IRB Protocol: Understanding Black Indianapolis Community Members’ Vision for Housing in their Neighborhoods

This manuscript (permalink) was automatically generated from andtheWings/IRB_for_Indy_Housing_Interviews@c5c6b95 on June 16, 2021.



For more information on this project, please visit its homepage on the Open Science Framework

Housing is foundational to the well-being of people. For example, the quality of a home determines the degree of exposure to hazards like lead, mold, asbestos, extreme temperatures, loose electrical wires, and steep staircases. Also, the affordability of a home determines the proportion of resources that can be dedicated to other basic needs like utilities, food, childcare, and medicines. Finally, a home’s proximity to neighborhood features like parks, grocery stores, public transit, or schools shapes a resident’s engagement in healthy behaviors [1].

Unfortunately, Americans’ access to high-quality homes in healthy, resilient neighborhoods is worsening over time–in no small part due to budget constraints of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), our nation’s primary funder for housing assistance. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of low-income households with housing needs increased from 18 to 22 million. But during that same time-period, the percent of households receiving assistance from HUD decreased from 24 to 21% [2].

Often, the communities most in need of housing assistance are disproportionately composed of Black and Indigenous Americans. Far from coincidental, their circumstances reflect centuries of exclusionary public policy. The history of housing discrimination in Indianapolis serves as a prototypical example.

In the early 20th century, the Black community of Indianapolis was thriving. The community’s geographic hub was Indiana Avenue, a major street artery extending Northwest from the center of Downtown. The neighborhoods surrounding “the Ave” boasted all-Black academic/athletic powerhouse Crispus Attucks High School, multiple night clubs attracting the nation’s elite jazz performers, a major clothing manufacturer, and the headquarters of America’s first self-made female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker [3].

Madame Walker Theatre, 1930s. Indiana Historical Society, Digital Images Collection.

Such dense prosperity rose out of necessity due to racially-explicit zoning ordinances that segregated the city’s populace. On the one hand, concentrating Black resources allowed the community to support common amenities in a way they couldn’t if they were more spread out. However, as the population grew, people faced increasingly heightened prices for land/housing due to tighter constraints in space. Thus, what might buy a single-family home in White-only designated areas of the city, could only buy an apartment unit shared between multiple Black families around the Ave. Even when large projects like Lockefield Gardens’ public housing and Flanner House’s sweat-equity program sought to improve the quality of housing stock, they mostly replaced existing structures rather than increasing the options for where Black people could live [4].

In 1917, the United States Supreme Court ruled racially-biased zoning ordinances to be unconstitutional, but the city of Indianapolis set about drafting legal loopholes under the guidance of the White Citizens Protective League. For example, they didn’t specifically designate areas of the city for certain races, but a Black person could not move into a predominantly white neighborhood unless given permission by existing residents and vice versa. These types of ordinances were also struck down by the Supreme Court in 1927 [4], but racially restrictive covenants were another popular tactic that lasted much longer. When moving into a new home, White people would sign covenants that promised they would not resell their property to “people of the Negro or Mongolian race”. The covenants were hard to challenge because they were ostensibly agreements made between private parties without direct involvement of the government. However, opponents of restrictive covenants argued that they were still state-sanctioned in the sense that they were enforced in courts or by the police. Indeed, as late as 1939, the Police Chief of Indianapolis publicly stated his intentions to enforce policies that kept the Ave segregated [5]. The Supreme Court didn’t strike down restrictive covenants until 1948.

As the Supreme Court gradually nullified explicitly-racist segregation, Black people did gradually migrate to other neighborhoods of Indianapolis, but issues of disparate wealth perpetuated their separation from white communities. After World War II, the predominant tool a middle-class family used to build wealth was homeownership. The FDR administration made this possible with the introduction of long-term, self-amortizing home loans, which allowed families to build small amounts of equity over time. The way the federal government implemented these loans made it nearly impossible for Black people to access them [6].

The federal government offered mortgages directly through the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) and insured mortgages given by private lenders via the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). When selecting its borrowers, HOLC used maps that color-coded neighborhoods by “mortgage security”. The least secure neighborhoods were delineated in red and HOLC almost never issued mortgages to borrowers in these regions (hence the term “red-lining”). Race played a primary role in determining risk. For example, HOLC’s map of Indianapolis codes region D25 around the Ave as red, noting favorable influences as “None” and detrimental influences as “Age. Almost solid negro. Industrial” [7].

HOLC map of areas surrounding Indiana Ave, 1937. The Mapping Inequality Project.

The FHA used similarly racist practices when banks applied for mortgages to be insured. Appraisers were instructed by its Underwriting Manual to give high ratings to homes in neighborhoods that protected against “infiltration of inharmonious racial or nationality groups.” If mortgage applicants undermined the “risk determination” process, the FHA took punitive measures. For example, the FHA blacklisted a Berkeley professor who rented out his new home to a Black colleague for a few months to help cover payments while he prepared to move in himself [6].

