likely came from Weaver as it was echoed in his 1948 book, “The Negro Ghetto”:
“The assumption that the value of areas depreciates when they are occupied by Negros is a sheer superstition. This can be proved. Income from rentals paid by Negros is even higher than that paid by white tenants as long as there is a shortage of Negros housing.
"And there is no reason to assume that the Negro can’t maintain residential premise as well as the white person can. This has been demonstrated in both private and public housing projects; property is kept up provided there is no overcrowding and provided the landlord takes the same care as the tenant does.”
Weaver didn’t stay too long in Chicago. Originally born in D.C., he moved to the Windy City in 1944 and left in 1948. But given the content of his book, it seems he learned a lot about housing equality here.