White residents feared racial infiltration would lead to depressed property values. This belief contributed to trends of White flight away from neighborhoods that Black people managed to pioneer. Indeed, some real estate agents would take advantage of this dynamic to acquire cheap property. They used predatory tactics like paying Black people to masquerade as new residents in targeted neighborhoods [6]. Maps of racial distribution in Indianapolis reflect this pattern of White flight all the way up to present day. The Black population lies sandwiched in the middle suburban rings of Indianapolis between Downtown and more distant neighborhoods like Broad Ripple and Meridian Kessler [8].

Distribution of White (Purple), Black (Orange), and Latinx (Green) populations around Indianapolis. Mapping Race: Race and Migration in Indianapolis, SAVI.

From the 1950’s to 70’s, the government accelerated migration of Black people out of the Ave and into inner-ring suburbs with a series of urban renewal programs. Title I of President Truman’s Housing Act funded “slum clearance”, by which Indianapolis acquired large swaths of disinvested, blighted property and razed all buildings present– sometimes by use of eminent domain if necessary. Although there were plans for redevelopment at these sites, and some did get incorporated into the expanding campus of IUPUI, many were left bare and converted into parking lots instead [4].

Aerial views of Indiana Avenue before (1937) and after urban renewal programs (1979). Indiana Avenue Matters: The History and Future of an Indianapolis Neighborhood, Indiana Landmarks [9]

In concert with slum clearance, the State of Indiana used the Federal-Aid Highway Act to route the burgeoning interstate highway system into the heart of Downtown in order to facilitate the daily commute of White suburbanites into the central business district. Almost without fail, the paths of I-65 and I-70 traced through Black predominant neighborhoods, which is readily apparent if highway lines are superimposed on HOLC’s red-lining map of Indianapolis [10].

Indianapolis interstate highways overlaid on HOLC’s redlining map. Indiana Historical Society.

Pulling on the threads of segregation, disinvestment, exclusion, and forceful displacement that Indianapolis’ Black community has experienced, it is impossible to disentangle the severe disparities it experiences in housing and health from deliberate choices made by local, State, and Federal government. Furthermore, our city’s anchor institutions like IU School of Medicine and IU Health have directly benefited from those choices. As members of these institutions, the authors of this paper posit that we collectively owe reparations to the Black community.

Rationale and Specific Aims

Direct participation of the Black community is essential to any successful attempt at reparations. Members of our anchor institutions have long understood this, but we still struggle to meaningfully integrate community voice. In 1970, IUPUI published a private memo in response to growing organized resistance in the community as the Department of Highways started mass displacement of families in preparation for construction of I-69:

“In fact, as social and commercial services disappear from the neighborhood, tenants and homeowners are asking if the City and the University are not making the area so barren that people are forced to move out rather than ‘die on the vine.’ Institutions are behaving in ways which look like the same old obstacles which poor Black folk have experienced over past years. There is some local bitterness about the ‘paternalistic’ approach common to organizations purporting to serve the neighborhood. The white or ‘giving’ group usually selects the local leadership it will work with, and secondly the group selects the service it thinks the neighborhood needs. People are no longer willing to appear grateful for things they never asked for” [5].

Fast forward now to 2020. Buckingham Companies has just withdrawn its proposal to develop a new apartment complex on the Ave after months of sustained opposition from a coalition calling itself Reclaim Indiana Avenue. The coalition states it is not intrinsically against development, but that there are several features it found unacceptable in Buckingham’s proposal. When asked why it had not sought more input from local residents, Buckingham stated that it had participated in extensive conversations with representatives from IUPUI and board members of the Madam Walker Legacy Center. But as eloquently explained 40 years ago, the Black community is tired of external organizations telling it what it needs. How can we do better?

The community land trust (CLT) model is a powerful tool for increasing affordable housing options, building wealth, and channeling community voice. The core mission of a CLT non-profit is to buy land and to steward its use for the benefit of the surrounding community in perpetuity.

A CLT enables affordable housing by separating ownership of land from ownership of a house on that land. The CLT keeps ownership of the land while a family buys the house, which is cheaper when sold by itself. Often the CLT will use a public subsidy to further discount the price.

Over time, the family pays off its mortgage and builds equity. When they are ready to resell, they get to keep most of the equity, but there is a stipulation that some will be shared back with the CLT. In this way, the family walks away increased aggregate wealth and the CLT ensures it is recycling dollars back into maintaining affordability.

A CLT channels community voice with its unique tripartite leadership structure. One-third of seats on a CLT board are filled by homeowners on CLT land. A second third is filled by residents who live in the surrounding neighborhood. The last third consists of local housing stakeholders and experts. Thus, a CLT ensures that a majority of its leadership is made up of people who are directly impacted by the CLT’s actions. Furthermore, the competing interests of each third of the board should balance out those of the others. Together they make choices that best fit the interests of the whole community [11].

Infographic explaining CLT’s.

If IUPUI and IU Health are to pay reparations and help form a CLT for the benefit of the Black community in Indianapolis, we as members of these anchor institutions need to use the Black community’s voice to clarify our mandate from Day 1. We will conduct semi-structured interviews to bolster that voice. It is our hope that the Black community will join us as partners as we undergo this process.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria




Recruiters for this study will initially identify study participants by one of the following methods:

We will recruit using email advertisements, phone calls, social media, or socially-distanced, in-person communication. When possible, we will ask for introductions via common acquaintances to aid in credibility. Participants will be directed to a landing page explaining the nature of the study and asked to provide their contact information. We will reach out to participants via preferred method of contact (phone/email/text) and coordinate a time and location to meet.

As a qualitative study, there will be no randomization procedure. We will enroll study participants until we have reached saturation for the themes listed below, which we estimate to be approximately 15-30 people.

Consent by web form or written form will always be obtained prior to starting the interview.

Study Procedures

Interviews will be performed by whatever method feels most safe and convenient to each participant (e.g. in person, over the phone, or Zoom). After the interview is complete, interviewers will ask the participant if we have permission to share the conversation publicly or if they would prefer for it to be kept solely for private use by the study. Examples for public use of the interviews include blog posts, podcasts, or digital archival.

Please see attached the outline of our semi-structured interview. We anticipate the interview will take ~30-40 minutes to complete. Interviews will be conducted by the study investigators.

We will generate interview transcripts with encrypted, cloud-based recording software and a smartphone. Transcripts will be qualitatively coded around the following hypothesized themes:

If other themes arise, they will be added to the codebook. Coding will be performed by at least 2 people to ensure concordance.

Concepts, people, neighborhoods, and organizations will be stored in a graph database that can be queried to compare and contrast patterns related to the themes above. Salient findings will be fed into subsequent investigations using quantitative methods.

Reporting of Adverse Events or Unanticipated Problems involving Risk to Participants or Others

Given the sensitivity of housing issues–especially around eviction and homelessness–we will take the utmost care to maintain privacy. Should any personal information be unintentionally disseminated, we will offer a timely report of the incident to the participant in question. The report will include details regarding how the event took place, how we will act to prevent similar events in the future, suggested mitigating steps, and how we plan to offer support should the participant want it.

Study Withdrawal/Discontinuation

Should a study participant wish their interview transcript and data to be withdrawn from the study, the researchers will immediately respect their wish. We will share contact information to which the participant can submit an email or phone call request.

Statistical Considerations

Given our use of qualitative methods, the researchers will use minimal statistical methods with the exception of basic descriptive statistics such as the mode of thematic categories as distributed across neighborhoods. The pool of study participants is not meant to act as a representative sample of the population of Indianapolis neighborhood residents.

Privacy/Confidentiality Issues

Because interviews will be recorded by cloud transcription software, only pseudonyms will be used for participants and no granular location data will be solicited. The part of the interview regarding social connections will be performed at the end without recording. A record linking transcripts to ID’s will be stored in an encrypted file to which only the PI and key personnel will have access. Consent documents, including those allowing us to share data publicly will be submitted for IRB approval.

Follow-up and Record Retention

This study is oriented around using its interviews to build up a social network of housing stakeholders in Indianapolis. We will engage these stakeholders in future efforts to achieve their common vision for housing change. If that vision is indeed consistent with the formation of a CLT, we will use quantitative surveys to solidify consensus around key aspects of corresponding bylaws and articles of incorporation. Records will be retained indefinitely for use by the community in either de-identified or public form depending on the wishes of individual participants.


1. Where We Live Matters for Our Health: The Links Between Housing and Health
Craig Pollack, Susan Egerter, Tabashir Sadegh-Nobari, Merceded Dekker, Paula Braveman
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Commission to Build a Healthier America (2008-09-30)

2. Trends in Housing Problems and Federal Housing Assistance
G. Thomas Kingsley
Urban Institute (2017-10-26)

3. Historic Area Preservation Plan: Fayette Street Conservation Area
Connie L. Choate

4. Historical Injustice in the Urban Environment: The Ecological Implications of Residential Segregation in Indianapolis
Ryan T. Schwier
Indiana Legal Archive (2014)

5. The Ethnic Cleansing of Black Indianapolis
Wildstyle Paschall
New America Indianapolis (2020-02-04)

6. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Richard Rothstein
Liveright Publishing Corporation (2017-05-02)
ISBN: 978-1-63149-286-0

7. American Panorama
Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly
Mapping Inequality

8. Mapping Race: Race and Migration in Indianapolis, 1970-2016
Matt Nowlin, Kelly Davila, Unai Miguel Andres

9. Indiana Avenue Matters: The History and Future of an Indianapolis Neighborhood
Indiana Landmarks

10. Making it Local
Indiana Historical Society

11. Community Land Trusts (CLTs)